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Remarks by Ms. Nardos Bekele-Thomas on the Brotherhood and Sisterhood Gender-Based Violence Conference

11 September 2020 – The South African story of a peaceful transition to democracy has been lauded the world over. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called it his rainbow nation. It was something to behold. But the light is fading on this rainbow as the veil is lifted to expose a demon, a fiend and an enemy! The antagonist in South Africa’s story is Gender-based violence and Femicide:
– A woman is murdered every four hours;
– Nearly 60% of these women will be killed by an intimate partner;
– One in five women aged 18 to 24 have experienced violence from a partner and suffer from trauma; and
– It is estimated that gender-based violence in South Africa costs us between R28 and R42 billion or 1.3% of GDP annually.

While the Covid-19 pandemic claims the lives of thousands of South Africans, the shadow pandemic of GBV is lurking. Every day in this country it looks to hook its claws on its next victim – a stealthy stalker waiting to pounce. It sees past colour, creed, power, status, age and religion. It is relentless. This enemy thrives in the absence of a strong value system and moral authority.

Rape, femicide and other forms of violence against women are rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs and a historically embedded culture of violence. This power and control create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalized. A study undertaken by Sonke Gender Justice in 2016, showed 56% of men surveyed in Diepsloot, Johannesburg said they had either raped or beaten a woman in the past 12 months. We must dismantle this power structure immediately. Every one of us has the responsibility to challenge this patriarchal behaviour. It must begin with instilling principles of equality, rights and respect in the upbringing of sons; AND men holding their family, friends and peers accountable to the reversal of toxic masculinities.

Thank you Multichoice for hosting this event and taking the necessary and obligatory steps toward standing up against gender-based violence. We as the UN family walk alongside you in this journey to break the cycle and say loudly Silence begets violence – Not in my name! All of us participating in this event either as a speaker or an attendee must foster a solidarity of a brotherhood and a sisterhood to fight against gender-based violence. We are not here to tick a box that we hosted or participated in an event. We must make the necessary commitments to take action from today that says Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

During my address this morning I want to focus on just five messages because in my opinion they are the solid foundation for the implementation of the National Strategic Plan, launched in April by President Cyril Ramaphosa. These issues will put us on a faster lane to better implement the plan holistically and with the urgency and rigour it deserves. This commitment must be made by every single South African TO ACT NOW. Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

VALUE SYSTEM AND LEADERSHIP
Today, the Pule family in Johannesburg should be holding the new-born baby of 21-year-old Tshegofatso Pule. Instead they mourn the loss of a child and grandchild. Why? Because one night a man took the decision to stab her multiple times and then hang her on a tree. Around the same time, 34-year-old Sibongiseni Gabada was stabbed. Her decomposing body was found chopped into pieces and stuffed inside a sports bag. And what of 26-year-old mother of three, Naledi Phangindawo? Naledi was attending a cultural event when she was attacked and hacked to death with an axe. Let’s not forget Sanele Mfaba who was murdered and dumped in Dobsonville. There are thousands of other women who met their demise through GBV, but their passing did not make the news headlines.

These stories should not be associated with South Africa – a country with the most celebrated constitution in the world. I recall the mid-90’s when the South African Constitution was passed. The international community celebrated it with much respect and admiration. It proudly lists socio-economic rights to protect and assist those most disadvantaged by Apartheid, particularly the poor and most vulnerable. For me it affirmed democratic South Africa’s principles and value system.

But today, we should hang our heads in shame. How do we action this founding document of democracy, a document deeply rooted in South Africa’s Freedom Charter? Is it mere words strung together? I painfully ask this because in practice we are desecrating every word of this glorious document. Every day when GBV takes place, we are erasing the words of our value system – a system where basic human rights are given clear prominence with a stated intention to establishing “a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”.

Today, we find ourselves living in a society where our values have been depleted and the moral authority absent. How did we get here and to a point where we are attacking the very form that birthed us and think we have a right to do so? When did it become the new normal for intimate partners, acquaintances, strangers and even institutions to violate women physically, sexually and emotionally and think its ok to do so? When did a trip to the Post Office become a deadly action? 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana should not have been raped and killed in a Post Office. She should be getting ready to write another set of exams toward attaining her film and media qualification.
We must amplify the Moral regeneration movement and live the legacy of our forefathers. The United Nations has already committed and ready to support the re-institution of societal values and value-based leadership. JOIN US.


A WHOLE-OF-SOCIETY APPROACH, INCLUDING GETTING BYSTANDERS TO WORK AGAINST GBV

During his presentation of the 18th annual Nelson Mandela lecture, the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres lamented that everywhere, women are worse off than men, simply because they are women. Inequality and discrimination are the norm. Violence against women, including femicide, is at epidemic levels.

The secretary-general ALSO challenged us to make gender equality but most importantly the empowerment of women a top priority. He reiterated the need for A WHOLE-OF-SOCIETY APPROACH to deal with the scourge of GBV.
While MultiChoice, is leading this important discussion, it is not up to just one organisation to fight the scourge of Gender-Based Violence. It requires solidarity and collective action from us all: government at all levels; the private sector; civil society organisations; schools; families; religious institutions; communities; academia and the media – it even requires the solidarity of those who may not be affected or impacted by the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence. We need the entire country to rally around OUR clarion call that Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

From the strengthening of government institutions to restoring trust and faith in the justice system. From faith-based Institutions to families, schools, civil society organisations, corporate South Africa and communities – it is time to step up on your leadership and include the fight against gender-based violence and the fight for gender equality as part of your DNA.

Faith-based institutions should reform themselves and play a critical role in dismantling patriarchy and negative social norms. Last year history was made at the Africa4Girls summit when the deputy grand Imam of Al Azhar, Sheikh Dr. Salah Abbas, issued a fatwa against child marriage applicable to millions of followers. In South Africa, Christian leaders have been vocal about the role of men, creating a GBV pledge for men – as well as preaching against GBV from the pulpit. We need to scale up initiatives of this nature – JOIN US.

Mr. Calvo Mawele – we count on MultiChoice to take the leadership within the media sector. I want to challenge you and other media houses today to scrutinise your messaging, advertising and programming content. Introspect on how the perceptions that are broadcast everyday further perpetuate patriarchy and as such gender-based violence. There’s no doubt that the media has the power to influence views on Gender.

This WHOLE-OF-SOCIETY approach includes the bystander – the men and women watching from the side-lines. If we are to eliminate GBV in its entirety – then bystanders must come out of the shadows to disrupt the cultural norms and deep-seated behaviours.
Whether you have witnessed Intimate-Partner-Violence or experienced it, suspect it within a relationship, or know about instances from family, friends, or neighbours, EVERY BYSTANDER – MAN OR WOMAN – MUST ACT! The default option of NO ACTION is a crime. A bystander must consider themselves GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION.

The United Nations has developed a set of 10 key actions that every man should commit to including ending and preventing violence: by getting help as a perpetrator, assisting law enforcement if he is a witness to violence; supporting survivors; speaking out within his community or using social media; and making a commitment not to tolerate behaviours that perpetuate negative gender stereotypes and social norms. We urge you to sign up to these commitments and JOIN US!

This extends to the Police! The nature and characteristic of a police officers’ job is to serve and protect. But we hear of cases where women are afraid of trusting the very same people who are paid by the public to keep them safe. When a woman goes to a police station to report a case – in some cases it has becomes double jeopardy as she is further violated at a place of safety. When the police say to her they are not getting involved because it’s a household matter – then those who are supposed to be the protector now empower the perpetrator.

Let us bring back our moral authority – across all sectors! Let us make its thunderous presence felt in all our actions – in all our spaces. We all have a role to play to end the normalisation of gender-based violence and make it more likely that bystanders will act. Like Miriam who was a victim of rape. Aunty B – who could have been a bystander – watched Miriam become depressed and angry. But she convinced her to join a support group. Today Miriam has returned to school and has hope for her future. We encourage you to emulate Aunty B. Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

GBV IN THE WORKPLACE
When we focus on gender-based violence – our discussion must include sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Women around the world are forced to work in intimidating, hostile or even humiliating environments. A 2018 Survey in South Africa showed that 30% of women who work in corporate environments have experienced some form of sexual misconduct. Women are asked for sexual favours, exposed to inappropriate jokes, insinuations, and comments, and unwanted physical contact that can amount to assault.

As leaders in the workplace YOU must ensure that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse. Companies must encourage the reporting and investigation of sexual harassment cases in the workplace by protecting whistle-blowers and or complainants. Many women do not come forward for the same reason as domestic violence: fear of disbelief, blame, or social or professional retaliation. We urge ALL EMPLOYERS to implement and scale up policies of zero tolerance. Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

PARENTS AND THE EDUCATION SYSTEM
Parents should educate their children and all learning institutions must include civic education – reinforcing our constitutional rights, lessons of equality toward a non-sexist, non-racial, democratic and prosperous society. The curriculum must also include the principles of zero-tolerance for gender-based violence, sexual abuse and harassment.

We must promote the lesson that VIOLENCE DOES NOT solve anything. This lesson to younger boys will help them understand that physical violence and other forms of abuse are NOT the answer to solving a problem. We must teach our children to not become a bystander.
I am reminded of six-year-old Kutlwano Garesape from Kimberley in the Northern Cape. Our boy died a hero after he tried to defend his mother who was being attacked by a man who wanted to rape her. He was brutally stabbed to death with a broken bottle. His mother was walking her two sons to school. Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

DRUGS AND ALCOHOL ABUSE
According to the Disease Research Unit of the University of Cape Town, binge-drinking increases the risk of being a victim and a perpetrator of intimate violence. Research conducted by WHO and UNICEF also shows that it is possible to address the violent culture in South Africa, by amongst others, intervening early in a child’s life to change the cultural norms. The agencies also found that harmful use of alcohol contributed 4.6 times to the risk of exposure to intimate partner violence compared to mild or no alcohol use at all.

Children who grow up in homes where they have witnessed violence or threats of violence between parents, more especially where alcohol is involved, are more likely to resort to harmful drinking patterns and increase the risk of becoming perpetrators of violence later in life. Let us break this vicious cycle. Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

To conclude, I would like to applaud President Cyril Ramaphosa on the launch of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide earlier this year. To implement this blueprint and to see tangible change, we call for bold action, brave leadership, scrupulous accountability and adequate resourcing. The NSP is not just for government – all South Africans need to be part of its implementation and support it and take action in their homes and communities.

I commit the support of the entire United Nations toward the implementation of the NSP. The UN response is a multi-agency one simply because we understand the multi-sectoral nature of the problem.

Remember the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing. The time for complacency has passed and belongs to another era. The silence on violence against women and children and the impunity with which this happens has been broken. If I must leave you with one key message, it is action, implementation and implementation. And the time is now. Silence begets violence. Not in my name!

I THANK YOU!
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Nardos Bekele-THomas
United Nations Resident Coordinator in South Africa