ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: THULI DLAMINI
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: THULI DLAMINI

The government has vowed to take tough and decisive action to deal with the scourge of gender-based violence that it says has reached unprecedented levels.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that the government had agreed to hold a national gender summit on August 31 to forge consensus on ways to deal with the crisis.

SA has one of the highest rates of women murdered by their partners in the world, according to the Cape Town-based Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health.

Last week, thousands of women took part in the #TotalShutdown march to the Union Buildings to protest against gender-based violence in SA. Among their demands, the protesters called for the national gender summit, and a commitment that the president would not appoint anyone implicated in gender-based violence to the cabinet or state institutions.

At the National Women’s Day event held in Mbekweni, Paarl, in the Western Cape, Ramaphosa said the government and society had to acknowledge that since the advent of democracy "we have failed to ensure that the women of SA are able to exercise their constitutional right to peace and security. In that sense, we have failed to live up to the promise of 1994".

"We therefore share a responsibility to correct this failing, to work together across society to fundamentally change attitudes, practices and institutions to end violence against women," said Ramaphosa.

"The recommendations of the gender summit must be comprehensive, guiding the work of government and the activities of all stakeholders."

The "government is committed to doing its part through policies, programmes and practices that dramatically reduce levels of gender-based violence and ultimately eradicate it, that ensure swift action against perpetrators, and which provide necessary support and protection to survivors of violence," he said.

Both in subtle and brutal ways, women were being subjected every day to verbal, emotional and physical abuse, Ramaphosa said.

"In a society that has long struggled against gender-based violence, the assault on the integrity and humanity of women has reached unprecedented levels. While it is difficult to establish the full extent of this epidemic … studies show the lifetime experience of SA women of gender-based violence is higher than the global average."

The government was considering harsher sentences for sexual offences, he said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za