We have entered the 16 Days of Activism campaign of no violence against women and children.  Yes it is limited only to the 16 days and yes there are certain difficulties with this. But we also need to acknowledge this for media especially; we need a campaign to ensure that these issues are the major media focus for at least a few weeks of the year.

We fully support a 365 national action plan and unless you are a complete banana bread it isn’t only for these 16 days that women’s and children’s rights should be respected and protected.  I have been to a few NGO meetings already during this campaign and had a number of discussions with gender and media activists who have 16 Days fatigue.  This may well be, banging on about how evil and awful violence against women and children can be fatiguing especially when you consider that there seems to be very little improvement in reducing it and an absence of political will.

Yes I know the SAPS figures show figures for rape are decreasing, but look at the figures for crimes against children – last year we managed increase the number of children we killed by 22% according to the police figures as reported in News 24.  I think of all the things though the absence of political will is most disturbing.  Now before people go mad, I know our government has done a great deal to combat these crimes and as I write this there are people in government, national,  provincial and local like Ekhuruleni who are doing the very best they can do reduce and erradicate these crimes.  That said I haven’t seen our people like our Minister of Finance coming out and talking about these issues or the Department of Trade and Industry.  It was our Deputy President who did the launch of 16 Days campaign; not our national President.  The 16 Days of activism campaign is currently being driven by the Department of Provincial and Local government – but go and see the team who is expected to pull it off, they can work 24/7 and will still struggle as it does not appear that all government departments support it.  Look at their meager budgets and tell me seriously that there is clear political will to reduce these crimes.

Still don’t believe me, look at Fifa, how many billions have we had to come up with, public billions.  Parliament passed in a bill in something like 6 months yet it took nine years for the Sexual Offences Act, around seven for the Children’s Act and the Child Justice Bill is hopefully going to be passed in 2009, and has been around seven or eight years in the making.  One of the biggest criticisms of the Domestic Violence Act isn’t so much the act but rather that unlike many other pieces of legislation it simply wasn’t costed properly. (CSVR is hosting a conference looking at Ten years of the Domestic Violence Act this week).  Staying with Fifa for a moment I see today’s paper reporting that Rich Mkhondo has been appointed new communications head for the LOC, I wish him well but hope his pro-corporal punishment views, as published in the Star not too long ago, won’t feature in his communications strategies for football.

One of the reasons for the lack of political will is because for all that some groups, some very vociferous, may do what they can within in their power to reduce these crimes, there isn’t yet a general social norm or stigma attached to these crimes.

Over the last few years there have been a number of cases where prominent sports stars (many of them role models for our children) have been charged with statutory rape.  My impression from most of them is that the sports stars tend to get off.  Often it seems there is a settlement or the charges are dropped and the man is declared innocent.  (Just see the recent story about Alex “gold fingers” Shakoane as reported in the Sowetan where the emphasis was consensual sex – ignoring the fact that it was in fact statutory rape.)  While we must support due process the question that must be surely be asked is what kind of example are these professionals setting for the children and fans who watch them play on the weekends?

A few weeks ago there was an absolutely fascinating and bone chilling story in our media.  To their credit the media reported it.  It was about a by-election in the Southern Cape’s Kannaland.  What was so extraordinary is that the man who ran in the elections and took 57% of the votes, against 37% of the ANC, was a convicted sex offender.  No really.  If people are so upset about child abuse how is it that a convicted sex offender can be voted into power?  Now yes, this is only one by-election and it cannot be seen to be representative of the country, and I am not at all familiar with the challenges there (perhaps the other candidates were even worse) but what message does it send out less than a month away from the 16 Days campaign to elect a sex offender?  What message do we give our children who we like to tell to report child abuse?

So I waited to read about the outrage, to see comment from our national leaders condemning this man.  I am still waiting.  There may have been a few letters but for the most part the story seems to have died.  Yet there we have it, 16 Days time and some of our leaders are out there making the right kinds of sounds, when just a few weeks ago they failed to comment and to condemn.  Yes we can and should be angry for the absence of political will from our leaders but we the public and citizens must also take responsibility for this lack.  If we vote in convicted sex offenders can we really expect them to take the issue of child abuse in our communities very seriously?

I am however an optimist and have faith in humanity.  We have achieved remarkable things in this country and we are capable of achieving them again – like hosting the World Cup – we can and we will do it. With political will, leadership and active support and engagement from civil society we can and will radically reduce violence against women and children.  How do we achieve this?  I think there are a number of strategies and options, but I cant tackle them in this particular blog.  Watch this space though and we will hopefully start to talk about the change that will come.  For the moment my advice is – make gender based violence and child abuse key elections issues, so when our politicians come seeking your vote, ask them the hard questions, ask them if they will allow sex offenders to be on their party lists and what their polices are on reducing violence against women and child abuse.  If they can’t answer, don’t vote for them.