Gender Rights and Our Democracy

By September 12, 20196,239 Comments

In the past few weeks South Africa was shocked by the ugly face of violence boiling over in a spate of GBV and Xenophobia – a volcano spewing out deep-rooted hatred and violence. Hard-won freedom and ideals of equality, for which many people lost their lives, with a rainbow nation a distant memory.

In this collage, we look at root causes of GBV juxtaposed with the DWC team’s reactions and pledges to be the change we want to see in our country. Here we look at gender rights and our democracy

The Freedom Charter and gender rights

The Ideals of the Freedom Charter have been encapsulated in the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution (Act 108 of 1996), as “a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa”. It “enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality, and freedom.” Sadly, more than 20 years later, we are still struggling to make these values real for all who live in South Africa.

“We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people…. our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities… we pledge ourselves to strive together sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.” – The Freedom Charter, 19551

The roots of gender-based violence

GBV tree

Image credit: UNFPA

definition ofmisogyny

Gender-based violence is rooted in disrespect for human rights, abuse of power and gender inequality. Social and cultural norms, values and beliefs about women’s place in society, and life in general, play a role in how women are perceived and treated.

Considering that “the relationship between a woman and her husband/partner is the closest and most trusted that a woman should have in her life”, market research company, Ipsos polled South Africans on the dynamics between man and wife and if it is necessary for a woman to “obey” her partner or husband. The results are startling: women themselves are upholding paternalistic values that give men the power, which good men don’t abuse, but others do.

(See article on the woundedness of men in a violent society)

pyramid of misogymy


“I don’t know what kind of man commits such crimes against women. What frame of mind is he when he commits those crimes?

— Keitumetsi, Caller

“The answer is men like you and me commit crimes against women, not monsters or aliens.”

— Eusebius McKaiser, Presenter

ipsos quote

The above quote is taken from a press release

Violence pyramid

Most South Africans are deeply troubled by the manifestations of misogyny on the apex of the “violence pyramid”. This includes homicide, sexual assault, and physical assault. This pyramid also resembles what the violence volcano is spewing out in our beautiful land, which should belong to all who live in it.

While the current focus is on the top of the pyramid, solutions to change the situation lies at the base of the pyramid: our values and beliefs. That what is not always visible, but which is clear from the Ipsos poll on power relationships between men and women. Good men will not abuse the power women give to them in a paternalistic society. But we also live in a violent society which unfortunately breeds violent men (who are often themselves victims of violence).

We need to be much more conscious of the base of the violence pyramid. We need to be vigilant of early signs of disrespect for women’s rights and dignity. The joke we often ignore is not innocent, neither is the leering, or sexual harassment. These things make us uncomfortable as women. However, sometimes we ignore it because we do not want to be rude, cause trouble, or be branded as a feminist. But we should stop doing this. If we don’t we are active enablers of the dynamics that feed GBV.


Source for pyramid image here

*Note that the violence pyramid is also relevant to other forms of human rights violations

Sexual violence

Sexual violence starts with established attitudes and beliefs about women, importantly that women are simply not equal to them. This grows into verbal expressions of feelings of superiority. Often the water is tested with jokes, stereotypical statements, sexual harassment and bragging about marginalising women. This sense of entitlement festers and can move up to the stage where women are de-humanised, followed by physical violence. Beliefs that is is within their right and power to use sex as a means to control women come to the fore. Physical abuse follows, and the pain inflicted is justified by thoughts that the woman did something to deserve the assault. There is no sense of responsibility or recognition of wrongdoing.

Fear, our constant companion

Women in South Africa do not feel, and are not safe. They are not only victims of intimate partner violence, but they are not free to walk safely. Women cannot safely be wherever they want to be, when they want to be there. Fear is a constant partner for women. Sometimes hovering under the surface, often tangible, a visceral companion permanently resident in every fibre of our bodies.

This story, as related by radio talk show host, Eusebius McKaiser illustrates how women in South Africa are stripped of their freedom to live freely.

Source for the quote here

By Fia van Rensburg

Resources for gender rights and our democracy

Feature image credit: Aluta Continua exhibition, Slave Lodge