SOUTHERN AFRICA: Guest Column: Running Out of Time on Violence

Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The New Age
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the global 16 days of activism on gender violence campaign, and a decade of the annual commemoration in southern Africa.

Each year during the 16 days we stop and ponder achievements and accomplishments and assess how much further we still have to go.

This year it is especially important to question, all these years later, if the millions of dollars spent in cash and human time have resulted in any significant reductions in violence facing women and other marginalised groups.

One significant achievement this past decade was the adoption of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development.

This was signed by most SADC leaders in August 2008 after a long-running multinational campaign by the Gender Protocol Alliance, comprising gender activists from all corners of the region.

The protocol harmonises existing international and regional instruments for achieving gender equality and sets 28 targets for doing so. Six of these targets concern halving gender-based violence (GBV) by 2015.

Several governments have passed various laws to address GBV over the years. Only two SADC countries, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, still need to enact laws on domestic violence.

Angola and Zambia are the most recent to do so, with the latter launching a comprehensive GBV Act in August.

Several laws relating to sexual harassment exist throughout the region, although most of these are contained in labour-related legislation.

Another accomplishment is the synergy developed between national governments and civil society organisations to provide specialised legal services, facilities, and places of shelter and safety for survivors of GBV.

While many countries have legislation guaranteeing these services, lack of resources and capacity often constrain states from meeting the demand.

When it comes to traditional norms, cultural and political practices, and the role of men, there has been a definite shift over the years.

The spread of men's networks across the region shows the growing recognition that gender is everyone's issue. Many of these groups use the protocol to promote gender equality.

There has also been a significant evolution of awareness and sensitisation campaigns. Across the region the 16 days of activism is observed at both local and national levels of government. These campaigns continue to grow in breadth and scope and enjoy the involvement of all sectors of society.

Moreover, some states, recognising that 16 days a year is not enough, are implementing and supporting year-long actions, often through national action plans (NAPs) on gender violence.

Countries like Lesotho and Seychelles have not only developed these plans, but have even calculated the costs of implementation and have allocated budgets.

Unfortunately in others, such as Angola and Madagascar, these NAPS don't yet exist.

Most SADC states are somewhere in the middle. Member states have adopted laws, contributed to service provision for survivors of GBV and have made attempts to fulfil their regional and international obligations.

In spite of some progress however, the 2015 deadline demands us to ask whether this is sufficient. The answer may be that we are still too far away from the mark.

Take for instance NAPs. These very commendable plans for action won't see the light of day without necessary resources.

This requires serious examination of the relationship between national plans for GBV and national budgets.

In countries that can boast significant headway, it is important to highlight these procedures as best practises and to assist others follow suit.

Southern Africa, as with other parts of our continent, has witnessed a new phenomena of gender violations. These include violence based on sexual orientation, sexual violence during times of conflict and political instability, and most recently, violence linked to new social media.

This begs the question of whether the protocol sufficiently deals with GBV. We are fast approaching 2015.

It is only through a constant cycle of planning, implementation, and measuring to assess progress and devise new strategies, that, during the 16 days of activism in 2015 that we will be able to boast we did halve GBV.