Abusing women equates to spitting on Mirabal graves

Wits students hold a silent protest against rape in this file picture last year. Activists say police must not only be judged on reducing rape, but also on the way they treat victims. /ALON SKUY
Wits students hold a silent protest against rape in this file picture last year. Activists say police must not only be judged on reducing rape, but also on the way they treat victims. /ALON SKUY

We trace the origins of the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence on a tragic event in the Dominican Republic under the clutches of dictator and strongman Rafael Trujillo Molina.

Trujillo served as president from 1930 until his assassination in May 1961. During his reign of terror, three sisters and political activists opposed to the systematic violence of what became known in the Dominicans as the Trujillo Era - Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal - were clubbed to death and their bodies dumped at the bottom of a cliff by secret police.

The killings of the Mirabal sisters took place on November 25 1960, and this is how the three activists became a symbol of resistance against abuse and other forms of violence against women.

In South Africa, the campaign began in 1998 and aptly named the 16 Days of Activism for no Violence Against Women and Children. There was a lot of hype around it as one of the intervention strategies towards creating a society free of violence especially among women and children.

Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of gender-based violence as the story of the Mirabal sisters show.

In South Africa, the examples are many and equally horrendous. Recently, there was an outcry over Karabo Mokoena's murder by her boyfriend, Sandile Mantsoe, who allegedly burned her body and later dumped her charred remains in an open veld in Lyndhurst, Johannesburg.

In our country statistics point to the fact that women are most likely to be murdered by men they are intimate with.

The campaign has been running for almost two decades and one can be excused for wondering if it has any impact, especially when we even have men in high office, such as former deputy education minister Mduduzi Manana, who was charged and convicted for beating up a woman in a nightclub.

The 16 Days awareness campaigns have educated many people and mobilised them into knowing that violence against women won't be tolerated.

Taking to the streets and making noise on social media has had the desired effect on those who thought they could get away with abusing women. A good sign is when high-profile people like Manana get punished for their actions. I have no doubt that 20 years ago that would have not been the case.

However, the bar needs to be raised a bit higher than this. More still needs to be done to protect women. We should not leave these campaigns to the government.

Citizens need to take the responsibility and own such campaigns. When you own something you account for it and the buck stops with you.

If we say we need to remain active throughout the year, that this becomes a daily phenomenon, then we need to own it.

How many companies do we have where CEO's protect their colleagues who are abusing women by exploiting their powerful positions?

The churches, mosques, trade unions and school governing bodies must own this campaign. There is still too much violence even with all this awareness. What this means is that we must change tact and as men, out those who display an inclination towards violence even if they are our sons, friends or colleagues.

As men, if we don't change our violent ways towards women and children, then it means we are spitting on the graves of the three Mirabal sisters and all the Karabo Mokoenas of this world who died a horrible death at the hands of violent men.