It is 18 years since South Africa adopted the 16 days of activism international campaign against gender violence and child abuse. South African women are still being abused daily.
The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children has assisted more than 180,000 victims of crime and violence. Situated on the Cape Flats, an area with one of the highest crime and unemployment rates in Cape Town, the Centre houses an average of 100 women and children at a time.
Although the Centre predominantly serves its surrounding areas, Shaheema McLeod stresses that violence against women and children occurs in all socio-economic and demographic groups.
Rates of violence in South Africa remain alarmingly and unacceptably high; “This isn’t a problem that should get our attention only sixteen days out of 365 – it’s a crisis all year round,” says McLeod, the Director of the Centre.
“Campaigns such as 16 Days of Activism create awareness around abuse. However, to really see a difference, we need to change the culture that silences violence within the family unit. The police and legal system has a duty to support and not shame victims of abuse,” says McLeod.
Nyameka Booi, a filmmaker based in Khayelitsha, says women are not taken as seriously as they deserve, whether in the workplace or in their own homes. She said women are often made to have an inappropriate relationship at the workplace in order to get a job promotion.
“In order for campaigns like 16 days of activism to be effective male genders should also be involved in it”, she said
However, most of the cases of sexual abuse usually go unreported and it is still a question as to why most women do not report those cases
Noxolo Fihla* is working for a well-known organisation in Khayelitsha. Her colleague sexually harassed Fihla as he was driving her from their branch to the head office in September this year. She said he forced himself on her, kissing and touching her private parts
Fihla did not lay a case of sexual harassment but reported the case to the HR department rather: “I did not lay a case because it would not change what happened but going in and out of the court would make it rather worse,” she said
Fihla told Elitsha that at the age of 16 she was raped by her uncle, in the belief that his HIV positive status would be wiped away and when she reported him, her family was rather indifferent about the incident. The uncle was also a respected bread winner of the family. “Only my mother believed me and when we laid charges, he killed himself on the day the police were coming to arrest him. I never felt at peace, but as time goes on I started to heal”, said Fihla.
* Her name has been changed to protect her identity.