Nothing for women to celebrate

As Women’s Month ends, it is safe to say that it was everything but an average month. Aside from the national lockdown which kept most South Africans home, the well wishes for women were overshadowed or replaced with calls for justice.

Although domestic abuse is always highlighted this time of year, the outpour against the continued murder of women and children in South Africa – dubbed femicide – was overwhelming. The message was clear: Don’t celebrate women if you are not going to protect them.

In part, the calls were amplified by the global outrage against injustices still taking place through movements like the Black Lives Matter and Me Too.

However, the calls for justice were mostly a result of the spike in domestic abuse cases following the national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an article by Eyewitness News, more than 120 000 people called the national helpline for abused women and children – double the usual number.

President Cyril Ramaphosa directly addressed these concerning figures when he spoke to the nation on Women’s Day, August 9. In his speech, he referred to the violence against women as a second pandemic facing South Africans.

“We can no longer as a nation ignore the deafening cries of women and children for protection, for help and for justice,” Ramaphosa said. He continued by mentioning some direct actions being taken by government to support women in this time.

These included increasing the number of shelters and care centres for survivors, improving the capacity of the police to deal with crimes of gender-based violence and reforming South African laws to give greater protection to survivors.

Further, the president pointed to economical independence as a way to help women: “One of the most important ways to reduce the vulnerability of women to gender-based violence is to enable them to become financially independent.” You can read the president’s full address here.

Women with disabilities are at an even greater risk of abuse because of their physical, mental and potential financial vulnerabilities.

Fortunately, there are many ways in which you can support the survivors of domestic abuse. First, you can say something when you see something. Reach out to women who might seem in danger and offer any assistance that you can provide whether it is to assist her in getting to a shelter or notifying the authorities.

Remember that some domestic abuse situations can be life or death for the woman or child involved. Practice discretion at all times.

Second, you can donate to a shelter or care centre to assist the survivors (see a full list of shelters here). If a financial donation is not possible, consider donating extra food or clothing you no longer wear. Some survivors might have children with them. Consider knitting baby or children’s clothing or donate a blanket.

Lastly, share the important information around domestic abuse so that more awareness can be raised on the issue. Whether it is sharing the important contact information of shelters or accurate statistics on abuse, it is important to make more South Africans aware of the true impact of femicide on the country.

If you or a loved one are experience abuse, contact the national domestic violence helpline at 0800 150 150.

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