Across the country tomorrow, there will be hundreds of speeches, marches and advertisements celebrating women. Women’s Day is indeed an important time for us to recognise the contributions of women living in South Africa, past and present. From high-profile leaders in business, government and civil society, to the leadership of women who form the backbone of families and communities, we have many reasons to celebrate Women’s Day. But this day is also an opportunity to reflect on the work that is still needed to build the South Africa we want for the next generation of women and girls. For us at Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke), it is Women’s Day every day as we struggle to end gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa and to achieve gender equality.
In the spirit of the courageous women who marched on the Union Buildings in 19561 whom we celebrate today, we must, as women and men, take this occasion to also demand change in the everyday lives of women. In honour of Women’s Day, Sonke demands urgent action to address gender-based violence in South Africa. A key step towards this is for government to develop a national strategic plan (NSP) to address and prevent gender-based violence. The body tasked with this – the National Council on Gender-Based Violence (GBV Council) – has been suspended to allow for the new Ministry for Women to establish itself in office. The work of the GBV Council needs to be resumed urgently so that it can engage in the national consultations needed to produce an effective national strategic plan to combat GBV. We call on government to urgently clarify its plans and recommit to this process.
This national plan to combat GBV will coordinate responses to the plight of women who are enduring disturbingly high levels of violence every day, in every community all across South Africa. A woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa, and yet our laws on domestic and gender-based violence go unenforced. Young girls are routinely denied their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). HIV is wreaking a particularly brutal toll on this group: A recent Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) survey2 showed that about one out of four new HIV infections occurs among girls and women ages 15-24. We can and must do better for adolescent girls who are denied comprehensive sexual education and access to contraception.
Sex workers are targeted and abused daily. A growing body of global research tells us that full decriminalisation of sex work is the strategy most likely to be successful in protecting sex workers from violence and ill-health,3 yet the laws of our land continue to criminalise sex work and endanger the lives of sex workers. We can and must do more to protect sex workers from abuse at the hands of clients, partners and the police.
Our government agencies are underfunded and untrained, lacking the capacity to fully perform their legal responsibilities. Survivors of sexual violence receive inconsistent and inadequate treatment. Insufficient effort is put into developing and implementing evidence-based prevention strategies.
We know that a multi-sectoral, fully funded and comprehensive national strategic plan, that sets out timelines and markers for accountability is needed to respond to the violence, and that we must commit to the preventative work that prevents the violence from happening in the first place, yet we are still to see any real commitment from government to fund and implement such a plan any time soon. We can and must do better.
Sonke Gender Justice
Director Advocacy and Accountability
Sonke Gender Justice
Communications and Strategic Information
- The month of August is Women’s Month, which recognises the contribution made by women in the Struggle for freedom in South Africa. On 9 August 1956, more than 20 000 defiant and fearless women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against pass laws. The year 2014 marks 60 years since the signing of the Women’s Charter on 17 April 1954 in Johannesburg, which called for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa; and demanded the emancipation, development and empowerment of women.
- HSCR study: South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012:
- The Lancet: Global epidemiology of HIV among female sex workers: influence of structural determinants