“Stand up and speak out. Unsilence violence.” These were the words which echoed from a number of speakers raising the alarm on gender based violence (GBV) in communities. Faith-based leaders led the silent picket outside the Athlone stadium this morning in a unified show of solidarity with women and children who are victims of abuse. The event was organised by the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), as part of their 16 Days of Activism campaign and was supported by the Public Protector, Department of Justice and Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum amongst others.
The protest was attended by some 500 women from a number of NGOs working with survivors of abuse such as Ihata Shelter, YMCA, Saartjie Baartman Centre and Women for Change. While the turnout was disappointing, organisers say they were not deterred in making their voices heard that violence against women and children must be “unsilenced”.
“Gender based violence is escalating in our community and we need to do something about it. Those who are guilty need to stop…we can’t allow this to continue. We need to put our heads together and see how we as religious leaders can guide our community in fighting this scourge,” said MJC president Shaykh Irafaan Abrahams.
Almost 90 percent of the cases dealt with by the MJC Social Welfare department is related to domestic violence. The MJC believes GBV is “endemic” and is one of the main contributors to the destruction of marriages and the family unit.
“We need our men to go for counselling and to seek treatment. Men need to understand how they should treat their spouses,” said Shaykh Abrahams.
Staff at the Ihata Shelter for Abused Women and Children used face make up to symbolically show the physical bruises of abused women. The shelter’s director Nuraan Osman said it was important that the religious fraternity vocalise their condemnation against the social ills within communities as they have the greatest impact.
“Over the past 10 years that Ihata has been in existence, we have often felt that no one is listening to our pleas or the needs of the victims. Today’s initiative shows that our religious leaders want to do something about it. It’s landmark in some ways…but also compulsory in another way.”
Protesters walked down Klipfontein road chanting messages of support and interacting with motorists, who hooted as they drove along.
A protester said the 16 Days of Activism was not enough to address the extent of gender based violence.
“The truth is that our justice system is messed up. There is no real justice for women and children who are victims of violence.”
A male demonstrator, Sulaiman Ariefdien, believes a change will be made if men change their attitudes towards women.
“It’s not easy as a man, to see these things happening. Every woman in our community is our sister. I firmly believe that if men don’t have respect for their mothers, they won’t have respect for their wives or daughters.”
Another picket had one simple, yet bold message.
“Stand up and speak out!” VOC