#NotOurLeaders

by Lisa Vetten, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu and Sanja Bornman

Tomorrow, 25 November, marks the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. Activities led by government emphasise the importance of taking action to end gender-based violence but do political parties walk the talk?

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Mduduzi Manana has resigned from his position as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training and been convicted and sentenced for committing assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. But he is neither the first nor the only political representative to behave violently towards women. During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights, and gender violence specialist Lisa Vetten turn the spotlight on political representatives and the protectors and keepers who enable their sexual misconduct and abuse. Each day the group will release the name and facts of a different case of a leader embroiled in sexual abuse charges. The aim is to reflect both on the incidents themselves, as well as the responses of the political parties to which these men belong, their actions proving a litmus test of their true commitment to addressing sexual violence.

South Africa’s political representatives are the guardians of the Constitution and rights it contains, including the right to gender equality and the right to be free from all forms of violence, whether from public or private sources. It is their responsibility to develop laws that advance these rights, hold government departments to account for their (in)action in this regard, and approve budgets that make these rights realities. But political representatives’ ability to improve women and men’s lives is compromised when they appoint abusive men to positions of power.

“Political parties that appoint these men, then fail to act against them, or protect them, are hypocritical. Over the next 16 days, we will hear a lot of public condemnation of violence against women and children from various leaders, but this campaign turns the focus on what politicians and parties actually do, not what they say,” said Sanja Bornman of the Lawyers for Human Rights’ Gender Equality programme. Parties undermine efforts to address gendered forms of violence when they fail to develop systems and procedures addressing sexual violence, or fail to put their policies and procedures into effect. They also hamper South Africa’s efforts to meet Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Target 5.5 of this goal is to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” Yet women’s political participation and representation is undermined in environments where sexual violence and abuse go unchecked.

Says Lisa Vetten: “These problems are not new and if they are allowed to persist there is a risk they will become permanent features of our political landscape. As the country currently debates the quality of its political representatives this dimension of their conduct should not be overlooked.”

The individuals we will be focusing on are #NotOurLeaders and we demand that political structures act decisively and urgently to tackle the problems we will be highlighting during the 16 Days.

 

Lisa Vetten is a gender violence specialist based in Johannesburg, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu works at the Women and Democracy Initiative of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape and Sanja Bornman works for Lawyers for Human Rights.

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Stop the Bus to End Violence Against Women

The 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were decades of fear and civil unrest in the Dominican Republic. Rafael Trujillo, the unelected military strongman and President of the nation, orchestrated a reign of terror through a government sponsored genocide, and suppression of civil liberties. Many political dissidents kept quiet for fear of incarceration, torture, or death, but four powerful, and brave sisters, undeterred by the harsh restrictions on political demonstrations, fought on against the ruthless dictator. Through their courageous action, the Mirabal Sisters won the support of their nation’s people and began a social and political movement to collectively dismantle the regime’s power. Recognizing the threat the sisters posed to his authority, Trujillo had them assassinated on 25 November 1960 but rather than eliminating the sisters’ influence, he unknowingly made them heroes and martyrs of the people. In honor of the Mirabal Sisters, the general population began demonstrating in larger numbers and more often, which quickened the end to the bloodiest period in the Dominican Republic’s history.

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Thirty-nine years after the assassination of the Mirabal Sisters the United Nations General Assembly voted to designate 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in the sisters’ honor. The day marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism, a period of awareness raising campaigns about the negative impact of violence against women and children, and the need for greater support for survivors of abuse. During the 16 Days individuals are encouraged to show their support for the movement by wearing a white ribbon, a symbol of peace, volunteering for or donating to NGOs that offer support for survivors of abuse, and speaking out against gender and age-based violence. The 16 Days of Activism concludes on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, which celebrates the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

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In 2013 the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust will be commemorating the 16 Days of Activism with our Stop the Bus Campaign. A crew of nine, which includes one counsellor, three community educators, one research fieldworker, one Rape Crisis staff member, two interns from York University in the United Kingdon and a driver, will set off from the Rape Crisis office in Athlone on 24 November and return on 2 December 2013. This year the Stop the Bus crew will stop in Bredasdorp, home of the late Anene Booysen, Swellendam and Barrydale. They will meet with community members, rape survivors and community leaders to discuss the gaps within the Criminal Justice System, the rights survivors have within the Criminal Justice System and the resources and services available to rape survivors in the area. The crew will also assess police, health, and court facilities along the route for their compliance with sexual offences legislation and ability to effectively deliver services to rape survivors.

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To follow the Stop the Bus Campaign’s progress, please check the Rape Crisis Blog for daily updates from the Bus bloggers.

Organisations and community members that wish to participate can contact the Stop the Bus coordinator Barbara Williams (barbara@rapecrisis.org.za) for more information.