Thousands march against gender-based violence

Protesters want government to sustain a media campaign against gender-based violence. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Women from all walks of life joined the march to Parliament to highlight gender-based violence in South Africa.

Dubbed #TheTotalShutDown, thousands of protesters in Cape Town joined the national movement in action against gender-based violence by marching to Parliament this afternoon. The protesters – all women by request of the organisers – came in groups from different organisations, NGOs and community-based organisations, trade unions, womens’ organisations and Fallists. They listed twenty-four demands which, according to Onica Makwakwa, the national press liaison for #TotalShutDown, represents  “each year that the state has failed to ensure our constitutionally entrenched right to be free from all forms of violence since the establishment of our constitutional democracy.”

The demands include the teaching of gender-based violence as part of school curricula, the strengthening of existing laws and the understanding of intersecting levels of oppression and how they discriminate against women in a court of law and how the judiciary must be conscious of not allowing for secondary victimisation of women during trials. The campaign also wants government to produce the list of police officers who were reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) for not helping victims of gender-based violence.

Speaking to Elitsha outside Parliament, the 1st Deputy President of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) said that they joined the march because they feel that women have to be central in the fight for a better life. “We have called for our members to observe a moment of silence at 13h00 today in support of the march,” she said. Meanwhile the Federation of Democratic Unions of South Africa’s (FEDUSA) Deputy General Secretary, Riefdah Ajam, said that they support the march because they want to move towards equality between men and women.

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Vanetia Orgill from Discover Your Power, an organisation that works with drug addicts who are homeless said she hoped that men “will see that women are tired of being abused and that men should stop abusing women.”

Mickey Meji from Embrace Dignity, an organisation that fights against sexual exploitation, told Elitsha that she joined the march because poor black women in particular are forced into situations where they have to be “prostitutes” as a means of survival because they have limited choices. “Prostitution is the worst form of rape. It’s simply substituting force with money,” said Meji. She is also a founder of Kwanele , a member-based movement for survivors of prostitution.

Tendai Bhiza from Zimbabwe said that she joined the protest because refugee women also suffer abuse at the hands of men the same way as nationals. “Gender-based violence affects all of us. Even during the run-up to elections in Zimbabwe, women who were running for elections suffered hate crime and abuse from their men counterparts,” she said.

The protesters were also demanding that government sustain a media campaign against gender-based violence. Demands for the protection of transgender people also highlighted their suffering especial violence when detained at correctional facilities.

“We are not free until all these demands are met,” said Makwakwa. The protesters were not happy that Parliament sent the Sergeant of Arms, Regina Mhlomi, to receive the memorandum.

“We are not done, we are going to keep the parliamentarians honest. Men are not held accountable in this country and we are going to hold Parliament accountable,” concluded Makwakwa to loud applause.

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