Dr Coenie Louw – Executive Director Gateway Health Institute.
Justice Cameron, Dr Louw and Bronwyn Moore.
We are a country in crisis. The sexual and gender based violence, xenophobia, homophobia, bullying and other social ills and intolerances that permeate our day to day existence, have much to say about our moral fiber. And even more about our social cohesion.
How we treat our women, children and other minorities does not only reflect poorly on South African society, it has a lot to say about our ability to care.
At the moment people have two things on their minds: Christmas and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. While shopping malls, the odd garden, and almost every house are decorated with fairy lights and Christmas trees, many women, children, refugees and members of the LGBTIQ+ community will not enjoy Christmas as they should. For most of us it is a time of celebration, holidays in the sun and family. But for others in South Africa, Christmas heralds a time of extreme loneliness, especially those living in fear of – or as victims of – violence and abuse, discrimination and exclusion.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. I want to add vulnerable and marginalised communities to the mix. The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, International Human Rights Day. I have heard many a time people say;
“Every day should be a day of activism against gender based violence”, but talk is cheap. Actions, we all say, speaks louder than words. It is time for tangible and measurable action.
It is with that in mind that Gateway Health Institute launched the #StayStrong campaign on 16 November. This campaign will continue our efforts to engage government on taking tangible steps to put and end to this epidemic of violence that is ravaging our communities – be it against women, girls, children, refugees or LGBTIQ+. The #StayStrong campaign aims to promote acceptance and inclusivity and to promote a positive message that we as a community care about these issues. We all have a right to live free from violence, bullying and “othering”.
In South Africa 9% of all teen deaths are due to suicide – and this figure is increasing. Suicide is the second leading, and fastest growing, cause of death in the 15-24 age group. Children as young as 7 have committed suicide in South Africa. Every day 22 people take their own lives. Depression is the cause of most teen suicides, but what causes depression in teens? Apart from a genetic tendency towards depression, most develop depression due to external environmental factors. Loneliness and social isolation, bullying, abuse, loss and conflict can all result in depression, and too often suicide.
We all have a story to tell about how violence, abuse and bullying in some form or another affected us or someone close to us at some point in our lives or even now. StayStrong does not only allow victims to share their stories, but will also assist victims of violence and abuse by offering Mental Health First Aid to counter the devastating psychological effects of violence, abuse and bullying.
StayStrong has been adopted by the South African Civil Society Organisation for Women’s, adolescents’ and Children’s Health (SACSoWACH) – this coalition of 31 national and grassroots organisations will collaborate towards calling on not only government, but also civil society, communities and families to do more towards ending violence, abuse and bullying.
The time for us to work together to end violence, abuse and bullying is now.
Not only because it is “that time of the year”, but because we care. Every day, every hour, 365 days a year.