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‘Tis the season… but not jolly

The ’16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children’ would have far greater impact if we also paid attention to some of the issues that trigger violent behaviour. Violence committed against children and women during this season escalates. We seem not to interrogate why that might be. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya explores this joyous but also hugely burdensome time of the year to see whether violence has a season.

We are in that season again. The season of the year when the world pays attention to violence against women and children.

It is a necessary campaign given that, according to UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, one in three women worldwide experience gender-based violence.

Every year, researchers tell us that the festive season tends to be that time of the year when stress is heightened in families and relationships.

The effects of a depressed global economy, resultant unemployment and poverty become more pronounced as those who cannot buy into the season’s festivities realise just how marginalised they are.

It is also the time of the year when the impact of wanting but not having close family and loved ones is most acutely felt.

Marketers bombard us with their adverts, giving the message that this is the time to be with family and loved ones — “no place like home over Christmas” is the recurring message pushed on consumers. The travesty is that this is the message also inflicted on those who have no possibility of experiencing the festive family feeling.

Eventually this leads to deep frustration for many, forcing them to resort to feel-good tonics such as drugs and alcohol and ultimately to interpersonal violence. This especially includes domestic and gender-based violence against women and children. For these, this is not exactly a season to be jolly as promised by marketers and retailers.

The timing of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign is apt. The campaign started on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children, and runs until International Human Rights Day on 10 December. It is necessary to use this initiative to galvanise action that will bring an end to violence against women and children around the world.

At this time of year media organisations frequently report cases of women and children who have been abused. Law enforcement agencies and their political heads will also go out of their way to show how they do not tolerate this behaviour. We seem not to accept that gender-based violence does not have a season — or at least ignore this for political motives.

The festive season is a tougher than usual time for many living with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Among the things that depress people at Christmas are the commercialisation of Christmas, excessive self-reflection, unrealistic expectations and unexpected debt incurred over the so-called silly season. Particularly unpleasant at this time, are the mandatory social commitments: we force ourselves to meet with people we don’t really want to spend time almost out of a sense of moral obligation.

The festive time is also high season for other economic crimes. Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) told the IOL: “Burglaries increase significantly during the festive season because most people are away on holiday or are away for long periods during the day.” Breaking into cars and other personal spaces also rise at this point.

The feelings of being violated are all-too-real in these instances. Without a proper outlet they can cause added stress for the family that has had its space so violently invaded.

Again this could lead to the relatively more powerful in the household unleashing their anger on the less powerful by abusing them physically and/or emotionally.

One should not make an excuse for any form of violence and least of all for violence committed against women and/or children. Seeing the triggers for such violence can help push back against the instinct to inflict pain on those seen by the perpetrator as weaker and defenceless.

With one in three women affected by gender-based violence, there is hardly need to explain why it is necessary to have a period dedicated to the awareness of this scourge. There is similarly no need to explain why children need protection against those older than them. Although, it would be a mistake to leave it at that.

It cannot be perchance that we have so many cases where those who know the perpetrator simply cannot believe that he, most often it is a he, has really done that of which he is accused.

Unless properly handled, stressful situations can trigger the worst in anyone, including those whom we generally believe are incapable of such acts. Every effort must therefore be made to get to the heart of why violence against women and children is so prevalent and escalates at this time of the year. This does not excuse the perpetrators of violence against women and children nor is it arguing against them facing consequences for their actions.

The 16 Days of Activism certainly achieves much and is most necessary. Still, it would have a greater impact if it were able to focus greater attention on the mental and socio-economic wellbeing of all members of society.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

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