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Pregs Govender

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Time for a Peaceful Revolution: 16 Days of Activism

Pregs Govender,
November 2014

Love and CourageFrom high-profile cases to cases that never make the headlines, it is clear that there is no ceasefire of the war in homes, neighborhoods and workplaces. Patriarchs, from pulpits and podiums, attack the dignity of people who do not conform to militarized masculinity and submissive femininity. Every day we hear of misogynistic attacks on babies, children, heterosexual and lesbian women and people who are gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

The international campaign of 16 days of activism to end gender violence began on the international day against violence against women. This global solidarity campaign was initiated 23 years ago in 1991. The year before, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and led the ANC in intense negotiations with the Apartheid regime. Those negotiations, together with active civil society campaigns, ensured that racist threats of civil war were successfully averted and SA developed a Constitution that committed to a non-sexist society in which women could enjoy the rights to bodily integrity and substantive gender equality.

This year’s global campaign theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Lets challenge militarism and end violence against women”. Gender equality and relations are ultimately about power and the definition, use or abuse of that power in the home, society and the state. Policy-makers, legislators, trade unionists, civil society activists and human rights institutions have to interrogate the analytical frameworks and programs of action that reflect and shape how we think and act. We need to understand which social, economic and political policy choices undermine women’s power and devalue women’s lives. We need to interrogate the structural, systemic causes of women’s increasing vulnerability to gender based violence and the institutionalized violence of poverty and inequality. What is preventing women from enjoying human rights?

Women’s unpaid or poorly paid work helps corporations make billion-dollar profit for a handful of very greedy owners, executives and share-holders, while a self-perpetuating arms industry provokes war across the planet. Women’s role as subsistence farmers and small-scale farmers is recognized as the key to the right to food security, sovereignty and an end to hunger. Yet that work is not valued or counted as a contribution to the economy and receives little or no support. Instead political leaders and policy-makers prioritise laws such as the Traditional Courts Bill that undermine rural women’s rights. Today, 95% of SA’s rural water is used by 1.2% of people who own agribusiness, mining and other industry, while over 60%of SA’s children live in poverty. Stats SA’s most recent report reveals that, “only 30.8% of Black African women are employed”. Most of the jobs in which women are employed are precarious jobs. Thousands of ‘women’s jobs’ in the formal economy have been destroyed by economic policy choices that are blind to human rights, especially substantive gender equality. In the ‘informal economy’ women receive little protection from the labour laws, which they had fought for.

In 1996, our Government acceded, in a critical post-Beijing Cabinet commitment, to ‘decrease military expenditure and increase spending on women’s empowerment.’ Yet later that same year our country entered into an arms-deal with European corporations. This deal was a corruption of SA’s policy priorities to address violence, poverty, inequality, HIV and AIDS, by arms corporations, backed by their powerful governments. Central to these priorities was the need to demilitarize our police and security forces after the war of Apartheid against the citizens of our country and neighboring countries. Democratic SA had to build a new culture of accountable and responsive government that respected the dignity of those the Apartheid state had deliberately undermined. Accountability of the state to people who are Black, female and poor requires a fundamental shift of paradigm and practice from Apartheid’s capitalist, patriarchal mindset. Elected leaders whose mandate is to protect and promote human rights must be held accountable to those who have been reduced to the poorest and the most powerless as their land, water and other natural resources are taken from them. Leaders cannot collude or be corrupted by those who lay claim to the wealth of the world.

Civil society has demanded that the Ministry of Women “develop and implement a comprehensive and fully funded national strategic plan to prevent, combat and respond to gender based violence”. There are many expert research reports that address the policy and program changes required in the the criminal justice system, co-operative governance, social development, health, finance, human settlements, water and sanitation, labour, trade and industry, economic affairs, agriculture, small business development and many other departments in all spheres of government. The many parliamentary hearings and consultations in civil society that have been held, can inform an inclusive strategic plan.

This year’s campaign can be used to expose the connection between the violence against women and the institutionalized violence of economic and religious fundamentalisms that perpetuate war, poverty and inequality. This solidarity campaign ends on International Human Rights Day, which recognises women’s rights as human rights and human rights as women’s rights. The Universal Declaration declares that human beings are entitled to the right to be ‘free from fear and free from want’. It also recognizes that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized” Nothing less than a peaceful revolution in ourselves and our world is needed to create that order.

Pregs Govender is SAHRC Deputy Chair and a full-time Commissioner. A feminist activist, Pregs organized against Apartheid as a teacher and trade unionist. She managed the Women’s National Coalition during SA’s transition and served as an MP in SA’s first Democratic Parliament (1994-2008).

Book details

Our Violent Society: Created In the Name of “Culture”

Fifteen years into liberation and democracy we should be guided by the way South Africa’s citizens created an inclusive human rights culture that values every person. Our Constitution upholds the right to religion, culture and language as long as these do not undermine the values enshrined there. The values of our democracy are clear: human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

Under apartheid the lives of the majority of South Africans were devalued — life was cheap and “culture” was used by the apartheid state to divide, exclude and dishonour. Despite the state’s oppression, a culture of resistance nourished poetry, art, music, theatre and dance, and people retained and evolved rich oral traditions. Culture as the values, beliefs and art that people use to define themselves changes and adapts as people change and adapt. However, apartheid attempted to calcify culture as a tool to divide and rule and had brutal success in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Many men in KwaZulu-Natal were mobilised or coerced into a “cultural” organisation on the basis of Zulu identity. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the apartheid state funded and armed this “cultural” organisation. Members of the Israeli security trained its deadliest members. The conflict that followed almost escalated into civil war in parts of South Africa. The TRC confirmed the “impi” had gone on a killing spree not just against other men, but also against women and children. Independent research into the violence confirmed that women’s and girls’ bodies were targeted in particularly vicious ways. This was not peculiar to these attacks — this viciousness was very much in line with that of the apartheid masters on women detainees, women on streets and farms and women in their own families.
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Love and Courage: Inciting Insubordination

Here is the The 2008 Julius Nyerere Lecture on Lifelong Learning speech I gave at the University of the Western Cape earlier this week.

Love and Courage: Inciting Insubordination

Thank you to the University of the Western Cape for ensuring that we do not forget a great teacher – Julius Nyerere. I am deeply honoured to present this year’s lecture. Thank you to Shirley Walters and all the staff of DLL for making today a gift for each guest here today – with music, poetry and flowers. Thank you to the UWC choir for the music and to Malika Ndlovu for a beautiful poem – may every one of us experience the generosity of spirit that moves you.

In honouring Julius Nyerere today I remembered that the highest form of praise is not to put those we honour on a pedestal – to turn them into saints or gods – but to understand and learn from their example. It is too easy to turn those we respect into saints or gods gilding over the lessons we could learn from their weaknesses and the effort they made to develop themselves.

The best teachers, like Nyerere, know that you do not ‘develop people’ as if they are empty vessels waiting to be filled with your wisdom or clay to be molded into the image you wish to carve out. The best teachers create the conditions in which people ‘develop themselves’, in which we recognize our own power and our beauty. Great teachers help us to develop the tools of analysis and understanding but it is through our own efforts that we reach clarity. It is through our own practice of the values they embody that we develop our own commitment to those values.
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5th Annual Julius Nyerere Lecture on Lifelong Learning

This Thursday, I’m honoured to be giving the 5th Annual Julius Nyerere Lecture on Lifelong Learning at the University of the Western Cape. My speech is called ‘Love and courage – inciting insubordination’. Here are the details – please come if you can:

UWC decided to name its Annual Lifelong Learning Lecture after Julius Kambarage Nyerere, recognising him as an influential and respected African political leader. He was acknowledged as a postcolonial thinker, a rare intellectual who was open to new ideas and criticism and displayed an independent mindedness that inspired so many. He saw education as a means of bringing about human liberation and equality in society. To him, education of individuals was seen mainly as a means of advancing the collective good of society.
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Youth and Peacebuilding: Coherence Between Declarations and Action

I was privileged to address the most recent Commonwealth Ministers of Youth Meeting, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 28 April 2008. The speech I gave was later used as the basis for an article which will be published in a book for the Commonwealth Ministers. Here is the article:

YOUTH AND PEACEBUILDING: COHERENCE BETWEEN DECLARATIONS AND ACTION
By Pregs Govender

Many wonderful commitments to world peace have been made to the young men and women, the girls and boys of our world by the 53 independent states that make up the Commonwealth, in the Declarations by their Heads of Government. If these commitments were effected, there would be significant change – the kind of change that we hope for, the kind of change that our vision inspires us towards.

Yet we often despair at the lack of change and wonder why things remain the same or get worse. The age we live in is one in which young women and men face economic and religious fundamentalisms; unemployment and other factors that exacerbate poverty; diseases such as HIV/ Aids; increasing militarisation, war and deepening violence. Some countries are now characterised as war economies in which the largest employer is the army. The consequences for youth and peace building, across our world, are devastating.
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