Vital Foundation champions 16 Days of Activism
Nov 25th, 09:05
The 16 Days of Activism Campaign: Take a step from caring to action
As Brand South Africa puts it, imagine if, for 16 days, there was no rape and no child abuse. In our country this would be a huge deal, with a massive tally of those saved. The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign challenges South Africans to declare a truce on violence against women and children, and ultimately to make this a permanent one.
The 16 Days of Activism Campaign is an international initiative that takes place each year from 25 November to 10 December, which is International Human Rights Day. The fact that the campaign ends on 10 December was a deliberate choice to emphasize that violence is a human rights matter. While the campaign runs for only 16 days each year, its efforts are reinforced by a year-long programme and a national plan to combat abuse.
There is no getting away from the fact that the status quo in South Africa calls for a whole lot of action, all year round. Interpersonal violence in South Africa is the second highest contributor to the burden of disease after HIV/AIDS and 62% of this is estimated to come from intimate partner violence (IPV).
There are a few champions working in this field, including Dr Kate Joyner, whose voluntary work during the States of Emergency in counselling, training and public education for Rape Crisis and helping to establish the first crisis clinic for political detainees (1987) and feminist shelter for battered women (1985/6) in Cape Town, has matured into a lifelong commitment to enable provision of sensitive, compassionate care to those affected by violence in our society.
Prof. Rachel Jewkes, Director of the Medical Research Council Gender & Health Research Centre and Secretary of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, is widely recognised as the expert on gender-based violence in South Africa, and is also Special Advisor to the Vital Foundation, which has been set up by Vital Health Foods to fight women and child abuse.
Strangely enough, considering the impact of IPV on our burden of disease, health providers tend to resist identifying and managing it as a health issue. However, the fact is that while there are social factors involved, IPV has a drastic impact on health. This has been formally recognised by the World Health Organization which released its first ever clinical and policy guidelines on sexual violence in June this year.
Rachel was part of the team that put these guidelines together, and says “Many women are injured each year by intimate partners and seek health care. If health workers ask who caused the injury, they can provide the counselling and support women need, and especially help identify (and respond) when women visit repeatedly, as this group is in greatest need of help and ultimately protection from fatal violence. IPV is also a very important cause of mental ill-health, and up to a quarter of HIV infections in women can be attributed to it and the accompanying disempowerment in relationships.
“It is crucial that nurses and doctors providing mental health care ask about experiences of violence and provide appropriate counselling and support as part of their treatment. It’s also vitally important that staff working with HIV-positive women discuss circumstances at home and in their relationships, and ask them about violence, as appropriate counselling here is critical for enabling women to disclose safely and live health lives with HIV.”
Sadly, these systems are not yet in place in South Africa. Says Kate: “We have gone through getting the vote, getting into university, and getting our inheritance rights in the last 100 years or so, with a huge wave of feminism in the 1960s, but I feel rather despairing that in 2013 the health system is still not geared up at all to deal with IPV and sexual violence.”
Kate’s recent work has led to her devising a ground-breaking model for screening and managing women who have experienced IPV for use at primary healthcare clinics. Her model has been piloted in a rural area (Witzenberg) in the Western Cape in a collaboration between the Departments of Health and Social Development. The urban pilot started at Elsies River Community Health Centre in late October. If this turns out to be successful, then the Department of Health intends to put the model into action more widely.
Both Rachel and Kate say that there is an “urgent and desperate need for widespread activism on gender-based violence”. An activist is someone who takes the step from caring to action, who believes that they can do something to change the world, no matter how small and inconsequential their individual action may seem. The 16 Days of Activism is a good time to make a commitment to an issue that affects us all.
Rachel explains how individuals, families and communities can take up their role in gender-based violence prevention: “It involves engaging with men in the community to give clear messages about the non-acceptability of all forms of violence, unequivocally supporting victims of violence, and making it clear that perpetration cannot be excused and that those accused will not be supported.”
She adds the specific action that each of us who is a parent or relative to a boy child can take: “We need to take the responsibility for ensuring that boys are raised to understand that women need to be respected and not controlled, beaten or forced or tricked into sex. We have to set our sights on becoming a society in which there is zero tolerance for gender-based violence and that has to start within families and communities.”
Kate suggests the following ways of taking the step from caring to action:
• Get involved with Men for Change, which is part of the South African Police Service and operates from police stations all over South Africa, carrying out proactive policing and community work with men who want to change their behaviour.
• Be a real and present father to your children. So many men in our country don’t know who their father is, or he is just some guy in the distance. Children need fathers and mothers who care about them and are interested, allowing them to internalise this strong male and female within.
• There are many services that desperately need support. For example, the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, a one-stop centre for survivors of abuse situated in Manenburg, is highly effective but is running on bare bones. They need volunteers and material or financial donations. See www.saartjiebaartmancentre.org.za
• Rape Crisis is also on its last legs. They need donations, volunteers and student interns. Their 1000 hearts campaign – shamefully, after running for a while now – still has hundreds of hearts free at R100 a month. See www.rapecrisis.org.za
The Vital Foundation, launched on 5 August 2013, also makes it possible for every South African to make a difference by purchasing a Vital vitamin product. For every such purchase Vital donates R1 to the Vital Foundation, and these funds all go to supporting organisations fighting to end violence against and abuse of women and children. See www.vitalfoundation.co.za
Take a step, make a choice, and help to ensure that the 16 Days of Activism is sustained over and above the 16 Days. The cause we are all being called upon to take up could not be closer to home.Click here for more information on Vital
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