Gender-based violence

Yvonne Wakefield, founder, The Warrior Project

August last year saw a national uprising against gender-based violence.

The rape and brutal murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana came shortly after a spate of highly publicised murders of South African women and became the last straw for our people.

As news travelled and trauma seeped in – even to those not directly affected – outrage flared, and we experienced a unified national conversation.

On a national, local, community, family and relationship level, we spoke of the same thing: how gender-based violence has become a pervasive social norm.

This wave of information, discourse and rage, although traumatic, was a good thing. It brought the issue to the forefront of conversations at all levels, and it provided and normalised the vocabulary of the issue to many of us.

Government was called to account and it responded with promises. Other than for the loved ones of those directly affected, the quiet following these events came as a welcome relief to many of us working in this space.

It allowed for careful reflection and processing of the events and their effects and a consolidation of the unified experience.

But we should not be fooled. The quiet does not mean that anything has changed.

The issue of gender-based violence is, in the wake of these events, more sensitive than ever and the embers glow just beneath the surface, ready for the next flare-up. We need to make – and see – improvements during the quiet times. Let me be clear on this: words are not improvements.

Only actions, and only consistent and sustainable actions, are improvements. We need to see government making progress on its promises, we need to see a change in attitude at police level and we need to see a lowering of tolerance of gender-based violence societally and in communities, schools, families and peer groups.

And what improvements are we – on an individual level – making? What decisions are we making personally, about our own conduct? What conversations are we having, and what small steps are we taking? When the next wave comes, possibly – even probably – overshadowing the last, what will we say about the changes we made since the last one?

On this topic, real change on a societal level is not just a pipe dream. Remember, we as South Africans have, on our own, changed the narrative on a devastating epidemic before, and have become leaders on the global stage for it.

In the 1990s the narrative around HIV and Aids was one of doom and gloom: stigma, discrimination, shame and death.

Today the narrative is hope, life and progress.

Process that for a moment. We did that.

With the support of our leaders, we put our minds to it and we did it.

So it’s possible. Today the narrative around gender-based violence is silence, shame and helplessness.

What will tomorrow’s narrative be?