Patriarchy, which informs most South African cultural, social and religious traditions, is at the root of violence against women. To end this scourge, any cultural belief, custom or practice that encourages inequality between men and women must be made illegal; all traditions and social practices must be democratised.
SA needs a Year Zero, the equivalent of a democratic revolution, so that all patriarchal aspects of culture and tradition that condone violence and undermine dignity can be remade.
Those who source their power and privileges from patriarchy — be they politicians, traditional leaders or gangsters — will fiercely resist such an initiative. But we need a wholesale mindset change, similar to those in Japan and Germany after World War 2.
SA’s democratic constitution calls for equality between men and women; but it carries little weight in most of SA, where incompatible systems such as customary law, religious precepts and gang rule hold sway. Political parties, societal institutions and business culture reflect an anti-woman bias.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a joint sitting of parliament this week, announced an emergency plan to end genderbased violence: prevention; strengthening the criminal justice system; enhancing the legal and policy framework; ensuring adequate care and support for victims; and strengthening the economic power of women.
Customary law must be abolished, and the constitution must become the only acceptable legal framework.
Traditional customs and beliefs that make women defer to men and preclude them from inheriting property or becoming traditional leaders must be outlawed.
Most coming-of-age traditions, such as initiation schools, encourage patriarchy, aggressive masculinity and a violent response to rejection. Such traditions must be abolished.
In a democracy, people from cultures that have coming-ofage ceremonies must be given the choice to opt out of these if they wish, without being socially prejudiced.
Patriarchal traditions such as lobola, in which a woman is handed over to her new husband, encourage women to be seen as possessions. Such traditions must be abolished. If they are to continue, they should be made gender equal: husbands should reciprocally be handed over to wives and their families.
The reed dance ceremonies that objectivise women are harmful and only entrench the power of socalled “guardians” of tradition. The reed dance must be abolished.
Gender equality must be enforced in all religions.
Constitutional democracy must trump religious practice where the latter undermines the rights of women.
SA is a broken society, with broken communities and homes. The reality is that in most homes, respect for gender equality is unlikely to be inculcated in children. So the school curriculum must be changed to put gender equality at the core of all learning.
A new movement of civil society, community organisations, citizens and government officials must educate every household, village and community about gender rights. All government employees must be sensitised. Gender equality education must take place at service points where citizens interface with the government.
It must be mandatory for taxi, bus and public transport drivers to undergo gender sensitivity training. No-one should be able to say they did not know how to behave.
In SA, political parties and leaders often set the behavioural pattern. Chauvinistic leaders are elected because our culture accepts their attitudes as normal. The ANC and opposition parties must discourage leadership behaviour that prejudices women.
Patriarchal societies with high levels of inequality and poverty will also exhibit high levels of violence against women. The government must rule with more honesty, inclusivity and competence to reduce inequality and marginalisation. Gender equality is a prerequisite for inclusive growth, development and democracy.
The school curriculum must put gender equality at the core of all learning.