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May 2021 2nd edition

Culture does not justify abuse

Written by More Matshediso

South Africans need to use their diverse culture to promote the protection of women and children against gender-based violence (GBV). 

This was according to Basic Education Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule during a webinar aimed at exploring the role of culture in child protection and prevention of GBV.

The webinar reflected on the aspects of culture that make it difficult for South Africa to succeed in its efforts to protect children from sexual violation and abuse.

According to police reports, incidents of GBV have increased during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) national lockdown.

The Deputy Minister says South Africa has a high prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated against learners. This does not only compromise the learning and teaching environment but carries long-term negative mental and sexual health consequences for the victim.

“Recent academic research shows that about 35.4 percent of girls and boys experience sexual violence before the age of 17,” says Deputy Minister Mhaule. 

Reporting sexual abuse in schools

In order to address this problem, the department has developed and deployed a protocol for the management and reporting of sexual abuse and harassment in schools.

The protocol provides a guide to the management and reporting of sexual abuse, ensuring an appropriate and timely response to cases of sexual abuse and harassment.

“Over the years, we have developed and distributed a handbook to learners on how to prevent sexual abuse in public schools, titled, ‘Speak Out - Youth Report Sexual Abuse.’ The purpose of the handbook is to equip learners with knowledge and understanding of sexual harassment and sexual violence,” the Deputy Minister says. 

The handbook also provides contact details of national and provincial organisations that can assist. “GBV is a man-made problem. We must reach out to the boy child before reaching puberty so that we instil in him the better notion of masculinities that are underpinned by respect for women,” she says.

She adds that all citizens have to report cases of GBV. 

The Deputy Minister says GBV tends to affect women excessively  as it is deeply entrenched in the workplace, societal institutions such as churches, different cultures, and traditions in the country.

“As a society, we need a new value system that puts women’s health, comfort and lives at the centre of our humanity,” she says.

The Deputy Minister says cultural practice that enables men to assume that they are entitled to the bodies of women also need to be dealt with as part of the broader nation-building effort.

“As a country, we must take firm and decisive action to rid our country of  racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and bigotry of any kind that opposes the values of our Constitution,” she says.

African culture and Ubuntu

According to Social Worker Mpho Ramoloto, African cultures are built on values of Ubuntu, which is loving, courteous, sympathetic, caring and warm in nature.

“Our culture is beautiful and should never be used in ways that promote and benefit immoral acts of any individuals. Africans have always had indigenous systems that allow families to function in a way that is beneficial to their members. For example, uncles would play father-figure roles in the lives of children who are fatherless, and a true father would not harm his family,” he explains.

Ramoloto says gender-roles and principles of culture are sometimes misinterpreted and misused to suppress children and women’s rights. These need to be addressed in order to root out elements of abuse of women and children.

He says culture can be used to instill values that can transform society to be more loving, caring and respectful, and free of abuse.

“We need to reinforce the culture of respecting children and women amongst men in our society in order to deal with the challenge of GBV and children abuse. Men need to unlearn having the sense of entitlement, dominance and rulership over women and children. This is where many social ills come from,” he says.

Did you know?

If you are being abused, or suspect that someone is being abused you can call:

  • South African Police Service 10111
  • Childline 0800 055555
  • GBV Command Centre 0800 428 428 or send Please call me to *120*7867#
  • Stop Women Abuse Hotline 0800 150 150