The period is marked by publication and promotion of advocacy strategies, campaigns to end harm against women and children, the calls to effect and amend policies to better protect women and children, and generally educate all constituencies to prevent harmful and life-threatening behaviours.

The origins of the day emerged in 1991 when the Women’s Global Leadership Institute prevailed on governments and international institutions to highlight and address the myriad of abuses faced by women ranging from physical and emotional abuse to rape and sexual harassment. This global campaign has subsequently been run by the Institute’s Centre for Women’s Global Leadership.

For many South Africans, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a painful reminder of an endemic problem in South Africa. This, despite a Constitution that is unsurpassed for prizing human rights, dignity and equality for all. A slate of laws explicitly to protect against abuse include the following:

Sadly, the statistics for physical abuse and rape remain stubbornly high but the impact of mental, emotional and financial abuse by those attempting to exercise power and control over women is incalculable.

A pandora’s box was opened by the recent #MeToo. This viral campaign, triggered by allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, grew global wings and elicited attention on abusive and misogynistic behaviours by powerful men.

In a powerful piece in The Atlantic, Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent, Brit Marling wrote “the blunt power of the gatekeeper is the ability to enforce not just artistic, but also financial exile”. This sentiment can be superimposed on virtually any industry and sector.

The recent revelations against Charlie Rose and the actions taken by PBS to stop airing his show have forced many to reflect deeply on the effects of sexual harassment – not just on who we perceive to be young and vulnerable but sexual harassment and abuse as a tool of control, and as a means for powerful people to stridently assert themselves. Perhaps the slew of allegations against some powerful individuals prompted a philosophical tweet by economist Paul Krugman who wrote, “harassment issue starting to hit men we know and like – but there has to be a reckoning – as it will involve some men with redeeming qualities”.

The use and abuse of power, whether physical, emotional and financial is widespread and inexcusable. Its devastating impact on the lives of women cannot be costed. The imperative to go beyond the 16-day window to avert harm is the responsibility of all. Accountability for harm caused is key, as is the vital imperative to teach and grow generations of boy and girl children to live with respect, self-care and mindfulness of consequences of abrasive and abusive behaviours.

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director

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