We are proud to introduce the first of our 16 Voices in our “16 Voices in 16 Days” Campaign against gender-based violence!
Lee-Anne Germanos is the Director and Co-Founder of The Embrace Project, a wonderful organisation that sells art to raise funds in support of organisations that are combatting gender-based violence in South Africa. They also raise awareness around the prevalence and causes of #GBV, with the hope of bringing reform to legislation surrounding gender-based violence.
The Justice Desk believes in the power of the everyday person, especially in their ability to create lasting, impactful and effective change in their communities! Through this campaign, we hope to both raise awareness to #GBV, but also to unite and inspire others in order to take action within their own spaces. Ending GBV is not the fight of some, but of us all!
Let us never forget to recognise the incredible power that we as South Africans have, when we come together, to make a change. By amplifying these 16 remarkable changemakers, we hope to inspire YOU in contributing YOUR own thoughts and voice, as we unite in solidarity in the important fight against gender-based violence.
"These days I often find myself asking those around me, “so where to from here?”. With a global pandemic, health care systems and economies under strain, it’s often difficult merely to keep one’s head above water. In South Africa, these global issues are compounded by social problems which have been exacerbated over this period. The rates of gender-based violence are the highest they’ve ever been according to the latest national crime statistics. So it was unsurprising that at numerous points throughout this past year I wanted to throw my arms up in the air and surrender to the darkness that has seemingly made its home in our society.
It is only in attempting to answer the above question that we can begin to carve out a roadmap – a step by step guide or checklist – to stay sane and ‘keep it moving'. But, in order to know where we are headed, we need to know where we have come from. Modern-day South Africa’s legacy is rooted in colonialism and Apartheid where violence, and the threat of violence, was the order of the day. Oppression, however, is multifaceted. Because control of a population is exerted on multiple levels – especially psychologically – familial structures were deliberately broken down and self-worth eroded. Our oppressive regimes were designed to produce an unequal society with a legal system that ‘legitimatised’ it.
In today’s South Africa, inequality is institutionalised – no longer on the basis of race, but rather on socio-economic standing built on historically disadvantaged backgrounds. There also appears to have been no psychological shift in the population’s disdain for the law, which was fostered during Apartheid on the basis of an unfair legal system. Policing techniques and prison systems that were designed to torture and punish the oppressed have continued unreformed. It should also come as no surprise that substance abuse in South Africa is among the highest in the world.
Twenty-seven years into democracy and nothing has substantively been done to break the cycle of violence and oppression in our communities. For that, South Africa’s social fabric is currently in tatters. This gives context to the daily reports of sexual violence, grotesque mutilations and senseless murders of South African women and children, often by their loved ones. Gender-based violence and femicide is about power and control exerted by a perpetrator (predominantly a male) against a vulnerable and weaker victim (predominantly women and children). This puts into context the obscene rates of gender-based violence and femicide in a society where the majority of the population feels disempowered because of a lack of opportunity to improve their circumstances. This is brought about by poverty, poor quality education and a lack of employment opportunities. For most perpetrators, gender-based violence and femicide (as sick as it may be) is a way to regain some semblance of control over the world that they were born into. Violence, in general, is so commonplace in South Africa that it is normalised in society. This is evinced by the manner and frequency that it is reported on in the media. Gangsterism and criminal syndicates have also all but taken over the country.
So where to from here? We need to be proactive in preventing violence, and not just reactive in punishing it. In other words, we need to treat the causes and not the symptoms of violence. It is not enough (although necessary) to amend laws and create new policies. Social behaviour must change in order for violence and rape culture to cease to exist. Public programmes targeting sexism, coupled with sensitisation training for officials would go a long way in assisting the reduction of the perpetration of gender-based violence and increase the implementation of legislation and policy targeting it. Compulsory and specialised school curricula should also be developed to eradicate harmful behaviour, stereotypes, beliefs, practices and attitudes in children so as to break the cycle of violence at a developmental stage. It is clear from the above context that South Africans suffer psychologically from institutionalised inequality and normalised violence – which are both forms of oppression. The state must realise the necessity for psycho-social services in our communities that are still haemorrhaging from the past.
South African men must also stand up and be counted. They need to take accountability for the role that they all play in either allowing the perpetration of gender-based violence in our country to continue or in stopping it. Toxic masculinity must be eradicated. That is why The Embrace Project, in partnership with Shekhinah’s Rosefest, will be calling on men to redefine the meaning of a ‘real man’ during 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence in what is called the Real Man Campaign. We also cannot overlook the fact that the majority of South Africans are guided by their community leaders – be they traditional or religious – and that they are just as responsible as the government for educating their communities, and advocating against gender-based violence and femicide. The fact that a patriarchal narrative steers our society, determines our laws and colours our legal system also remains top of mind. That narrative needs to be challenged constantly and at every angle. That includes the challenging of key legalisation, and our sexual offences trial system, which was historically designed to discredit women. The Embrace Project is in fact currently challenging the definitions of rape and consent in Sexual Offences Amendment Act, which, for too long, have stubbornly clung on to their gender bias.
Finally, South African prisons are gang-run and have long ceased to serve their purpose. It should be obvious that our prison system is in desperate need of an overhaul when prison violence overshadows rehabilitation and results in the release of more violent individuals into society. This multifaceted and in-depth response required to eradicate gender-based violence and femicide is contained in a 12-page document that The Embrace Project has termed its “blueprint”. Its implementation is required to address a multidimensional social issue in a society that is a walking, living shadow of its past."
Director and co-founder, The Embrace Project