This year marks 21 years since South Africa launched its first 16 Days of Activism campaign in 1998. This campaign calls for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and children. Each year, the South African government has a theme for the 16 Days campaign. These themes often echo current discourse on the crisis and communicate something about what needs to happen to eradicate Gender Based Violence (GBV). This year’s campaign is centred on the theme #CountMeIn, and it challenges all South Africans to raise awareness about the negative impact of violence against women and children on all members of the community.
Since the inception of the Campaign, the South African government has implemented various initiatives to address Gender Based Violence (GBV), employing a combination of preventive, reactive and support strategies. Yet despite the numerous progressive policies, GBV remains a major social, health, economic and cultural problem. Over the years, there have been many positive responses about the impact of the 16 Days campaigns, yet there has been no significant decrease in GBV and related forms of violence. Unfortunately, this raised awareness has yet to translate to the kind of behavioural change that is necessary for any deep and sustained change. It is clear, we live in a country where gender-based violence is pervasive – that advancing gender equality and dismantling patriarchy in South Africa must go beyond awareness-raising of individuals, to radically transform those systems and institutions that produce and reproduce unequal power relations.
Twenty-five years after the end of apartheid, the lived experiences for the majority of South Africans remain defined by the persistence of particular sets of human relationships, most of which are detrimental to living a dignified life. Women and children remain vulnerable to violent trespasses against their dignity because of gender inequalities and patriarchy. GBV, in all its different forms, devalues human dignity and the self-worth of victims and survivors. Throughout South Africa deep gender wounds and trauma hold communities captive, and until gender justice is addressed, all attempts at justice and reconciliation will be incomplete and only serve those who hold symbolic, compensatory and political power.
To ensure the success and sustainability of the 16 Days of Activism campaign,
- Government must prioritise and implement the various recommendations made to reduce and eliminate GBV in all of its forms;
- There must be a clear commitment to fostering better working relationships between government, private and civil society actors toward maximising collective impact in eradicating the root causes of GBV;
- All South Africans must reflect on their own complicity in maintaining the current culture of violence and abuse, make the necessary behavioural and attitudinal shifts, and commit to standing together to safeguard all South African communities against these vicious cycles of abuse.
#CountMeIn is at once a statement of commitment and an offer of support. Let’s all play our part in creating communities that are safer for all gender identities, not just for the 16 Days but every day.
Eleanor du Plooy Senior Project Leader for the Gender Justice Project at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation