Nqabayomzi Kwankwa on gender-based violence and gender equality
Contribution by Mr Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, MP and UDM Deputy President at the 3rd Annual Central University of Technology Transformation Summit with the theme of gender-based violence and gender equality held at CUT Welkom Campus on 10 June 2021
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• Our facilitators, Dr Mgwebi and Professor Sepeng
• Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor de Jager
• Council Chairperson, Mr Rantso
• Honourable Minister Mkhize
• Professor Madonsela
• The UDM’s newly elected Deputy Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Mr Luxolo Namette
• Councillor Chabana and the Members of the Student Representative Council
• Various union representatives and other external stakeholders
• Students of the Central University of Technology,
• Ladies and gentlemen
When men discuss the topic of gender-based violence (GBV) and gender equality, we must do so having done introspection, we must be sensitive and yet be strong in our convictions without being patronising.
In considering what I wanted to say today, I want to share with you what American philosopher, political activist and social critic, Cornel West, wrote, which resonated with me, after a recent mindless racist experience I had suffered at the hands of a seasoned journalist.
This 68-year-old Black man said: “I grew up in traditional black patriarchal culture and there is no doubt that I’m going to take a great many unconscious, but present, patriarchal complicities to the grave, because it is so deeply ensconced in how I look at the world. Therefore, very much like alcoholism, drug addiction, or racism, patriarchy is a disease, and we are in perennial recovery and relapse. So you have to get up every morning and struggle against it.”
The reason this quote resonated with me was, in part, because I was the victim of “unconscious” racism, and I hope that the journalist will in future “get up every morning and struggle against it”.
But mostly it was the, what I would call, “admission of sin” from a man.
It was a deeply personal acknowledgement that we perennially perpetuate patriarchy.
Even though he might be a Black American man, it still rings true.
It gives us perspective and understanding, and a point of departure from which we may modify our behaviour.
Other men might feel vulnerable to even say such a thing out loud; some might think it would be to admit weakness or to seek excuses, but those thoughts are in fact the very vestiges of patriarchy.
His frank acknowledgement also speaks to the way we grow up in certain cultures and religions, especially those which are labelled more traditional or conservative. But he is adamant that we must struggle against patriarchy, and I would add, whilst maintaining some respect for our traditions and cultural diversity.
I know, this last point is likely to make some folks frown, but I think there is room for traditions to change. Just as we as humans develop and grow, so must our traditions grow with us so that we also may protect all human rights.
Patriarchy has, for far too long, been the model that men have used to clutch to power in every sphere of life. Things must change and we have the power to change them.
2. A bird’s eye view of patriarchy as a systemic contributor to GBV and gender inequality
These past 27 years, since our true democracy, we have seen political transformation and systemic changes in South Africa. However, social and economic transformation have remained unresolved.
Our society is still faced with enormous developmental challenges, with poverty remaining an exacerbating factor.
Amongst those challenges is an imbalanced social structure where patriarchy is an enduring force in many of our cultures, both black and white.
As we are all keenly aware, for centuries our South African women’s role has mostly been that of childbearing and caring for the husband, the home and the family.
They were and still are, subordinates and more often than not, were, and are still, treated as objects. They have been a means to an end… in the least to continue her husband’s family line and name, and in worst cases, as sex objects and subjects of abuse and murder.
Of course, patriarchy and its impact on GBV also include those individuals who identify in the LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) community, because harm is inflicted upon those persons due to prevailing gender norms.
As Morapelo Tebogo Noge, of the University of the North West, so aptly put it in a 2014 case study, patriarchy “..teaches male South Africans what it means to be a real man, how a real man is expected to act, what privileges are in store when they act like real men and punishments for any person especially women who contravene these expectations.
It also teaches South African women what it means to be real women how a real woman is expected to act, what privileges are in store when they act like real women and punishments for contravening these expectations.”
Arguably, the biggest mistake our government had made post-1994 was to solely focus on political change, whilst neglecting societal and human development. Patriarchy flourished unabatedly.
Our new Constitution, which contains the world’s most admired Bill of Rights remains largely unaddressed, especially in giving expression to some of our non-derogable rights.
Patriarchy has granted men control over female behaviour. Toxic masculinity, sexism, male dominance, aggression, and inflexible gender-roles are some of the problems many women face daily.
Patriarchal structures have never been dismantled, and it impedes the implementation of policies and legislation.
At a real-world level, for instance, these factors impact on police conduct with the inefficient execution of protection orders.
From another perspective, patriarchy prevents GBV victims from even reporting rape to the police, as they would rather remain silent than be subjected to scrutiny and possible degradation.
3. What has Parliament been doing to combat the scourge of GBV?
From what I have mentioned thus far, it is clear that patriarchy must be addressed as a societal issue, as it legitimises violations of women’s rights and discrimination against them.
This is a wheel that will turn not only through government’s efforts, but through dialogues as we have today, but also through our own daily actions and ceaseless advocacy work.
As the world-famous neuroscientists and untiring advocate for global harmony and peace, Abhijit Naskar, puts it:
“Shouting about gender equality once a year doesn’t end the patriarchal and misogynistic stereotypes. We must live every day as women’s day, only then will there be actual, practical equality in this world.”
Ladies and gentlemen, gender inequality is, however, a primary issue that government can actively address, as it relegates women to subordinate status in society and low-income employment.
Government can do this because it has a much firmer grasp on changing this dynamic through legislation and policies.
To date, South Africa is facing an increasing number of GBV incidents, with women’s rights being violated in many ways, from emotional, verbal, mental, financial, physical and sexual abuse to rape and murder.
Sadly, in 2020, the country experienced a massive GBV escalation, with a shocking number of more than 87 000 reported complaints during the first week of the 21-day national lockdown.
We are literally facing two pandemics simultaneously, Covid-19 and gender-based violence.
This has certainly pushed the issue of GBV to the forefront of the national discourse and government’s agenda.
There had been some past legislation, relatively recent ones, that had address GBV issues, such as the Domestic Violence Act of 1998, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act of 2007 and the Criminal Law Act of 1997 and their various amendments.
However, with each law or regulation there are always challenges, and loopholes that arise with criminals getting more devious, or with weaknesses in wording that need to be tightened up. Or, as times and circumstances change, for instance, lawmakers can make use of technological advances.
There have been challenges highlighted in terms of the legislation I have just mentioned to ensure that justice is better served.
Therefore, in an effort to strengthen the existing legislative response to the intolerable levels of GBV, the aforementioned acts were amended and introduced at Parliament on 28 August 2020.
The specific purpose is to improve the response from government departments, law enforcement and the courts, and to guarantee a best response to violence against women and all vulnerable persons.
• The first legislation that was recently passed in the National Assembly and transmitted for concurrence, is the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill.
Amongst other things, it seeks to recognise sexual intimidation as an offence, to expand the National Register for Sex Offenders to include sex offenders beyond those convicted of sexual offences against children and persons who are mentally disabled.
• The second piece of legislation passed by National Assembly was the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill.
It aims to amend the Magistrates’ Courts and the Superior Courts Acts to provide for the appointment of intermediaries and the giving of evidence through intermediaries and audio-visual links in proceedings on application by any party to proceedings other than criminal proceedings.
One of the notable aims of this bill is that there will be additional provisions to ensure that perpetrators of GBV are not released on bail, at least before their first appearance in the lower courts.
• The third bill is the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, where the aim is to broaden and recognise other forms of domestic abuse such as elder abuse, coercive behaviour, controlling behaviour and exposing or subjecting children to listed behaviours.
Not only that, but the bill also gives GBV-victims a chance to submit protection orders online and the addition of the protection order to a central repository that stores other orders and cases against the same person to prevent perpetrators from hiding their past histories of domestic violence.
4. Other courses of action
Today, here in the audience, I would like to introduce the United Democratic Movement’s Councillor, Mr Luxolo Namette, who was quite recently appointed as the Deputy Mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality.
We are happy that a young person has been roped into that municipality’s management, but also that Luxolo is here today to listen to this discourse and that he has undertaken to work towards implementing changes at the Nelson Mandela Bay that will impact on the lives of women employees and women citizens of the area.
Furthermore, the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child, is true for a reason. It takes a collective effort to teach our children right from wrong.
Naturally one learns the fundamentals at home, but as we all know, not all plans are fool-proof, and we have to hedge our bets to ensure that our children learn as much as they can to arm themselves for the future, and in the end that they may become responsible citizens.
The Department of Education therefore has an important role to play in teaching healthy gender roles and should consider adding to the curriculum, subjects that teach our children about gender equality, and gender-based violence and other abuse.
It seems a morbid topic, but children must be taught life skills whilst they are still young, to not only prevent boys from becoming perpetrators of abuse. It will also enable both boys and girls to speak out when they are faced with adverse circumstances and have the tools to respond.
Government should also implement effective measures to end patriarchy, to achieve gender equality and specifically to prevent GBV.
To explain the scope of the crisis, I think IOL’s News Editor, Lou-Anne Daniels, captured the average South African plight woman’s very accurately… she wrote the following in an opinion article:
“The other recurring thought I had was that I am afraid.
Afraid for my daughters who are 8 and 19 years old. Afraid for my 70-year-old mother who suffers from the early stages of Alzheimer’s but still goes to the shops and takes public transport almost daily.
Afraid for my colleagues who start work at 6 am and others who finish work late at night. Afraid for my cousins and my friends who are just going about the business of being daughters, mothers, girlfriends and wives.
I am afraid. Because we have all become walking targets for men who prey on us. Any one of us could be the next rape or murder victim; simply because we are women.
These men have no identifying marks. They don’t have “animal” or “predator” tattooed on their foreheads.
They don’t wear a scarlet letter. They are somebody’s son, brother, colleague, boyfriend or husband. They look like normal, loving human beings. They go to work, spend time with their families and tuck their children into bed. And they are trusted.”
5. A call to my fellow men
My fellow men, Lou-Anne Daniels’ account should shake us to the core.
Those are the thoughts of the women in our lives; it clearly occupies much of their worries not only for themselves, but for the women around them.
For the longest time, women have been the only ones who spoke out against GBV and femicide. They have either been the victims, or they have spoken from a place of sympathy, empathy, or in solidarity with the victims.
Even though they have made such a remarkable impact on the fight against GBV, there is a dire need for men to start playing their role to combat this unbearable culture.
I understand that many men feel that you cannot paint all men with the same brush, and one should not generalise, but, as I remind you of what Cornel West said, we are all complicit in patriarchy, whether we like to admit it or not.
Gentlemen, let us therefore get up every morning and struggle against patriarchy.
Let us step-up and play a constructive and meaningful role in the lives of the women around us, especially those closest to us.
The involvement of men and boys in ending patriarchal norms, gender inequality and GBV is of paramount importance. We must make this paradigm shift to gender equality.
As fathers, husbands, sons and brothers we must make it our priority to correct our peers and make them see the error of their way when they are treating their female counterparts poorly.
Imagine a society where men can hold each other accountable and gender-based violence would be history.
We, as men must take gender-transformative programmes seriously, in the workplace and elsewhere, we should also be at the forefront of transformation and not be resentful observers.
It is significant that men and boys are active participants and promoters of change to rid us of the status quo.
Let us act as role models for young boys and men, we must lead by example and always teach them respect for girls and women. They must understand that when a woman or a girl says “no”, it means “no”. Full stop.