“It is time for all of us to act like activists and stop the silence surrounding violence against women and children,” says Henda van der Merwe, director of CMR Gauteng East.
“Abusers should be reported and be made to own up to their unacceptable behaviour. We must stop protecting them by remaining silent. Crime statistics hardly ever shows a downward trend and considering that in a three-month period this year, 65 women were murdered in South Africa and another 122 almost killed in attempted murders; nothing about abuse is acceptable. Not even that which seems innocuous, like incessant teasing.”
Gender violence starts in the home – or a relationship. Women should learn to identify abusive behaviour right from the start of a relationship – and walk away. “Let us take note that 1 758 protection orders were served from April to June this year in Gauteng alone. Usually by the time a woman gets to this point the partner abuse has been ongoing for a long time – most probably years.
“Community members should remember that silence implies complicity… and that abuse is a crime. But be careful,” she cautions. Reach out to the victim first, if possible. Be supportive and sensitive. Try to discuss the problem – but most of all, listen. Do not be scared to reach out and help someone in distress. We should care enough to become part of the solution.
“It is important to teach children gender roles, and that it does not mean submission of one partner to the other, but rather equality of respect and treatment by others. Part of this would be to take measures to protect children from harmful influences by the media – television, social media and in particular, porn sites on the internet accessible from their cellphones.
Van der Merwe concludes that there is a myriad of causes and contributory factors, among them socio-economic factors notably unemployment, that play a role in gender abuse. The greatest factor is probably gender roles – in many cultures the woman is seen as having to submit. “But even this does not excuse abuse,” she says.