By Pinky Kekana
Reporting on gender-based violence is often heart wrenching for reporters who are confronted with the harsh reality of a horrific crime. There is also the very delicate issue of what information can and should be shared.
The balance between telling a story and protecting victims from further harm is often complicated. Freedom of expression and media freedom is an integral part of our democracy, and our Constitution protects the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media.
While rights to free speech and free media are enshrined in the constitution, provision is also made for a balance between these media rights on the one hand and right to dignity on the other.
The Department of Communications recently hosted a panel discussion on gender-based violence and media ethics. The discussions were robust and reaffirmed the need for a united front to tackle the scourge of GBV.
Gender-based violence is often shockingly intimate and happens in our homes or places of work. It strips victims of their humanity and continues to tear at the fabric of society. We simply cannot continue to tolerate living in a society where women and children fear for their safety.
Now is the time for action; together we can move to create a society where women and children are safe in our homes, schools, work places and in our communities.
Government has put in place several legislative provisions that specifically address violence and abuse of women and children. The Domestic Violence Act ensures that victims are protected as far as possible, and is focussed on preventing further domestic abuses.
While the Criminal Law Amendment (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act deals specifically with sexual crimes, and makes all forms of sexual abuse or exploitation a crime, it is also focusses on ensuring that government departments work together to protect complainants from unfair treatment or trauma.
Further protection for women and children is provided by the Protection from Harassment Act, which addresses harassment and stalking behaviour.
At the same time our criminal justice system and our courts are obliged to deal harshly with those who commit violence and abuse. However, these protections and harsh sentences for those who prey on the most vulnerable and innocent in society are not enough by themselves.
The latest crime statistics have revealed a slight drop in sexual offences against women and children but the levels of violence still remain at unacceptably high. It is also an uncomfortable truth that many women do not feel safe in their homes, places of work and communities.
The high levels of violence in our communities are often driven by social problems such as high unemployment, poverty and inequality and are further fuelled by toxic masculinity and patriarchy.
This toxic mix, combined with the reality that many people prefer to look away, rather than act places many women and children in jeopardy.
This culture of silence, looking the other way, or hoping that someone else will act is simply not good enough.
All of us must play our part in making our country a safe haven for all. The voices and actions of men are vital and it is crucial that men take the lead in mentoring and teaching boys and young men to always value and respect young girls and women.
Pinky Kekana is the Deputy Minister of Communications.