GENDER-BASED violence and femicide feature prominently among the concerns of South Africa’s youth, as evidenced by the highlighting of this issue within a youth-generated memorandum of demands to the presidency on 16 June.
“I think what the youth need to realise is that we all know someone who has been affected by gender-based violence, so this isn’t only a political issue – its a personal issue,” says Candice Chirwa, a young activist with a particular interest in menstruation rights and safety, who contributed to the drafting of the Youth Day parade memorandum.
Chirwa was among several youth organisers and memorandum-drafters spoken to in an effort to gauge the youth’s perspectives on the state of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) in South Africa, and how youth activists and society at large can push this fight into a brighter future.
What Chirwa highlights is that the memorandum, and its GBVF section in particular, is interesting because it is not particularly radical in the solutions it proposes. Rather, it calls for an end to GBV by highlighting policies that have “yet to be implemented”, and asks the government to stop “talking the talk” and apply these policies and be actionable.
“I think in drafting the memorandum I realised that the policies are there – it’s just they haven’t been implemented and we’re not actually seeing the necessary scale of impact that we should be as society.”
Chirwa’s sentiment is echoed and elaborated upon by Zaki Mamdoo, deputy convener of the Youth Day parade. Mamdoo points out that the memorandum’s GBVF section draws largely from the demands of other previous movements who’ve made important points that have yet to be addressed.
“We’ve incorporated incredibly important inputs from a number of different partner organisations and young activists who are dedicated to combating GBVF and the pursuit of justice for survivors and victims,” he says.
“We’ve also drawn from the demands put forward by the #TotalShutdown Movement as many of these have not been met as yet.”
Demands for change
In terms of what these demands specifically entail, Mamdoo provides a succinct synopsis that draws directly from the memorandum’s GBVF section, and covers concerns of trauma handling, the acquisition of justice and accountability, counselling, education for various social sectors and victim-centric legislative reform.
“In this we’re demanding that all police officers undergo extensive and ongoing training to ensure that victims/survivors are met with empathy and that they can be offered free psychological assistance for whatever period required by the individual, and that government provides well-run centres for survivors with access to required services to deal with the trauma and provisions of resources for continued life,” he outlines.
Another demand is that government works with stakeholders and public interest law groups to explore a restructuring of the justice system to prioritise the wellbeing and safeguarding of GBVF victims, whilst also ensuring effective repercussions for perpetrators, says Mamdoo.
“This includes the prioritisation of the provision of legal aid to victims of GBVF, including those who want to hold the state accountable for its failure to protect them from violence, and those who have been subjected to lawsuits for publicly naming perpetrators.”
Those behind the memorandum want to see government publish a national training schedule on GBVF and gender diversity for all relevant government departments, including home affairs, social development, justice, safety and security, and health.
For Zaharah Msomi, a member of The Youth Club and contributor to the drafting of the GBVF section of the memorandum, the mobilisation Mamdoo speaks of is essential for exacting the change the youth seek.
“Change is always affected through mobilisation – the youth must be educated on the crisis of GBV, be outraged, be loud and actionable in effecting change,” she says.
“Each of us is tasked with holding not only other individuals accountable, but also ourselves when we have become complicit in GBV.”
An additional area of inclusivity in the reach of the memorandum, and how the youth tackle GBVF, is the consideration of menstrual health as one of many fronts of the fight.
“What people often tend to not realise is that period poverty does form a part of gender-based violence in that a lot of young menstruators will experience either bullying, stigma, shame or any form of sexual harrassment when they are forced to exclude themselves from society menstrual huts,” argues Chirwa.
“A lot of menstruators in this country suffer with period poverty, because it is a reality that three million girls in South Africa don’t have access to period products (and) it could be more; this is still something that has a major impact on social activities and is a human rights issue.”
Throughout these conversations it becomes apparent that South African youths feel an esoteric commitment to social change. But what does this generational mandate really look like? And is it a fair burden?
“We, the youth, are more conscious of its [GBVF’s] absurdity and are moved to combat it too,” posits Msomi. “On the other hand, the older generation, from my observation, even though they are aware of how wrong it is, they tend to downplay GBV and gaslight the victim.”
Msomi draws from her own lived and cultural experiences to substantiate this point.
“As a black person, I have seen this in the black community, which is effected through the rhetoric of ukuBekezela – to persevere, hold on,” she says.
“There’s also this engrained concept that marriage has bound a woman to die at her matrimonial home, which makes it hard for victims or survivors to contemplate returning home when they find themselves trapped in an abusive marriage.”
Msomi acknowledges, however, that these cultural anecdotes are not unique to any one group, and contain universally toxic traits of a broader societal culture of GBVF. She adds that cultural traits do not automatically condemn victims.
“In such a lens, violence is viewed as a display of ‘love’, never of aggression. It’s something the victim/survivor can overlook because focus is shifted to provisions (usually materially) made by the perpetrator to the victim/survivor,” she says.
“I also am cognisant that this doesn’t mean they are far from salvation, and try to understand that it is not of their own accord.”
Chirwa draws on the history of revolutions to articulate how young citizens are positioned to be at the forefront of social reformations, citing the Arab Spring as an example.
“A lot of times young people are very frustrated, and in particular young women and girls and marginalised groups, because it speaks to the core of their existence,” she says. — Giuseppe Rajkumar Guerandi