Stretching the Sixteen Days to 365

On this calendar we marked various benchmarks: 8 March (International Women’s Day); 21 March (the Sharpeville massacre and South Africa’s human rights Day); 16 June (the Soweto uprising and children’s day); 9 August (the 1956 women’s march and South Africa’s Women’s Day) and 23 September (Heritage Day). On each of these days, we posed a question related to the ending of gender violence.

Over the last few years, the idea of stretching the Sixteen Days to 365 has gained ground in South Africa and the region and is now being taken up by the UN. In May 2006, the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), Gender Links and UN agencies convened a ground breaking conference called “365 days of action to end gender violence” that brought together 260 representatives of government, civil society, and the private sector who adopted the Kopanong Declaration setting out the framework for a National Action Plan to End Gender Violence.

During the course of the year, in partnership with the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network (GEMSA) this model has been replicated in three countries in the region- Mauritius, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

In October, the UN Secretary General released a comprehensive global study on gender violence that urges every country to ensure that it has a comprehensive multi sector action plan to end violence by 2007. South Africa is being touted in global circles as being ahead of the curve because a draft is already in hand.

During this year’s Sixteen Day campaign from 25 November to 10 December, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in Gauteng held a conference on local government’s role in a year long campaign to end gender violence.

Speaking at a 365 day initiative to end gender violence organised by business women this week, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka pledged that the plan will be finalised and adopted on 8 March (International Women’s Day) 2007. She said that henceforth the Sixteen Days will be a time not just to raise awareness but to measure progress against a set of target and indicators, and refine the 365 day plan for the coming year. Across town, the task team set up by the Kopanong conference, and supported by a Programme Management Unit in the office of the NPA, mapped out benchmarks between now and March to finalise the plan.

Joint ventures of this nature in a country as large and diverse as South Africa are complex. Ensuring that every sector, interest group and geographical location is included with the limited resources available is a major challenge. Dozens of NGOs and CBOs work in this sector across the country and constitute critical stakeholders. The Network on Violence Against Women works well in a few provinces but is no longer functional at national level. This complicates the process of civil society involvement.

While government departments concerned with gender violence are well organised nationally into an Inter Departmental Management Team (IDMT) the same is not always true at provincial level.

As a result of Deputy Minister of Local Government Nomatyala Hasngana being appointed champion of the Sixteen Day campaign in government, there is more focus on the role that local government can play. With thousands of women councilors stretching to the smallest village; responsibility for lighting, parks, housing, clinics and community mobilisation this sphere of governance is crucial in the campaign. But formal mechanisms for ensuring the cascading of the national plan to ward level have yet to be worked out.

Despite these challenges, the existing draft plan provides a useful starting point. Based on the IDMT framework of prevention, response and support, the plan places a far greater emphasis than in the past on prevention by highlighting the need for public education and awareness, including involving the media, as a critical starting point to behaviour change without which any plan will be rowing against the tide.

The response cluster covers legislation (the Deputy President pledged this week that the Sexual Offenses Bill will be passed in February); costing and implementation of legislation; comprehensive treatment and care.

A key component of the latter is an audit to be conducted next year of all existing facilities for addressing gender violence. Currently, the one stop Thutuzela Centres that offer legal, medical, and psycho social care under one roof have proved to be a successful model, but they only service about ten percent of the need. The plan is to identify what other kinds of facilities exist – through social services, local councils etc that can be upgraded to serve this function.

Support covers such issues as places of safety and secondary housing (or places where women can live permanently after they have left an abusive relationship). This cluster also covers the economic empowerment of women, a critical long term perspective to ending gender violence.

One of the tricky conceptual issues in crafting such a plan is whether to mainstream concerns around children or have this as a separate cluster. Activists have long been wary about the conflation of women and children in the campaign. While children need to be cared for and protected, women are adults who need to be able to exercise their own agency. GEMSA has mooted the idea of a separate campaign from 1 June (International Day of the Child) to 16 June (South Africa’s children’s day) to focus specific attention on violence against children. This would add an important bloc to the existing benchmarks in the 365 day plan.

Colleen Lowe Morna is Executive Director of Gender Links and Chair of GEMSA.

December 2006
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