SOUTH AFRICA, JOHANNESBURG – President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday said that eradicating gender-based violence (GBV) was more crucial than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ramaphosa was speaking at the presidential dialogue on gender-based violence and femicide to mark the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign.
Several women have been killed since the lockdown started in March, with the president calling it a pandemic in its own right.
Various members from the Inter-Ministerial Committee on GBV, as well as representatives from faith-based organisations and civil society, took part in the virtual dialogue.
Ramaphosa said that the widescale attack on women and children’s lives had impacted every aspect of society and called on individuals and communities to take action.
Last year, Ramaphosa was faced with a country in mourning after the deaths of countless women as a result of gender-based violence and femicide.
South African women marched to Parliament to emphasise that enough was enough, making the issue of GBV one of Ramaphosa’s major hurdles throughout his presidency.
On Wednesday, the president made a desperate call to men to play a more deliberate role against rampant abuse and violence.
“As men, let us take responsibility at a very personal level for the protection of the women and children of our country,” Ramaphosa said.
“It is men who can challenge harmful cultural and social practices that undermine women’s rights. It is men who can and must refuse to be part of criminal gangs that assault and rape women.”
Ramaphosa said that perpetrators of GBV would be dealt with harshly.
“We have made good on our promise to this country’s women that there will be legal reform to protect women from violence and ensure perpetrators are given the harshest penalties possible,” he said.
The president warned that those who turned a blind eye to consider the consequences of their silence.
“Let us work with the police and come forward with information about such crimes. Let us support, not discourage, survivors who want to lay charges,” Ramaphosa said.
“Let us believe our children when they tell us they are being abused. Let us take greater care of our own children and those children that are placed in our care.”
South Africans are urged to wear black armbands or other signs of mourning as a mark of respect to the victims of COVID-19, as well as victims of gender-based violence.
WATCH: Committee on gender-based violence launches 16 days of activism campaign