16 Days of activism – Is that all?

For women and children who face abuse, 25 November may have felt like a day of celebration. The launch of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, could perhaps give to some the feeling that, finally, the people who have been abused will be heard and recognised.

Does this mean that we can go out into the streets and celebrate 16 days of safety? The campaign, however, observes merely 16 days out of the 365 days in each year. This leaves us with the remaining 349 days where abuse can carry on unabated, in places and spaces out of the public eye.  Unfortunately, I continue to witness the danger and pain that many abused people in my community are suffering.

Many people who are abused find facing the personnel at police stations challenging. They feel judged and degraded by the justice system. They mention that many of the police are not qualified and equipped with the necessary skills to help them. In addition, there are seemingly endless unfriendly forms that have to be filled in. Civil society activists have found the forms complicated especially for less educated people. To add to that, some police personnel do not understand the forms. This only adds to the stress and denigration.

The government is not listening. Uyinene Mrwetyana’s case was unique, someone listened. So where are we going with this? What can we do to solve this problem? What is the cause? Do most of the abusers have a sense of entitlement over the people they abuse?

Bayete, a South African music group, has a beautiful song giving praise to a woman called “Mmalo We”. The refrain proclaims “That’s the beauty of an African woman.” Credo Mutwa, a world-renowned traditional healer, affirms that “In African tradition a man was not allowed to crush and dominate the woman… a man was not allowed to act unilaterally in the family. Everything he did, he had to do after having obtained his wife’s fullest blessing and permission.”

We speak of the great concept of Ubuntu, which I believe is calling people back to a very fundamental way of living a good life. We think we know the meaning of Ubuntu, but perhaps we have forgotten it and instead, we commercialise it.

How can we stop the victimisation of women and children? We need to stop rushing, sealing off and closing problems as if nothing happened. Gender-based violence is not only a problem for individuals. It is a problem for our society, our Church and for our government – who seem to still think that a ‘campaign’ will sort the deep-rooted problems out.

I have felt the pain of families whose children have been abused. Shame and confusion rule in these families. They are traumatised and opt to hide the stories. The 16 days of activism campaign is not enough. Maybe these kinds of campaigns work in places like Luxembourg, Finland and other places that are known to be safe, but not in South Africa.

We need to deal first and foremost with where we have gone wrong and be open to admitting our failures. Prevention is better than cure. We desperately need to prevent our future generations from becoming abusers because they have been victims themselves.

Ms Puleng Matsaneng

Puleng works in Spirituality and researches Ignatian Spirituality in an African context. Her area of speciality is in exploring how African themes and practices of spirituality dialogue with the Western traditions, and how that is understood in relation to Ignatian Spirituality. She has looked at how Ignatian Spirituality can be integrated into the African worldview. Most especially, how the use of song and storytelling can be part of the prayer process. She is currently managing retreats in daily life and training prayer guides. Puleng is also involved in ongoing Spiritual Direction, giving 8-day and 30-day retreats. Her latest venture is a pilot programme of healing workshops that use the principles of Ignatian Spirituality.

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