Address on International Day of No Violence Against Women and Children
25 November 2003

The Premier of the Northern Cape, Manne Dipico,
Premier of Free State, Winkie Direko
Mayor of Kimberly,
Representatives of the Moral Regeneration Movement,
Distinguished Guests,

We are gathered here today, because of our enormous commitment, as a nation, to respect human rights in general, and to uphold the rights of women and children in particular. The growing number of South Africans who support this campaign underlines the commitment of the people of South Africa to root out the abuse and violence on women and children.

I am therefore greatly honoured to be part of this occasion, of marking the International Day of No Violence Against Women, and which begins 16 days of activism against this scourge. This day, which began with the commemoration of the brutal murder of the Mirabel sisters in 1981 in the Dominican Republic, for daring to speak out in support of human rights, has really grown in stature and worldwide observance from its noble beginning in Latin America and the Caribbean.

We must also, on a day like this, applaud the immense contribution of women to South African life, in all spheres, public and private, and on that basis, galvanise all our resources to ensure that women enjoy the benefits of our democracy, which they also fought so hard for.

As we mark the start of this important campaign, we must also recognize that since 1998, South Africa has not only embraced and observed this campaign, but we have actively intensified our own struggles around this important matter, working towards the complete emancipation of women and improving the quality of life.

We are marking this International Day of No Violence against Women, not just to mourn or decry the scourge of violence against women, but to also acknowledge the work that this country is doing, from all sectors, to confront this challenge and to intensify our efforts in this regard.

Since the advent of democracy, South Africa has prioritised the eradication of crimes against women and children, and many pieces of legislation have been passed to provide the legal framework for dealing with this scourge.

As we meet today, we are also doing so being proud of the fact that our nation does not merely cry in rage when abuse and violence against women and children occur. We have, together, taken concrete steps of dealing with this abuse through our courts, Parliament, the Constitution, Chapter Nine institutions as well as specialised training for police officers to be able to deal sensitively with survivors and cases of violence against women and children.

We need to mention, however, that such sensitivity does not extend to perpetrators of this scourge. To this end, more than 40 specialised Sexual Offences Courts have been established countrywide.

Also soon to be passed in Parliament, is the Sexual Offences Bill which will broaden the definition of sexual violence and further ensure that convicted perpetrators receive the maximum penalty.

There are many other measures in place, which when viewed collectively, give the picture of a country that values and respects women and children. We have for example, the Office of the Rights of the Child as well as the Office of the Status of Women, located in the highest office in the land, the Presidency, the latter representing a broad mass of gender machinery, promoting the rights of women.

The more than 170 coordinators of this gender machinery, spread nationwide and worldwide, are drawn from people as diverse as from Government, Gender Commission, churches, unions, research institutions, international organisations and institutions, political parties, human rights organisations, professional bodies and lobby groups.

Together with these groups, we are resolved collectively to put an end to the excesses against women and children.

Having mentioned all the successes and work in progress, we must also acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done. Most importantly, this collective work must form part of the general thrust of the country's Moral Regeneration Movement, itself involving all sectors of society.

We therefore repeat our call on all South African citizens to find a role for themselves in rebuilding families and moral communities. A number of provinces and municipalities have established MRM structures, allowing each and everyone of us to participate in an organised fashion.

We emphasise this because we observe that most violence against women and children is not perpetrated by strangers but occurs within families, homes, relatives, and by those known to the victims. It is only when families and relatives start exposing these practices, some of which go largely unreported, that we can minimise the violence and abuse.

Today, we urge all South Africans to participate in the 16 Days Campaign in their own ways to help us build a caring society and strong moral communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in taking this campaign forward, we need to acknowledge that most, if not all the abuse of women and children, is perpetuated by men. For this reason, we strongly welcome the active participation of men in the campaign.

We are aware of men's marches and other activities that have been embarked upon and that are pending, and encourage these as they isolate the perpetrators, and demonstrate that it is not all men who abuse women and children. We are truly pleased to see men increasingly becoming part of the solution.

From our side as government, the campaign has assumed greater proportions this year than previously, with the entire Cabinet taking part in awareness programmes and communicating key government programmes to fight the scourge.

Through the Office of the Status of Women, national departments and clusters of departments have prepared sector-specific activities that will take place throughout the country in both rural and urban locations during the 16 Days.

This period is also marked by three other important international commemoration dates: The World Aids Day on the first day of December, the International Day for the Disabled on 3 December and the 16 Days Campaign ends on 10 December, the International Human Rights Day.

But work does not stop after 16 Days; we need to continue our vigilance as government, as families and communities and many sectors including the media.

We must at this point also thank all South Africans who work tirelessly to promote safer communities. Last year's campaign demonstrated the active involvement of citizens as indicated in the funds raised. With a generous donation from South Africans that was matched by the Foundation for Human Rights, more than R1.8 million was available for disbursement to NGOs throughout the country.

In addition, at the final count, we had received more than 500 000 signatures in support of the campaign. We thank you all for this much needed support.

Fellow South Africans, please do join us again this year, as we mobilise the whole nation to intensify the campaign to promote the rights, security and comfort of women and children.

This campaign is certainly an important contribution to the task of nation building. We need a proud nation, that respects its women and children.

I thank you.

 

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa