This year’s commemorations come while the world is still reeling from ongoing revelations of sexual harassment and abuse of women at all levels of society and in all organisations, including in our parliaments and by our legislators. Thus, SAfAIDS joins this year’s commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) with a heavy heart.
Running with the theme: ‘Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls’, this year’s commemorations come amid reports that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner in their lives. Yet even these statistics are likely to be hugely underestimated. They illustrate why there is a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) that advances the need to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, targeting the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation”.
The high prevalence of GBV and sexual harassment worldwide must be a wake-up call to the world and challenge them to see this as a time for ACTION; talk is yielding limited success. To reduce and eventually eliminate such high rates of violence, Africa’s action must go beyond lip-service, legislation, or reform and focus more on implementing prevention and protection, eliminating impunity for perpetrators and ensuring justice and services for survivors.
Domestic and intimate partner violence is a violation of human rights that affects every facet of our societies. Intimate partner violence is exacerbated by economic dependence, gendered social norms and inadequate and gender-blind policies. There must be moves towards economic independence and transformation that eliminate the current social acceptance of gender inequality and violence, if we are to end domestic and intimate partner violence.
SAfAIDS has been implementing programmes to advance the sexual and reproductive health rights of adolescent girls and young women for many years to ensure that they are free from all forms of violence and can access health services without challenges. An offshoot of this work has been the emergence of a group of men and leaders (political, traditional and religious) who are championing the women’s cause at community level. Successes have been noted where community leaders and men in general, are actively working towards ending GBV and new HIV infections by protecting their families and stopping abuse and other risky behaviours. The SAfAIDS leadership programme has also been working with all levels of leadership to protect all and leave no one behind, including protecting all those they lead from gender-based violence and all other forms of abuse.
As our interventions continue to ensure the safeguarding of communities, especially women and children, SAfAIDS calls on everyone to play their part in ensuring that our communities are safe from violence.
The time to act is now! Let us engage with community members and policymakers to make ending gender-based violence a priority and a marker of success for national development. We need to encourage conversations on intimate partner violence with family, friends, and community members, to remove stigma and protect, and support those who report it. Let us break that silence.
A violence free society is a progressive society. Let us leave no one behind as we work towards ending violence against women and girls.