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Featuring HER: Odirile Matladi

Twenty-two Odirile Matladi is calling for more than hashtags and words of sympathy from the people in charge, but action that vows to never recommit the tragedies of the past.

Advocacy and activism as remembrance

TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic violence

When I was 8-years-old, we had tenants living in our backyard. Nomboniso* and her husband were often entrusted with my care, especially when my parents were running late from work. On this particular day, Nomboniso’s mother had been visiting. While we were all cooped up in the small shack keeping Nomboniso company as she tended to her pots, her husband came home drunk. They started bickering.

The mother-in-law tried to intervene and de-escalate the situation. My parents eventually came home, and I could retreat to a safer place. Later that night there was a knock on our door. Nomboniso was frantically yelling – begging my parents to come quickly. Her mother had been stabbed by her husband. She later died. Her husband was arrested and released within months.

There are various private organisations that are committed to assisting victims of gender-based violence and advocating for the protection of women and children beyond the 16 Days of Activism, but their efforts are hindered by the actions (or lack thereof) of government and law enforcement. Many of these organisations have limited capacity to provide assistance due to the lack of funding. Their impact is limited by the lack of support and intervention by the government.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence has been reduced to a time of passive remembrance and hollow symbolism. Little to nothing is done to effect positive change. The government boasts about having passed legislation that is aimed at protecting against abuse and violence, but this means very little if it is not properly implemented.

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It is a common complaint that the police do not enforce the law that they are tasked with enforcing. Many women, including myself, have a story to tell about the harassment they suffered caused by police officers. Even more, women have been turned away when trying to report cases of domestic and gender-based violence by police officers refusing to interfere in their ‘personal affairs’. Some of those women who have been successful in opening a case do not get their day in court as their case is either closed for no justifiable reason, or the file goes missing.

The #16days16days initiative by Felicity Guest and Lenina Rassool highlights systemic failures in cases where women relied on systems designed to address issues of gender-based violence and child protection. This initiative shows the various manifestations of domestic and gender-based violence and the manner in which women are let down by the systems and institutions which are meant to protect them.

The systemic failures range from the failure to give effect to protection orders to police officers compromising the safety of women by forcing them to face their alleged perpetrators. This initiative also details the harassment suffered by one woman who took the maintenance court to the task and another in her quest for justice after a fraudulent divorce. All the stories told illustrate the initial harm suffered and the additional harassment perpetrated by the officials who are supposed to assist and protect.

It is clear that the police are not sufficiently trained to deal with matters relating to gender-based violence. We need a police force that respects and protects the legislative and constitutional rights of the people that it is meant to protect. The police force could be trained to better deal with domestic and gender-based violence cases and collaborate with local organisations to provide counselling and support at the time and during the process of reporting a case.

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The government could also provide sufficient funding to enable the various organisations to continue providing shelter, protection and counselling to victims and survivors. In addition to raising awareness of the various organisations that exist so that victims may know who to approach, the government could inform people of their rights and what to expect when reporting a case. This could be done through placards affixed in police stations and at schools.

The media is another thorn in the heels of those taking strides against gender-based violence. Far too often media houses centre perpetrators of gender-based violence in their 16 Days of Activism campaigns and provide platforms for the sanitation of their image in the public eye. It would be more helpful if the media centred the perspectives of survivors in their campaigns and raise awareness about the various organisations that provide trauma counselling and support.

I am now 22-years-old and the end of domestic and gender-based violence is nowhere in sight. We owe it to Nomboniso and her mother and the countless other women, whose names we may not know and whose stories we may not have heard, to create a safer society for women. We owe it to them to not only advocate for their rights but to also actively work towards the eradication of violence against women and children.

*Name changed to protect the person’s identity.

Odirile graduated from the University of Pretoria with a BComm Law degree and is currently a penultimate-year LLB student at UP. She wears her passion for social and economic justice on her sleeve. In addition to serving as the Head of Advocacy for the TuksRes Women in Leadership Academy, she is also an editor at the Pretoria Student Law Review.


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