‘As I address you, somewhere a woman or a child is being abused’: Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke during an interactive dialogue to mark the start of the 16 Days of Activism campaign

President Cyril Ramaphosa during an interactive session with civil society formations to mark the 16 days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign on Wednesday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa during an interactive session with civil society formations to mark the 16 days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign on Wednesday.
Image: GCIS/ SIYABULELA DUDA

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday lamented that SA's women and children “live in fear of violence every day”.

He was speaking during an interactive dialogue to mark the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign.

“As I address you this evening, somewhere in this country a woman or a child is being abused, beaten, assaulted or terrorised. They face this violence on the streets, at school, on campuses, at work and places of worship and, worst of all, in their own homes.

“In a country with the most progressive of constitutions, which promises equality and dignity for all, the women and children of SA live in fear of violence every day,” he said.

Since Wednesday morning, the national flag has been flying at half-mast in memory of lives lost to “two devastating pandemics”: Covid-19 and gender-based violence.

“As we launch this year’s campaign we ask: for how long must this go on? For how much longer must we say ‘enough is enough’, only for it to continue? It simply cannot go on,” Ramaphosa said.

It is simple because violence against women and children can be brought to an immediate end if every man makes a conscious decision never to harm a woman or a child — and lives by that decision

The president said the fight against gender-based violence was “both simple and highly complex”.

“It is simple because violence against women and children can be brought to an immediate end if every man makes a conscious decision never to harm a woman or a child — and lives by that decision. But we know that the path to that point is not straightforward.

“We know it is chauvinistic and sexist attitudes that lead men to believe they are superior to their mothers, their wives and partners and their daughters. These attitudes lead to the normalisation of sexual harassment in public spaces, in schools and in the workplace.

“To create a society in which women enjoy safety, dignity and respect it is first and foremost our own attitudes that must change. We must reclaim that most cherished of values to us as Africans, that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the government had made strides in trying to protect the nation's women. These included:

  • improving the provision of essential services, making evidence kits available at all police stations, setting up more survivor-friendly rooms at police stations, and establishing more special sexual offences courts;
  • allocating more funding to improve the services being provided at shelters and places of safety;
  • strengthening emergency response teams in provinces to respond to gender-based violence and continuously working to address case backlogs in the criminal justice system and to review GBV cases that were not properly investigated; and
  • making amendments to the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Bill, the Criminal Law Amendment Act and the Domestic Violence Act, which will “strengthen existing laws to protect women and children”.

“This year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign focuses on economic justice. We must urgently address the poverty, exclusion and economic marginalisation facing millions of women. Empowering women financially gives them greater control over their lives. It is up to all of us, including the private sector, to make more opportunities available to women,” said Ramaphosa.

But said Ramaphosa, it was men who could end gender-based violence immediately.

“As I have said before, violence against women is not a women’s problem. It is a men’s problem. As men, let us take responsibility at a very personal level for the protection of the women and children of our country.

“It is men who can challenge harmful cultural and social practices that undermine women’s rights. It is men who can and must refuse to be part of criminal gangs that assault and rape women. It is men who can and must take responsibility for their own personal behaviour and understand that coercing a woman to have sex is rape, and that ‘no’ means ‘no’.

“It is men who must raise their sons to understand that women and men are equal, and lead by example. It is men who must repudiate the idea that a man must prove his manhood by abusing a woman. It is men who after being convicted and sentenced for violence can seek rehabilitation and not offend again,” he said.

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