The necessity for South Africa to have the 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse to protect them against acts of violence and abuse is an indication of the extent of the moral defect in our society and the measure of contempt we habour for the vulnerable in our society.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the acts of violence and abuse that are directed at women and children, which only serve to reinforce male power and superiority and strike fear in the hearts of the victims, have reached a crises proportion only because we have collectively allowed them. By our silence and inaction we have given assistance to the social norm that men can do whatever they want with women and even terrorise them to make them submit to their domination.
As a society we are no longer shocked by stories we hear regarding women and children abuse. They have become so much part of our daily lives that they are normal. We seem to have accepted that women and children are commodities that should be exploited and even abused. So normal is the violence against women that we have begun to think that mistreating women is only limited to physical violence. So long as one does not become physically abusive to women, they have the right to abuse them in any other way that is not physical.
For instance, verbally abusing and discriminating them at the workplace or only confining them to certain positions of power is considered not an abuse. Relegating women to positions of insignificance and not tapping into their talents in the building of the country is seen as not counting as abuse. This systematic abuse of women that seeks to consign them to a state of helplessness is something that has become an engrained part of our society that we take it for granted. Morally we have become so decayed that we have allowed ourselves to be immune to the cries and voices of the vulnerable of our society. At certain times we even seek to provide plausible excuses for why a woman or a child was abused to justify our inaction or lack of condemnation of the abuse.
It is precisely because of these obvious and subtle abuses that the Department of Water and Sanitation firmly believes that it carries a responsibility to ensure that we reverse the moral decay in our society. In this regard, the department has recognised that the water and sanitation sector has long been the preserve of men and is in desperate needs to change. The department realises that the women’s talents which could have been used to address the myriad of challenges in the water and sanitation sector have been rejected for far too long. It is for this reason that the department is concretely working to ensure that women do not just remain spectators but are actively involved so that the sector moves forward. This is more so taking into account that women use water more than men and therefore it is natural that they are part of finding solutions to challenges that are facing the sector.
And, as we seek to transform the face of the water sector to make it more representative, we must also realise that water serves as a catalyst for and impacts on the development of the economy. Thus, the water and sanitation sector must make space for women so that they are also economically active. Failure to make this happen would undermine any efforts to deal with discrimination which is the direct result of abuse of women.
This is so in view of the fact that the inclusion of women in the water and sanitation and moreover the benefits derived from it, is central to the transformation and moving women who were previously disadvantaged from the periphery of the economy to the mainstream economy. As it is well known, water is the economic driver of any desired development and we cannot afford to move without the contribution of women. However one may wish, the fact is that without the participation of women in the water sector, the prospects of any country being on a developmental trajectory remains merely a pipe dream.
Thus, it is vitally important that women are encouraged and channelled into the areas in the water and sanitation sector that are of value to the needs of the country and in the process deal with the issues of violence and abuse towards them.
Hosia Sithole is a communications officer at the Department of Water and Sanitation, Gauteng Region.