Dialogue to focus on safety of women

AS THE 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign kicked off today, the Saartjie Baartman Centre warned that violence against women and children remains “unacceptably high” around the country.

The centre has helped more than 179 000 victims of crime and violence since it opened its doors 16 years ago and has recorded a 65 percent increase in the number of women and children seeking emergency shelter in the last few years.

The shelter houses around 100 women and children at any time.

The centre offers services such as crisis response, counselling, job skills training and legal advice to abused women and children.

Centre director Shaheema McLeod said South Africa has the toughest laws on domestic abuse in the world, but remained a country marred by high levels of violence against women and children.

“Only 3 percent of domestic violence perpetrators are convicted. There is something very wrong with that picture,” said McLeod.

“Campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children may create awareness around abuse.

“However, to really see a difference, we need to change our behaviour and the belief systems that are so deeply rooted in our country,” she said.

Mitchells Plain residents took to the streets during a march to mark the start of the campaign.

Addressing the crowd, regional Justice Head Hishaam Mohamed said: “For many years we have been celebrating and focusing on this campaign about women and children. (But) we have got to ask whether it’s making a difference.

“We need to answer that question ourselves and not wait for government alone. We believe that the safety of our children, mothers and wives is in our hands as men.

“We, as men, are the perpetrators of violence against women and children.” Sonke Gender Justice community education and mobilisa­tion manager Keegan Lakay said they would be hosting a number of education and awareness campaigns around the province, focusing on refugees and asylum-seekers.

More than 200 guests from around the country are expected to attend the 15th annual Interactive Dialogue organised by Ilitha Labantu at the Gugulethu Sports Complex today.

The dialogue will focus on how to use the justice system to prevent abuse against women and children.

The dialogue will run for three days, with the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and Tourism Deputy Minister Tokozile Xasa expected to attend.

UN Women Executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka will provide an overview today of the activi­ties for the commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at the world body’s headquarters in New York, including the launch of the prevention framework and 16 Days of Activism globally.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “During the 16 Days of Activism, events are being organised in all parts of the world, and landmarks in towns and cities will be lit up in orange to draw global attention to the issue and to stimulate action.”