Picture: Supplied – Gender-based violence includes abuse by an intimate partner, domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual violence and harassment, and violence towards members of the LGBTIQ community. Most, but not all, victims of GBV are women and girls, statistics show.
By Fatima Chohan
As we all know, our country excels in some notorious global indices. The levels of femicide, domestic violence, violence and crime in general are some of the indices in which we have excelled. Government has been under pressure to act to eradicate such crime, and it has, in the best way that it knows how – by amending the law. This is no small matter – there are some laudable changes made to the existing law designed to further expand the ambit of criminalising gender-based violence (GBV), and sexual offences, especially against vulnerable groups, such as older persons in care facilities, young women at universities, children, and persons with disabilities.
Some of the legal developments, such as the passing of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act in 2021, pertain to the fact that persons whose names appear on the National Register for Sex Offenders are not allowed to be employed in institutions concerned with vulnerable groups, such as teaching children, for example. Further, that all sex offenders will now be registered on the National Register for Sex Offenders, not as was previously the case, just those who are convicted for offences against vulnerable groups.
There have been numerous media reports of instances where an abusive partner is released on bail and almost immediately further harms or kills their victim. In this regard, amendments have imposed stricter bail provisions for offences related to domestic violence. Persons who are arrested for offences against a person with whom they are in a domestic relationship or contravening a protection order where the complainant is in a domestic relationship with the arrested person, will no longer be eligible to be released on bail before his/her first appearance in court (the so-called police bail or prosecutor bail). This provision is likely to prevent such incidents from recurring. In the book “Warrior of Light” the author Paulo Coelho writes:
“Accumulating love brings luck, accumulating hatred brings calamity. Anyone who fails to recognize problems leaves the door open for tragedies to rush in.”
The myriad of news reports, statistics, and police cases all make it unmistakably clear that GBV is the problem as well as the prevalent tendency to resort to violence as a response to most of our problems. These various amendments are an attempt by government to address gaps in the law where such gaps have become apparent. However, the gaps in the law would not be a problem if there was no violence in our homes, and in society. The real solution to the extent of GBV in the country lies in addressing our own attitudes and in correcting our behaviour.
If we each take responsibility for this collective resort to violence expressed through violent action or verbal violence, through self-reflection and talking through our problems, especially within our homes, then and only then will we realise true harmony and the fulfilment of our constitutional promise of a nation at peace with itself and the world.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has since the July 2021 unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provinces, been focussing on the process toward building national harmony.
Our collective resort to dialogue in response to stresses in and outside of our homes as a culture among all South Africans is the aim of the Social Harmony National Effort (SHiNE). This National Effort is aimed at updating the “Software” of the nation. It involves individual efforts towards building harmony through healthy relationships beginning with self-reflection and family meetings.
These family meetings are proposed to take place once a month for the entire year in 2023, across homes in the country. The family meetings should discuss essentially how we might bring more harmony in the home. This will enable us to consciously broach subjects both small and large that might be negotiated through dialogue thus enabling better understanding and accommodation. There are of course some families in crises where dialogue is not possible immediately. These families will be supported by reference to experts and institutions that might provide specialist support during the year of the National Effort.
The value of dialogue in South African homes unassailably pertains to changing our tendency to resort to violence, schooled as we have been in this regard historically over many generations. It is indeed the young who need to be schooled in a new culture of positive dialogue to address and negotiate through challenging relationships and circumstances. Our future depends on this moment in time when a nation becomes reflective of its past conduct and culture and decides consciously, collectively and with determination to do better.
As we conclude the 16 days of activism against violence against women and children, it is pertinent that we are, and remain reflective, of our own relationships and our proneness to violence and let us all appreciate that we, as individuals, families, and communities, are as much part of the problem as we hold in our hands the solution to this societal illness. The National Effort provides a platform for each of us to be the change we want to see, the details of which appear on the SAHRC’s website. Together we can SHiNE SA!
Fatima Chohan is the Deputy Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission. She currently heads up the Equality Focus Area and is responsible for the Social Harmony National Effort.