What can be done to end violence against women? 

Women’s month tarnished by ANC Minister:

by Ferron Pedro, National Committee

Three days before South Africans would celebrate National Women’s Day, a video showing Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana physically assaulting a woman outside of a nightclub, went viral. Soon photos of the woman’s scars and bruises as well as a recording of Manana admitting to the assault also went viral. The evidence of his guilt was overwhelming and there were widespread calls for his immediate arrest as well as suspension from his position.

The next day Manana released a statement admitting his guilt and apologising to the victim. Reports explain that he, along with other accomplices, attacked two women, pulling their hair, throwing them on the ground, slapping, punching and kicking them. Manana was charged with two counts of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and handed himself over to the police four days later. The reason he didn’t immediately hand himself over to the police is unknown. He appeared in magistrate’s court and was released on R5,000 bail but retained his cabinet position for another two weeks.

After overwhelming public pressure, including a women’s advocacy group threatening the president with legal action if he was not dismissed, Manana was reportedly given the choice to resign or be dismissed. He chose to resign from his cabinet position and was thanked by the president for his service during his term. He still retains his seat in parliament. The response by the ANC government was insufficient considering the crisis of gender-based violence in South Africa.

Male violence against women is a key feature of the patriarchy of class society, where men hold power and authority over women. When a man’s power or dominance is challenged in a patriarchal society, men often use their physical strength to punish women and control their behaviour. Manana’s attempt at explaining his behaviour shows this clearly when he says, “Regardless of the extreme provocation‚ I should have exercised restraint. That shameful incident should not have happened. I know that my actions and those of the people in my company have disappointed and hurt many people in the country. As a leader, I should have known better and acted better.” Manana tries to justify his behaviour by saying that the women he assaulted was provoking him and that it was difficult for him not to retaliate in a violent manner.

For Manana, if a woman challenges him, it is natural to punish her using his physical strength. As a ‘leader’, he made a mistake by not exercising restraint.  In order to challenge this system and this idea of the role of men in society, leadership and prominent people in society can play an important role in moving society closer towards equality and freedom for women. Leaders in the ANC leadership have consistently failed at this task.

Besides the controversial allegations of rape against Jacob Zuma for which he has been acquitted, he has in many ways supported a culture of sexism in the ANC and in the country with sexist statements. He has said, “When men compliment you innocently, you say it’s harassment,” downplaying the real issue of sexual harassment women face daily and saying that women should be complimented by unwanted attention. He has also said that unmarried women are a problem in society and that, “Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother,” giving no thought to a woman’s freedom to choose whether she wants to be married or have children. He was reprimanded for this statement by the Commission of Gender Equality.

The lack of leadership with regard to women’s freedoms is tragic because South Africa is a patriarchal society that faces a serious crisis of violence against women. According to a recent study by StatsSA and the MRC, 1 in 5 women, over the ages of 18, report they have experienced physical violence at the hands of their partner. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation reports that three women die at the hands of their intimate partner every day. Violence against women is an extreme expression of the kind of sexism expressed by Jacob Zuma and other leaders in the ANC. Women face oppression in the workplace, with higher rates of unemployment as well as lower wages than men. Women face oppression at home with the bulk of unpaid household work falling on women’s shoulders, whether they work outside the home or not. Women face oppression in society as a whole, often seen as existing only to fulfil whatever role men want them to fulfil and are pressured to depend on men and follow their lead.

But this is not a ‘natural’ way for men and women to be. It is only as a result of class society that women came to be seen as inferior to men and dependent on men. It is our task to build a new kind of society where we can overcome the inequality between men and women encouraged by capitalist society. Unity of working class men and women and all oppressed groups is the only route towards a socialist society creating the conditions to end women’s oppression once and for all!

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