1st Position Winner of CR Writing Competition 2020| How can governments and the public intervene and halt this ongoing femicide? by Atlegang Makokoe

Over the years many different groups have been the victims of oppression and violence. Women are such a group, and they have been victim to not only the oppressive system of patriarchy but to the violence of men. How can governments and the public intervene and halt this ongoing femicide?

The lives of women have long been treated as dispensable and we have had enough. It is high time that our lives matter too.

The response to gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide by the government and the public must generally be two-pronged. That is, dealing tangibly with the effects of GBV (by ascertaining justice to victims through stronger legal repercussions faced by the perpetrators and offering suitable care and treatment for the battered) as well as tending to dismantle the norms and behaviours that allow GBV and femicide to continue unfettered. 

Ultimately, the task of tangibly dealing with GBV lies with the government since it wields the necessary resources and influence that GBV demands to be met with. As such, spurred by public outcries in late 2019 imploring the government to intervene in the surge of GBV and femicide, the government collaborated with civil society, universities and other groupings to formulate the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) on GBV and Femicide to be implemented from October 2019 to March 2020, then followed by a National Strategic Plan (NSP) to combat GBV between 2020 and 2030.

The bulk of the ERAP budget was allocated to urgently respond to victims and survivors (by increasing access to support structures such as care centers) and provide access to justice for victims and survivors (by strengthening the criminal justice system so that GBV crimes attract harsher sentences). The NSP provides a multi-sectoral, strategic policy to strengthen a coordinated national response to GBV and femicide. 

In the meantime, more resources should be put into suitably training police personnel to handle GBV and femicide cases and ensuring that there is a specialized GBV and femicide unit in every single police station. Additionally, I strongly believe that the mandates of the ERAP and the NSP – including the anti-GBV policies preceding these – are sound and highly likely to improve GBV and femicide in our country, but that government lacks the will and the coordination necessary to smoothly implement and maintain these changes. This can be seen in the continued violation of women’s rights and the increased scourge of GBV and femicide as reported by the media, and in the under-reporting and scant protection of victims and survivors in the country. While implementation and maintenance are not most efficient, I do feel that more attention must be spent on addressing the societal norms and behaviours that allow perpetrators to commit gender-based crimes with sheer impunity. I feel that this responsibility lies in both government and the wider public. I also dare suggest that unless the attitudes around the inviolability of the lives of women, children and marginalized groups significantly improve on a large scale, we will continue to see unrelenting instances of GBV and femicide, and thus put it forth that one way we can halt GBV and femicide is to largely focus on destroying the toxic norms and systems of thinking that continue to cradle it.

The NSP – first published in 2020 – lists the following as the drivers of GBV: pervasive patriarchal norms that promote violence as an acceptable social practice, ideas of masculinity centered around male control of women and male sexual entitlement, ideas about femininity that promote women’s subordination to men, expectations on women to acquiesce to male partners’ sexual desires, economic dependency on male partners as a result of poverty, ideas such as ‘Homosexuality is un-African’ which encourage queerphobia, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of gender discrimination. These norms are sustained in communities where gender hierarchy is greatly emphasized, where GBV is viewed as a private matter between the ‘warring’ couple in cases of intimate violence, or where children are socialized to tolerate violence in the home. It is clear to see how deeply ingrained these norms are in our social psyche and how they inform most of our interactions.

One of the tools that can foster the work of unlearning these toxic norms in education. School curricula can be adapted to handle issues such as gender equity and power relations, the normalization of different gender expressions and conflict resolution, for example while emphasizing the historical context from which violent gender oppressions arise in order to understand why gender discrimination is wrong and subsequently begin the unlearning of them. The school system would also require more stable psychologists, social workers, and counsellors. It should also be made compulsory for students in universities to take a Humanities course that deals with the aforementioned issues in their first year of study. Workshops on GBV – which may also take on the form of multimedia, high-impact campaigns – by suitably qualified people should also be rolled out frequently across schools, higher education institutions, communities, workplaces, and law enforcement. The aim of these workshops would be to broadly raise awareness of the norms that cause GBV and femicide, and how to foster more equitable ways of thinking about gender; inform the participants of the rights of victims and where they can swiftly access help within their communities. Groups of boys and men should be targeted to participate in these workshops where some of the men are encouraged to later mentor a group of boys for a year minimum under the basis of resocializing how men express their masculinity in order to reap the bidirectional benefits of mentorship.

Within our own communities, we must actively hold the abusers we know accountable and divest from coddling our transgressive friends, peers, or family members. People who commit GBV crimes with impunity should not continue to enjoy the full support of a community until they take accountability for the life they have ruined. The government should also display leadership by daring to hold accountable the state officials with unresolved history with GBV and femicide or those who will become guilty of it in the future as well as those who hold harmful gender politics. 

The road is long and riddled with hardship and discomfort, but we must embark on it most promptly and with great effort if we envision ourselves living in a free and fair society for all.

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