Is freedom, equality and the dignity of women possible?

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Cape Town- 180801 Total shutdown march against woman abuse gender voilance Total Shutdown Campaign says South African women have very little to celebrate Women and gender non-conforming people marched countrywide against gender-based violence Picture:Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)

On Sunday night, the 3rd March 2019, many South Africans bore witness to a video of what appears to be Bongekile Simelane – commonly known by her stage-name, Babes Wedumo – being allegedly assaulted by her boyfriend Mandla “Mampintsha” Maphumulo. The video was digitally broadcast via her Instagram account and thrust the ongoing discussion around domestic violence and gender-based violence back into the public domain. Subsequent to the incident, Mampintsha has been arrested, released on bail, laid counter charges against Simelane. Social media as well as popular media has been awash with discussion on South Africa’s continued scourge of domestic violence and gender-based violence in general.

The alleged assault against Simelane and the ongoing testimony of survivors indicate a broader issue related to gender-based violence, taking it from the private domain of the home – where most incidence of gender-based violence occurs – into the broader domain of society at large. 

The digital broadcast of the event via Instagram Live, speaks to Simelane’s need to legitimise prior and ongoing allegations of abuse she experienced at the hands of Mampintsha, but more importantly, it speaks to the need for many survivors of domestic violence, or other forms of gender-based violence – usually women – having to go out of their way to prove the veracity of their claims of being subjected to abuse. It is also concerning that prior allegations of domestic violence were largely forgotten, with very little societal support being offered to Simelane to protect her against the abuse she may have been subjected to at the time. This lack of societal support is compounded in the instance of most women who do not have the public profile Simelane has.

Research indicates that most women, who ordinarily have no public profile in society, encounter hurdles within their own families, their communities, the South African Police Service (SAPS), from the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) and during the judicial process in being protected from intimate partner gender-based violence. Meaning that the system itself conspires against these women to perpetuate the abuse they experience. A report by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), titled, Crime Against Women in South Africa 2018, found that 3,3% of men and 2,3% of women in South Africa think it is acceptable for a man to hit a woman. According to the 2016-17 Victims of Crime Report by Stats SA, a total of 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of a sexual offence in South Africa. The public discourse that followed Simelane’s Instagram Live broadcast echoed this in particular.

Viewed from a broader human rights perspective, section 9 in Chapter Two of the South African Constitution, the Bill of Rights, provides for the right to equality. This equality clause specifically provides that the State nor any other person may not unfairly discriminate against any person on the bases of gender or sex amongst numerous other prohibited grounds.

South Africa and her people cannot truly claim to be an equal society for women when we subject them to epic amounts of gender-based violence, one of the highest rates in the world, and in turn fail to protect and provide redress as well as justice when they come forward and report these incidence to family, communities and the SAPS.

South Africa’s entire constitutional democracy is based on the freedom, equality and dignity of all within South Africa. This notion is a fallacy within a context of dignity being stripped with relentless sexual and physical onslaughts against women, onslaughts that all too often end in death. Women in South Africa cannot truly claim freedom within a context where their lives and safety are under constant threat and equality is unrealistic within a context where a particular sex and/or gender carries the overwhelming burden of abuse.

The foundation of South Africa’s constitutional democracy can only have true meaning if we have a society that protects women from abuse and protects those who encounter gender-based violence and ensures that the perpetrator is dispensed with justice. The foundation of our constitutional democracy only has real meaning for women when obstacles of culture, religion and socialisation – which often dictates that women are subservient and solely responsible for nurturing as well as keeping the family unit together, usually leading to blockages from leaving toxic and abusive relationships – are dismantled and the equality of women upheld.

For this to occur South Africa’s people would have to rethink the obstacles we place in the way of women who report  gender-based violence and not expect them to jump through hoops to prove that they were subjected to a prevalent, well-documented scourge in South Africa, that scourge being gender-based violence. The SAPS, family, the NPA and our judicial system will treat these women with empathy and the perpetrator with the contempt they deserve.

We would not need a survivor of gender-based violence to broadcast the assault she was subjected to on the internet for the world to see, for us as a nation to then only take note and re-ignite the same conversation we have been having for the last 25 years. If we are serious about women’s freedom, dignity and equality in South Africa, we would capacitate our police to protect, whilst actively investigating allegations of sexual violence, whilst treating the survivor with the requisite respect as well as empathy and we would ensure that the criminal justice system adequately deals with perpetrators. The rest of the system, which includes us as members of society, would not conspire against these women and perpetuate the cycle of abuse.

 

 Gushwell Brooks is the Communications Coordinator at the South African Human Rights Commission.