The Frontlines of Gender Based Violence (with Rosemary Fowkes)

To say there’s been increased attention paid to the Gender Based Violence (GBV) space would be, an understatement. It is a scourge. And as a country, we seem paralysed, unsure of how to fix it, unsure even of how to start.

While engaging with some of our forgood NPOs (Causes) to find projects in the GBV sector, we received this short essay from Rosemary Fowkes of Pikkewyntjies (an ECD centre in small rural town in the Western Cape). A community story from the frontlines, if you will. It made us think. So we had to share.

What follows are her words… You may not agree with all of them, but they will make you think. And thinking is starting.

Apart from drumming in the non-violence message at school, there isn’t much else we can do. 

There are some elderly folk in Mooi Uitsig who have been known to call the police when things get out of hand over the weekend. In this neck of the woods, the police actually do their job so, at least in Mooi Uitsig, drunk husbands are rather more cautious about taking out their frustration on their wives.  

May I tell you what I have observed in this small community, which I think is a sample of what is happening in the greater South Africa? 

In the mornings…

The little children go to Pikkewyntjies and the Western Cape Education Bus picks up the kids for school.      

The pensioners get busy with their housework and gardens, which are very well-kept and attractive.

The women leave the village in knots, chatting and laughing to their jobs as chars, shop cleaners or menial workers in one of the two bakeries on our coast.  They don’t earn well, but they are well treated and appreciated, often given food and second-hand clothes and a bonus. They come home feeling affirmed.  

Most of the kids are in a good place too.

The males in the village wake up to nothing. Except in the summer when some of the more enterprising ones get piece-jobs as shark watchers or trimming road verges.

They won’t find work in Kleinmond because of the minimum wage and other labour laws.  There is no point even in asking.  People are sorry for the men and would probably be happy to have their labour but they can’t afford all the red tape.  

These men are unhappy, bored and unfulfilled.  They seek some sort of vicarious happiness in drink and drugs, which they pay for by stealing. Then pumped up with Dutch Courage, they take out all their frustration and anger and hurt on their women.  They blame them for usurping their role as the head of the family, the wage earner, the voice of authority and the family representative in society.  

They rape them to assert their supremacy as the stronger sex.

They lash out at the kids too, sometimes because they get in their way, perhaps defending their mother, sometimes because they respect their mother and show they don’t respect their skollie of a father.  

I don’t think counselling or punishment is going to solve the problem. 

Excuse me, I am not qualified, my opinion is based only on observation of a small community.

The solution, as it always does, lies in identifying why this is happening. I think lots of us think it’s because of the circumstances outlined above. I don’t think ‘lots of us’ will agree with my ‘solutions’ but I am convinced they will help in South Africa.  

I think we have successfully emasculated our boys in the drive to give girls equal opportunity.  We have almost made boys second-class citizens. 

I think this was a bad mistake, almost as bad a mistake as BBBEE (or however many E’s and B’s it now is). 

I think schools should be driving home the point that if we want the society we all go on about, where everyone is equal then we must stop favouring girls above boys or boys above girls or above people whose genders are fluid. It is also cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face to turf out an MD of a company, one with vast experience and expertise, because he happens to be a white male.  So what?  

We must stop creating false divisions by insisting on so many women in this department or that organisation and revert to appointing whoever is good at the job and passionate about doing it.

People are not pawns on a chessboard and when a government tries to treat them as if they were and force them to play by the government’s rules – it makes them unhappy or uncomfortable. It cannot but end in tragedy.  

As you can tell, this is something that bothers me terribly. 

Please just scrap my comments if they are inappropriate, but this is the only possible platform to say what I am seeing in our community. It’s a relatively well-behaved community (because even the reprobates hold us in high respect!) 

All the very best to you,

Rosemary.

If you want to support Pikkewyntjies, one of the most engaging and savvy Causes on forgood, visit them here.

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