SUNDAY TIMES - Do girls, women feel any safer 16 days later?
Sunday Times Opinion & Analysis By Shirley Walters, 2016-12-11 00:00:00.0

Do girls, women feel any safer 16 days later?

University of the Witwatersrand students mount an anti-rape protest.
Image: Supplied

The 16 Days of Activism campaign - this year’s ended yesterday - is not working, says Shirley Walters. She wants the money spent on victims of gender-based violence.

It's summer. You want to be outdoors, walking, hitting the beach, having a picnic - but when you're a woman in South Africa, it's sometimes not safe to venture out on your own.

The fear of violence against you is almost always in your mind.

Unfortunately, gender-based violence will probably remain with us for quite some time.

There are many examples. The death of 16-year-old Franziska Blöchliger, who was jogging through Tokai Forest in Cape Town when she was attacked and raped, is still fresh in people's minds.

And consider the headlines you encounter when you enter the word "rape" on the site of a local online newspaper: "Cape Town doctor faces 4 counts of rape"; "Seven in dock for horrific gang rape"; "Damning report on student rape at Wits". All the victims were women.

And then there's the continuous spate of women being murdered by their intimate partners.

More than 45% of women in Africa have experienced sexual violence, according to a report by the South African Medical Research Council in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the World Health Organisation. The worldwide average is 35%.

Gender-based violence continues to be an enormous problem all over the world, not just in South Africa.

I was in Brazil at the Association for Women in Development conference in September, and I went to a session called Young African Feminists Speak.

Each one of the women, from West, East and Southern Africa, spoke about the massive problem of gender-based violence in their countries.

It was really remarkable that this was the common theme they all chose.

Gender-based violence reflects patriarchal norms and values in society - where women are second to men and are often perceived to be owned by men, and men have leading roles in economic, social, cultural and political life.

Women continue to earn less: in other words, they are seen to have less economic and social worth - and it's easier to abuse someone you see as inferior.

It's not something that is going to be solved any time soon - and especially not without changing fundamental systemic issues that maintain relationships of power among women and men.

Gender-based violence is of course not only about men and women. It is also about people whose sexuality is not hetero-normative. People located on a spectrum of nonconforming genders suffer violence and abuse. Those who are not heterosexual have a very hard time.

So, has the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign succeeded in raising awareness of and reducing gender-based violence?

I would surmise, given the horrendous statistics, that the campaign has largely failed.

At government events we often find prominent men speaking whose own histories of gender-based violence are deeply suspect.

I am also concerned about how money is spent.

The millions spent on 16 Days of Activism could rather be spent supporting Rape Crisis centres, shelters or safe houses for women and nonconforming genders, or other services that are desperately needed to support people who are threatened or are survivors of gender-based violence. This needs long-term political and economic commitment.

Collective efforts are needed working through all institutions to reduce gender-based violence.

Every university - and other educational institution - should be compelled to implement gender-based violence policies and create campus cultures that are safe for all who live and work there.

Student movements and other social movements challenging "rape culture" and other forms of gender-based violence need to be supported.

Amazing courage has been shown by so many students. I think of the women who stripped naked to bring attention to rape culture.

Every woman, man, girl and boy needs to be encouraged to say "Enough is enough".

We need to:

• Speak out if we see or experience gender-based violence;

• Understand that the problem is not the victim, but is related to oppressive systems;

• Form support groups with friends and associates to talk about what is happening, and to think of strategies to limit or stop gender-based violence;

• Find the closest Rape Crisis Centre or women's shelter and check if they have training workshops for volunteers, and get involved; and

• Join or support social movements that are campaigning to stop rape culture or any other form of gender-based violence.

Professor Walters is the founding director of the Division for Lifelong Learning at the University of the Western Cape