Editor note: The link to the petition has been edited, and should work now
Patriarchy revisited: Alarming anti-feminist rhetoric expressed at Ministry of Women meeting. No plan to address gender-based violence.
Yesterday the Ministry of Women in the Presidency held a meeting in Lakefield to announce their plans for the international 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign. While civil society was invited to a “consultation,” we arrived to find a plan for 16 Days that was already finalized and approved by Cabinet. This plan will focus on engaging men to stand up and support a campaign on violence by saying, “Count Me In.”
We acknowledge and support the need to engage men in the fight against gender-based violence and applaud the Ministry’s desire to broaden the movement as widely as possible. Unfortunately the Ministry’s language in launching this campaign reinforced a range of patriarchal ideas that we as the women’s movement and as feminist organizations have fought against for years.
Minister Shabangu opened the session explaining her desire to focus on mobilizing men during these 16 Days because, “Men are supposed to be protectors of society. Men are supposed to be protectors of families. We need to bring back these protectors of society. We need to mobilize our protectors.” She went on to say that women cannot be victims any more and need to “get their confidence back.”
As Nandi Msezani from ESSET expressed directly to the Minister, “We need to be aware of the language used as it comes from a very patriarchal standpoint. Men need to protect us? With language such as this, women are being infantilized and moving the women’s movement backwards.” She also went on to note “What about women in same sex relationships? LGBTI individuals? Are we not women too?”
The Minister then invited Mpumalanga Chief Moses Mahlangu to share his comments. He announced to the crowd that women must be submissive to their husbands. Princess Dineo, from the Northwest Province, then stood up to tell us that feminism is un-African and encouraged the Minister to cut all funds for centers for abused women and children, as they should be dealing with these issues at home. Both speakers received nods from the Minister on the dais and applause from the audience. Others followed decrying women’s abuse of men and women’s aggression as the biggest challenges.
How have we come to this moment? This would be hilarious if it weren’t so deeply depressing. The Minister closed the opening session noting the diversity of opinions expressed and that we must value diversity as it is protected in the South African Constitution. Are women’s rights not also protected in that same Constitution? Are women’s rights not human rights?
In the midst of an epidemic of gender-based violence unparalleled almost anywhere else in the world, in a moment when we are desperate for leadership, for vision and strategy, we instead are delivered destructive discourse and no clear roadmap for progress. Participating civil society organsiations that have been fighting for gender equality, safety and security for over 20 years were highly disappointed that what should have been a safe space to develop positive, progressive narratives and actions for women’s rights was left open and unprotected by the Department of Women for highly negative, oppressive and patriarchal input from traditionally conservative institutions and individuals.
This concerns us as activists. Patriarchy has been brought back to the mainstream and seems to be supported if not promoted by the State agenda, ironically through a campaign that is designed to highlight the scourge of patriarchal violence. Patriarchy is not an abstraction or a theoretical concern as stated by the Minister. It directly feeds our epidemic of sexual and intimate partner violence. A South African women murdered by an intimate partner every 8 hours is not an abstraction. Tens of thousands of brutal rapes per year are not theoretical abstractions.
Activists at the meeting also reminded Minister Shabangu of the Department’s previous commitments on designing a national strategic plan on gender-based violence. Jabu Tugwana of People Opposing Women Abuse, read a brief statement from 13 organizations from across the country demanding the resumption of the National Strategic Plan process. But we received no response, no answers on the status of the National Council on Gender-Based Violence, which has been “under review” for 6 months. We received no public commitment on the National Strategic Plan, which will be essential in stemming our country’s epidemic of violence.
We do not want our attendance at this meeting to be mistaken as an endorsement of the Department’s campaign. We are concerned that the language used and the sentiments expressed in the meeting are an indication that a more conservative and frankly oppressive understanding and approach to women and social rights has emerged and taken grip of a state institution that is intended to promote protect women’s rights, as defined by women in South Africa and globally. We call on all women, on all feminists, on all South Africans, to challenge this neo-patriarchal framing, and to demand a plan from government.
To this end, we will host a National Day of Action on 25 November to launch our own 16 Days campaign to demand a national plan to end gender-based violence from government. Join us by signing this petition and by coming out to participate in actions nation wide demanding an NSP on 25 November.
Statement signed by:
Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
Eastern Cape Rape Crisis
Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET)
Justice and Women
Sonke Gender Justice
People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA)
Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP)
Tswaranang Legal Advice Centre
For media inquiries, please contact:
Jabu Tugwana, POWA