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SARS commemorates 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and International Human Rights Day

SARS commemorates 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and International Human Rights Day

10 December 2021Today, International Human Rights day, as the 16 Days of Activism draws to a close, SARS held a commemorative event with the Honourable Justice Edwin Cameron as the guest speaker to reflect and commemorate this significant day on our South African calendar.

“SARS, with 62.7% of our workforce being women, recognises the fact that women play an important role in society and in the nation. They play various roles from that of a valued employee, caring mother, a daughter, a colleague, a leader and many other critical roles in society. It is important for us all to show the women in our lives how much we support and care for them. We need to be mindful of the fact that women’s rights are human rights. As the world is moving to equality for both men & women when it comes to equal pay, equal social standing and equal voice, it is necessary and it requires all of us to remember we are all are humans and are equal and that respect should be given to everyone,” Commissioner Edward Kieswetter sai.

Today’s commemorative event solemnly began with a heartfelt testimonial by a brave SARS employee, who is a Gender Based Violence (GBV) survivor. She shared a personal account of her experience and how she overcame her abuse. Today she spoke out and lent her voice to many who are still silent, scared and fearful. This was a stark reminder of the fact that GBV has a face and that it affects people in a profound and a long lasting way.

Commissioner Kieswetter said “Whilst our mandate at SARS, as a Tax & Customs Authority is to collect all revenues due, ensure optimal compliance, & facilitate legitimate trade, we have made a clear choice that we want to be an organisation that has a strong higher purpose orientation and that our work has a transformative impact on society. We have also adopted a leadership model based on stewardship, and are committed to create a workplace where we are invested in each other’s wellbeing; that we show care and promote personal growth, allowing every employee to become the best version of themselves.”

He emphasised that SARS’ commitment to a “GBV free work environment” continues and would be redoubled. He went on to indicate that SARS has a “NO to GBV pledge” and that 100% of the organisation’s leadership had signed the pledge, and that more than 80% of the 12 364 employees had taken the pledge. The Commissioner pledged that SARS would be a key contributor to a GBV free Tax and Customs ecosystem.

Justice Cameron was acknowledged as one of those rare individuals who espouses the best possible example of the human spirit and rarer still lives it. Justice Cameron, in his inimitable style, gave a provocative and incisive recommendation of reform to the correctional system. He spoke boldly about the need to tackle GBV head on and to resist the temptation of resorting to platitudes and publicity stunts.  He highlighted a proposal that certainty of consequence is a higher and more efficient way of reforming offenders. Justice Cameron advocates that “It is not the severity of the punishment but the certainty of the punishment that is a deterrent.”

The Justice went on to point out the need for systematic reform and a targeted approach at every step in the value chain of responding to the scourge that should be victim-centred. He highlighted the need to eradicate stigma associated with being a victim of GBV. He went on to elaborate that the stigma should not be for the victim but for the offender and bystanders. He appealed that all at SARS should continue to grapple with the complexities of GBV every day, not only on Human Rights Day.

A recent opinion article1 authored by Justice Cameron titled “Harsh prison terms won’t solve the crisis of gender-based violence” was central to the dialogue whereby Justice Cameron emphasised “Sexual offences far exceed those that are reported. Why?”

“Stigma and shame unwarrantedly linger around survivors of gender-based violence. And the perpetrator is very often close to the survivor – or the survivor may depend on him for financial support. The idea that prisons and harsh sentences provide an answer that the heavy fist of law and order can help solve the problem, intuitively seems appealing. A ghastly problem needs a ghastly response.  But, sadly, very sadly, harsh prison terms are no solution – worse, too often they serve as a political stunt that distracts from the hard work we all have to do to start fixing the problem South Africa needs the certainty of arrest and prosecution, not long sentences, because that is what deters crime,” Justice Cameron said.

This year is the Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. We can best honour this fighter for the rights of women through our commitment to the example she set.  She invested first in herself to be the best version of herself, and then, as she made progress, took the time to take other along and empower and enable them.

“I urge each of you to be the best version of yourself. Then to lead the change you wish to see. Take it upon yourself to change the world by making your space a safe space for women!  We don’t have all the answers, but our commitment to change our workplace to be free of violence and discrimination must be unequalled”, said Commissioner Kieswetter in concluding today’s event.

1 9 August 2021 | By Edwin Cameron | Harsh prison terms won’t solve the crisis of gender-based violence:https://www.groundup.org.za/article/why-a-carceral-state-wont-solve-the-crisis-of-gender-based-violence/

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