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PRESS RELEASE: “Silence begets violence…not in my name,” says Head of United Nations in South Africa

11 September 2020, Pretoria: The head of the United Nations in South Africa and Resident Coordinator, Nardos Bekele-Thomas today made an impassioned plea to South Africans to foster a solidarity of a brotherhood and a sisterhood in the fight against Gender-Based Violence (GBV). “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!,” she told participants at a virtual conference on “Brotherhood and Sisterhood: Gender-based Violence”.

The conference was organized by MultiChoice in collaboration with UN Women, UNICEF and ViacomCBS and Growing Up Without A Father Foundation, Circle of Lift Foundation, International Women’s Forum South Africa, National Association of Child Workers, CMS Lat Tax and Brand-SA. Speakers at the conference included the MultiChoice Group CEO, Clava Mawela and Graça Machel, the founder of the Graça Machel Foundation. She shared her life story of how her own daughter was a victim of GBV from which she lost an eye.

Speaking at the conference, Judge Leona Theron of South African Constitutional Court called on courts, magistrates and judges to be more proactive and not shy away when dealing cases of GVB. The Representative of UN Women in South Africa, Anne Githuku-Shongwe, emphasized the importance of collective mobilization to tackle GBV and, being “our sister’s keeper”.

South African has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. The Resident Coordinator gave grim statistics to illustrate the gravity of the situation: 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. It is estimated that gender-based violence in South Africa costs the country between R28 billion (US$1.7 billion and US$ 26.3 billion) or 1.3% of gross domestic product (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,” said Ms. Bekele-Thomas.

Alluding to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s rainbow nation as “something to behold,” she noted with concern that “the light is fading on this rainbow as the veil is lifted to expose a demon, a friend and an enemy! The antagonist in South Africa’s story is gender-based violence and femicide”.

The Resident Coordinator’s address centred on five key messages: value system and leadership; a whole-of-society approach, including getting bystanders to work against gender-based violence; gender-based violence in the work place; parents and the education system; and drug and alcohol abuse.

Noting how the perceptions the media broadcast everyday further perpetuate patriarchy and GBV, she called for a whole-of-society approach that includes bystanders – 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, she said.
The Resident Coordinator said the GBV discussions must include sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, where “women are asked for sexual favours, exposed to inappropriate jokes, insinuations, and comments, and unwanted physical contact that can amount to assault.”

She suggested that parents and schools to teach boys the values and principles of zero-tolerance for gender-based violence, sexual abuse and harassment. She warned against binge drinking, noting that children who grow up in homes where they witness violence or threats of violence between parents, especially where alcohol is involved, are more likely to resort to harmful drinking and increase the risk of becoming perpetrators of violence later in life.

Ms. Bekele-Thomas told participants that “the UN 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!”

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