Gender-based violence is killing the South African youth like a chronic disease, and the government needs to place serious attention to this menace the same way it deals with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This was among the assertions by young women at the #BackChat roundtable discussion with Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mr Buti Manamela, at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Friday evening (24 August 2018).
#BackChat sessions focus on interacting with citizens on socio-economic, political and business matters that affect particularly young people in communities, education institutions and workplaces. The recent session explored a range of gender-related topics, including what a woman-centred development state should look like; the challenges that young women face in accessing public services, issues of capacity as well as gender consciousness and representation within the state.
It is part of a series of dialogues that the Deputy Minister Manamela has been hosting over the past four years. The dialogues amplify young people's voices on critical issues relating to South Africa's development and to find solutions to the challenges. The sessions bring together activists, issue experts, the LGBTIQ+ community, rural women and government leaders to assess ways in which people can work together to make the country a better place for all.
"All issues – as discussed here and elsewhere – relating to patriarchy, social practices, religion, institutions, and the many forms of comments on policies must be raised continuously in order to improve the quality of service from our government and other sectors that are affected," said Manamela.
Ms Luxolo Matomela of the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS) said, "Economic empowerment is important for women. Access to land must also prioritise women in rural areas."
Another female participant in the dialogue said a lack of support by government role players for young people - especially women - when there are protests, is a cause for concern. Thabo Lesoro said youth empowerment should also be extended to young people in the creative industry.
A senior female participant from the legal field said the government should insist on having women, particularly women of colour, appointed and actively participating in leadership positions when they start their careers, instead of "doing the fluffy stuff in the workplaces". She said that although the government was confronted by many difficult socio-economic issues, young people "must also acknowledge our privilege that we have many, proper institutions available for the people of South Africa."
The debate had the South African Students Congress (Sasco), Vaal University of Technology (VUT), Wits University and other Gauteng higher institutions of learning student representatives raising issues they face at their places of study and communities.
"Churches are a lot more unregulated. They also contribute to the problems that women face - for instance; religiously abortion is discouraged and a young woman would be persuaded to keep the pregnancy even when she was raped," said Ms Lulama Nare.
Patriarchy is also playing itself out very strongly in Islamic communities, she said, and it also dictates on a lot of stuff in our society, she said.
"We are all agents of patriarchy... for instance; who does the virginity testing in our traditional practices? It's the old women."
Sandile Ntuli, a UJ FM event correspondent, asked why the government and people were not probing traditional practices such as virginity testing in communities, as it is such illegal social beliefs that violate women's dignity.
Other comments from the participants included deepening focus on all human rights, cyber security that criminals use to rape and lure young women into human trafficking. Participants urged the Ministry of Women and Children to be more visible in communities in order to deal with people's problems.