Women’s Lives Matter!
The South African Federation of Trade Unions is sickened and outraged at the latest murders of women – Tshegofatso Pule, found hanging from a tree, Naledi Phangindawo, who was stabbed, and Sanele Mfaba, who was dumped by a tree in Soweto, Nompumelelo Tshaka and many others in KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape whose bodies were dumped everywhere.
These include: Nolundi Dondolo, Alecia Nyamanzawo, Nwabisa Mtunzini, Femida Willies, Linda Matati, Sinethemba Ndlovu, Siphiwo Sibeko, Phumza Sikade, Kgaugelo Molefe, Khanyisile Ntanga, Phumla Mvinjelwa-Ntombela, Lindokuhle Vukaphi, Ncomeka Tetyabe, Paballo Patloane and others.
Even more tragic is that these atrocities are not exceptions but regular occurrences. SAPS statistics reveal that a women is murdered every three hours and the World Health Organisation has reported that the rate at which women in South Africa are murdered by intimate partners is five times higher than the global average.
These are statistics that should make us all ashamed and it may even be an underestimate given the low level of recording murders.
The Coronavirus lockdown made life even more dangerous for women. The SAPS’s gender-based violence hotline received 2,300 calls in the first five days of lockdown – nearly three times the rate before lockdown, when 56% of the female victims of murder were being killed by their own partners.
SAFTU welcomes President Ramaphosa’s statement that “For public faith in the criminal justice system to be maintained, gender-based violence needs to be treated with the urgency it deserves by our communities working together with our police”.
But words need to be turned into action – to identify, arrest and prosecute offenders at a far faster rate than it is being done now by police, prosecutors and courts.
Women who suffer these crimes and the community members who witness them must have confidence that when they report the incidents that they will be taken seriously and that the police will act on them urgently in every case.
Even when rape and assault perpetrators are brought to court, we have to stop victims being still further punished by defense lawyers who drag out cases and ask offensive and intrusive questions to try to prove that they brought their suffering on themselves.
SAFTU demands fast-tracking of the legal processes and the harshest possible sentences for those found guilty, but the perpetrators will not be deterred from their crimes if they continue to believe that they have a good chance of not even be found out, even less of being arrested, prosecuted and sentenced.
South Africa has ratified, without reservations, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, whose Protocol recognises that every woman has a right to dignity, respect and protection from all forms of violence, yet we are doing not doing nearly enough to stop crimes against women and girls.
The problem is that the government, police, courts, and society as a whole have not yet thrown off the culture of patriarchy, chauvinism and racism, which we inherited from the days of colonialism and apartheid. Too many men feel it is OK to enforce their will by violence against partners and children, and women in general.
It is also linked to the continued denial of equal rights and opportunities for women. It is worth repeating the quote from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – that violence against women and girls — “the most visible sign of pervasive patriarchy and chauvinism… will only end when gender equality and the full empowerment of women become a reality”.
Working women earn lower wages than men and hold the least secure jobs; they only make up 39% of senior management. They are less likely to be promoted to leadership positions at work, in community and political structures.
In the trade unions too, more must be done not just to fight harder with employers for women’s rights and equality, but to ensure that women are equally represented in the union structures at every level from shop steward to president.
Many female women workers are assaulted, sexually harassed, or offered promotion, or threatened with dismissal, in return for sexual favours. Many also experience threats of both physical and sexual violence travelling to and from work and in the home.
There must be zero tolerance of all forms of violence and sexual harassment against women and children, at work, at home and on the streets.
After the murders last September of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana, UWC student Jesse Hess, boxing champion Leighandre Jegels, 14-year-old Janika Mallo, Lynette Volschenk, and Meghan Cremer, we saw a magnificent campaign led by UCT students.
SAFTU applauds their stirring response and calls for a mass campaign against femicide, mobilising unions, community activists, and the LGBTIQ organisations on to the streets. It must not be not confined to 16 days of protest towards the end of the year but continue every day until we bring to an end all the abuse, assaults, rapes and murders which so many women and children suffer and which still go largely unpunished.
And violence against women and girls is a worldwide scourge. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown how a mass campaign can spread within days around the globe. Let us now ignite a Women’s Lives Matter campaign to take the fight to every corner of the earth!