25 November to December 10. 16 days of activism against a scourge that is eroding our social fabric. Imagine if, for 16days, there had been no rape, no child abuse, no sexual harassment and no emotional abuse.

Engagements by government, and select civil society groups, heighten awareness with pledge after pledge to renew the now almost stale annual commitment to recognise women and children as equal shareholders in our social, political and economic thresholds. It is time to, once and for all, take a sober look at the significance of women and children abuse and ask ourselves brutally honest questions about how we propose to sustainably arrest this cancer.

Ablind old man was revered for his wisdom, dispensing impartial and, where necessary, bellicose opinions on matters seeking resolution. One day doubting young people hedged a plot to blemish his popularity by asking a double-edged question. “Grand Pa”, they said, “One of us is holding a butterfly in his hands, please tells us whether it’s alive or dead”.

Aftera long, thoughtful while, the old blind man replied, “Young men, you are aware that I cannot see. Thus if I say the butterfly is alive, you will squeeze the life out of it, and if I say it is dead, you will let it loose to fly and so ridicule my opinion”. Sensing their bewilderment he concluded, “The life or death of that butterfly is in your hands!”

Some perceive women and children as lesser mortals who can, without much circumspection, be exposed to all manner of abuse and maltreatment: economic, biological, psychological etc. A distressed call to a popular talk-radiostation by a career woman decrying emotional, financial and physical abuse at the hands of her spouse demonstrates the stereotypical walls, akin to the Chinese one, that have to be demolished by a proverbial army of sledge-hammers.

Weare not doing badly in as far as policy but need to cascade this to all spheresof the social strata. While we pat ourselves on the back for creating enablingstructures to give effect to policy ideals, we should equally question whywomen who are raped are not keen to report such ghastly deeds to police forfear of perceived repulses and retributions.

Shatteringaccounts of inter and intra country female trafficking are a startling reminderof the work that still has to be done in arresting what could soon turn into ahuman crisis. A friend involved in a justice programme that deals with human(and women involved in drug) trafficking informs me that it is mightier thanSodom and Gomorrah: money laundering, drugs, extortion and all manner of ills.

While it is a fact that 42% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 are unemployed, a comparison shows that only about 18% of people with disabilities are employed, compared to 35% for the rest ofthe population.

Not only are people with disabilities less likely to be employed than their non-disabled counterparts but, within the disabled population, women are less likely to be employed, a reflection of the double disadvantage which faces women with disabilities – being disabled andfemale.

The Ministry that deals with Women, Children and Persons living with Disabilities should be applauded and supported. Those who purport that the Ministry does not have enough teeth should look inward and appreciate the fact that the challenges that beset the sesectors are so deep-rooted, by decades of stereotypes, that it will take a while to even scratch the surface.

Changes to laws can be swift, but giving them effect and changing mindsets, is a much more demanding task. The best remedy, I propose, would be for us to find practical ideas on how to refurbish our own prejudices and cast the same spell upon ourcompatriots. There is a lot of abuse that women and children living withdisabilities suffer, even to the extent of children with mental disabilitiesbeing chained and locked up in backyard houses. We cannot keep quite when weknow that these things are happening in our communities. We need to exposethese horrible deeds..

Gala dinners, conferencesand pledges over 16 days should be discarded in favour of sustainable pursuitsthat address the practicalities of fixing things for the betterment of womenand children; if we are to survive the harsh wrath of history.

It’s in our hands!