[intro]Women from across sectors aim to shut down the country on 1 August 2018. The Total Shutdown is a collective of women and gender non-conforming people who will be organising protests across all nine provinces – as well as in Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland on the same day.[/intro]

Each day the South African public is bombarded with news about gender-based violence cases. Rape and assault dominate the headlines and the daily realities of women and girls has become a crisis, despite Susan Shabangu’s mumblings last year that it’s merely “a challenge which could be solved”.

Most recently, charges of alleged assault were laid against former SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, as many as three employees of Equal Education resigned after a sexual harassment scandal rocked the NGO and former ANC MP and singer Jennifer Ferguson laid a rape charge against South African Football Association boss Danny Jordaan earlier this year.

Women have had enough and a collective is taking action by encouraging women across the country to protest. On 1 August, the beginning of women’s month, women and non-conforming people from all sectors of South Africa are being invited to shut down the country to protest against gender-based violence. The Intersectional Women’s March Against Gender Based Violence collective, which uses the hashtag #TotalShutdown, says that there is “nothing to celebrate” during the month dedicated to South African women annually.

“Every week we receive multiple reports of women who have been brutally murdered, kidnapped, or abused and there is no sense of urgency from our leaders to find ways in which society can tackle this violence,” says a press release distributed last month which called the situation a “national crisis.”

“We see time and time again government making commitments to end gender-based violence, we see them saying ‘we are fighting gender-based violence’, but as women in South Africa on the ground, we’re only seeing an alarming increase in femicide and violence against women. Every day you see a social media post about a child missing and later found dead, a woman brutally killed, and it seems the government is enabling this to continue because men who violate are not apologetic about their actions nor are they shaken by the consequences they will face because there aren’t any really, which says a lot about the laws of this country,” says Loyiso Saliso, national spokesperson for the Intersectional Women’s March Against Gender-based Violence.

Over the past few months there has been an increase in mass action, the 100 Men March that took place last month, the RU Reference List protest at the University Currently Known as Rhodes in 2016, the Bill of Rights protest in Johannesburg earlier this year. Saliso says that even though protests have happened in smaller groups, nationwide mobilisation needs to take place and women need to speak with “one voice”.

“We are saying no more, not one more woman [must be hurt]. Government must take our lives seriously,” says Saliso.

Police recorded a total of over 30,000 rapes in the 2016/2017 year, with over 100 rapes reported every single day. Africacheck reported that the province with the highest instances of rape was the Eastern Cape during that same year and police recorded a total of 6,271 sexual assaults. These statistics are only those instances of sexual abuse and assault that have actually been reported.

“Women, children, gender non-conforming people (GNC) and the LGBTQIA+ keep dying at the hands of men in South Africa and something seriously needs to be done. We call on all women to legally stay away from work and join the protest… We are fighting for our lives and our children’s lives,” says Saliso.

The collective is encouraging women who cannot be physically present at the march to be active in other ways, one of these ways is to not partake in the economy, by refusing to buy anything on 1 August.

“When we say shutdown, we don’t want it to be business as usual, the economy must be affected because that’s the only time [politicians] react, when you hit them in the pocket. So, we’re saying don’t partake in the economy, we hope women won’t go out and buy anything,” says Saliso, who reiterates that men are not invited to the protest and that they must support women from the sidelines.

“We want it to be a free space for women and we cannot be marching with our perpetrators. We know that abuse leaves scars for a lifetime, we don’t want to march with perpetrators. It needs to become a safe space where we will not be policed by patriarchy or in fear, we can’t lose the essence of the shutdown being about womxn taking a stand for their own freedom to live”.

We hope employers will allow women to take that moment of solidarity, even if they’re not at the march, we want them there in spirit.

For more information visit the Total Shutdown Facebook page.