End violence against women and femicide in South Africa

by Magdalena Medley, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group, Amnesty International USA

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10th, Human Rights Day. The United Nations adopted a specific resolution to protect Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) acknowledging that a key challenge for WHRDs is the systemic and structural discrimination and violence they face. Women defenders are subject to the same types of risks as any human rights defender, but as women, they are also targeted for or exposed to gender-specific threats and gender-specific violence. As part of the 16 Days Campaign, Amnesty International USA invites you to take action and stand in solidarity with one of those courageous activists.

Violence against women involves a wide range of actions, including verbal harassment, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, up to and including femicide. During this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, Amnesty International USA is asking you to take a stand against all forms of violence against women and demand an end to impunity for those who perpetrate it.

Violence against women is on the rise in South Africa. Last year, thousands of South African women protested on the streets as a result of multiple brutal attacks and the failure of the government to provide justice for the victims and their families.

According to the women’s minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, more than 30 women were killed by their spouses in July 2019 alone. In 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, violence has increased significantly. There was an upward trend of violence against women in South Africa from March 27 to April 16.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. A woman is murdered in the country every three hours, according to the latest statistics from the South African Police Service.

But the recent increase in violence and protests comes from years of impunity and lack of justice for femicides, the murder of women because they are women. A culture of patriarchy, economic inequality, misogyny and impunity from justice enable and perpetuate violence against women in South Africa.

On May 12, 2017, 24-year-old Popi Qwabe, and 28-year-old Bongeka Phungula, hailed a minibus taxi heading for a night out. The two talented young students were not heard from again. Following a frantic search at hospitals and police stations, the terrible truth was discovered. Popi and Bongeka had been shot dead and dumped by the side of a road. They may also have been raped.

Two taxi operators were arrested. They had some of the women’s belongings, including a cellphone and lipstick, which they claimed they found in the taxi. But the police released the men citing lack of evidence and the case was withdrawn pending further investigation.

According to the families, the police failed to properly investigate the murders. A taxi containing the women’s bloodstains and belongings was found. While the blood was apparently analyzed, the forensic department never released the results. The families say the police did not check for fingerprints and that the phones belonging to the two girls were never traced.

It has been three years since Popi and Bongeka’s deaths, and despite national outcry when it happened, nobody has been brought to justice.

As calls to tackle gender-based violence in South Africa gain momentum, we must demand an end to impunity for gender-based violence. With enough support, we can get justice for Popi, for Bongeka, and for their families.

Click here to sign the petition and demand justice for Popi and Bongeka.

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