- Launched today on International Women's Day, the South African 365 Day National Action Plan places violence against women firmly on the national agenda. South Africa becomes the first country in the world to launch such a comprehensive plan to fight gender violence.
This year marks the 30th anniversary since the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution inviting Member States to proclaim 8 March International Women's Day. The theme this year is "Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls."
Gender activists are cautious on those big words, although totally supportive: "As we move forward through this next year, imagining a world free from violence, we must all remember that it is only through real action on the ground that this plan will be realised," they hold.
Launching the action plan against violence is seen as a milestone in South Africa's young democracy. In a country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world on gender equality, the persistently high levels of gender violence are a major blot on South Africa's human rights copy book. But today, South Africa can take pride in the fact that it is one of the first countries to develop a comprehensive, multi-sector action plan for ending gender violence, as recommended by the UN Secretary General's report on violence against women last year.
In May 2006, about 260 representatives from all spheres of government, constitutional bodies, civil society, trade unions, and faith based organisations traditional authorities and international cooperating partners including United Nations agencies signed the Kopanong Declaration to propel the implementation of the 365 Days Programme and National Action Plan to end violence against women and children.
Since then, a task team comprising representatives of government and civil society has met regularly. Their goal was to devise an action plan to stretch the annual Sixteen-Day campaign held 25 November to 10 December into a yearlong initiative addressing all aspects of gender violence: prevention, response and support.
The final action plan is not just full of lofty aims and objectives. Rather it has detailed actions, clear targets, indicators, timeframes and a budget. It is a living document that is set to respond to the prevailing realities.
This is novel. The political will is clearly there. What remains a challenge is the implementation of this plan where every stakeholder - government, business, civil society, media and individuals - will have to play their role.
"There is too much at stake not to see this plan through," gender activists urge. "It is about people's lives."
They hold that the ordinary women and girls who have suffered abuse will "need to feel the real difference" that this plan will bring to her life. "We hear many promises, some fulfilled, but most remain that, promises," activists caution.
There is need for delivery. In a message to mark International Women's Day on 8 March United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that: "All too often, perpetrators of violence against women and girls go unpunished. Despite growing awareness of the magnitude of the problem, its dimensions, forms, consequences and costs - to both the individual and society at large - the political will to end the culture of impunity and to effectively prevent and address violence against women and girls has not yet materialised."
For South Africa, it is about making real change. It is about seeing the Sexual Offences Bill finally being passed into law, creating a separate category on domestic violence in coming up with the country's statistics, rape statistics beginning to decrease significantly, and developing more one stop centres for providing comprehensive treatment and care including in rural areas.
It is also about beginning to see victims being treated with the dignity they deserve, Post Exposure Prophylaxis being more readily available to rape victims within the necessary timeframe to reduce the risk of contracting HIV and AIDS, increased conviction rates for perpetrators of gender violence among other issues. All of this needs to be coordination to ensure effective and efficient delivery of services, the founders of the action plan found.
Ultimately, as stated in vision of the National Action Plan, "South Africa needs to move towards creating a society free from gender-based violence where women, men, girls and boys can realise their full potential." The next 365 days will show if the action plan proves successful.
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