On 21 March 2018, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Africa Unite commemorated Human Rights Day by hosting a Gender Based Violence and Human Rights Imbizo at Phillipi Village in Phillipi, Cape Town. The Imbizo sought to create an enabling platform for a broad spectrum of thought-leaders, activists and other key decision-makers to critically engage the pressing question of gender based violence from a human rights perspective.
In her opening remarks, Lezerine Mashaba, moderator of the Imbizo highlighted the historical link between Human Rights Day in South Africa and the events of 21 March 1960. On that momentous day 69 people died and 180 were wounded in Sharpeville and Langa respectively when apartheid police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the pass laws. “It is important for us to reflect on the lessons of the Sharpeville Massarce in our quest to address modern day human rights challenges. On 21 March 1960, ordinary people rose in unison to proclaim their rights”, she said.
Miss Mashaba added that “21 March has become an iconic date in our country’s history that we commemorate as Human Rights Day as a reminder of our rights and the cost paid for our treasured human rights.”
Delegates representing various organisations including the Department of Health, the International Peace Youth Group, SWEAT, Overberg Development, Khayelitsha Peace Building Team, JUST Choice and the Phillipi Brotherhood Project participated in an array of activities and discussions aimed at deepening their understanding of gender-based violence as it relates to human rights.
As part of the proceedings, participants were challenged to explore the root causes of gender-based violence, unpack the effects of gender-based violence on society and reflect on the changes necessary for the creation of more gender just communities.
Facilitators Lezerine Mashaba and Eleanor du Plooy creatively employed a tree analogy to create an interactive and engaging environment for critical discussions. Drawing from the tree analogy, participants identified roots of gender-based violence as unequal power relations between men and women, patriarchy, culture and religion among other things. Furthermore, participants maintained that these identified roots naturally lead to gender injustice, inequality and ultimately gender-based violence.
Though gender and women’s empowerment issues are gaining currency within the South African development context, gender, sexual and reproductive rights are still regarded as taboo, too sensitive and emotive to warrant attention by the broader society. It is within the above-noted context that organisers of the Imbizo sought to stimulate dialogue on Gender Based Violence and Human Rights, with a particular focus on the rights of the most vulnerable in society including women, children and the LGBTIQA+ community.
Representatives of SWEAT, an organisation at the coalface of sex worker advocacy, human rights and mobilisation in Africa, shared with the plenary their experiences as human rights activists and lamented the criminalisation of sex work in South Africa. “Criminalisation of sex work infringes upon a sex worker’s rights to equality, privacy, human dignity and bodily integrity as enshrined in the Bill of Rights.” argued Pam Ntshakula.
Commenting during a plenary session, activist and writer Zilungile Zimela emphatically stated that “Just as communities worked collaboratively to advance the human rights of the LGBTIQA+ community in post-apartheid South Africa; we have a moral obligation to contribute towards the struggle for the recognition of rights of the most vulnerable in society including sexual and reproductive rights. We must as a matter of principle, learn, unlearn and relearn that which makes us human in order to contribute meaningfully towards the course for the transformation of society for the public good.”
Hasina Subedar from the Department of Health urged delegates to work together to address the challenge of sexual and gender-based violence. She mentioned that the Department of Health is committed to increasing access to health, educational and other services to improve the lives of adolescent girls and young women in South Africa. “Through the She Conquers Campaign, we are partnering with communities to empower girls to take charge of destiny to become the women they want to be”.
The Gender-Based Violence and Human Rights Imbizo concluded with attendees recommitting themselves to working, together with communities, more effectively toward the advancement of a more gender just society and for the rights of the most vulnerable in society.