An Abridged strategy to deal with Gender Based Violence in South Africa

By: Mfanozelwe Shozi

  1. Introduction

South Africa is a beautiful country and South Africans love it. But the Violence against women as a scourge continues to engulf South Africa and has become gruesome and violent, although the official sexual statistics are decreasing but they still remain unacceptably high. The fact that our statistics do not have a sex segregation data component is still a challenge.   Significant number of women and girls across the world experience violence every day.  Women and girls often experience serious forms of violence such as domestic violence, sexual violence, rape, forced marriage and genital mutilation. Violence can also be economic, emotional and psychological and consist of verbal abuse, criticism, isolation, threats, harassment and stalking.  Perpetrators and victim come from all walks of life. It is not only survivors who suffer, children who witness violence are also traumatised.

Violence against women affects women of all ages and backgrounds, though some are particularly vulnerable. Over and above violence targeting women in general, South Africans have witnessed violence against gays and Lesbians, elderly women, sex workers and widows.  Unfortunately, violence against women is often considered a private issue and many women are reluctant to report it or are discouraged from doing so by their family or community or the criminal justice system might further victimise victims termed as secondary victimisation.   

  •  Background

The killing of Anene booysen, Reeva Steenkamp and young girls from Jozini awaken South Africans and renewed the momentum to fight and eliminating Gender Based Violence completely.  The one Billion campaigns is testimony to show the entire world that Violence against Women is a universal problem and should be treated as such.  Gender Based Violence cuts across ethnicity, race, and religion and education level. But it is clear that South Africa does not have an agreed formula or plan that should be followed by all South Africans in tackling Gender Based Violence or Violence against Women and Children.   I feel that I should suggest a short model that South African could follow to deal with this problem in the short term whilst the long term plan is being developed.

I do not deny that Government should be at the centre of ensuring that GBV is rooted out but there are other social institutions that should play pivotal role in promoting violent free society.  The family is one of these Institutions.  Socialisation of children is paramount important. Families should ensure that they ignite values that promote respect and love of other people and discourage violent behaviour.  It is time to assist families to be able to educate and socialise family members to promote violent free societies.   In the past communities had structures to deal with behaviour and anger management and furthermore  there were more community structures which were tasked to deal with and assist boys and girls to mould  and instil acceptable behaviour, now those structures and programmes are nonexistent in our communities.  Parents are concerned about work pressures and always engaged on modern social media and leaving very little space to engage with their family and the kids.  Domestic workers continue to interact with children and also lack skills to impart skills that deal with Gender based violence issues.

The second social institution is the school. There is bigger problem here because the department of Education set the agenda of education and does not publish all books used by learners. Although this matter has been raised repeatedly Publishers are sluggishly mainstreaming gender equality ethos in newly published books. In most cases, books promote inequalities and Culture of disrespecting women.  The Ministers of Both Basic Education and Higher Education should put systems in place to ensure that publishers move fast in mainstreaming gender in the development of the new books.  

The other influential social institution is the media.  The media needs to assist with education of the society to understand gender based violence.  The media should refrain from covertly promoting inequalities and gender based stereotypes.

The private sector is also critical. Almost all weapons used to harm or kill people are manufactured by private sector but this sector is not called upon to account or assist if somebody has been shot, injured or killed.  Private sector should take responsibility and contribute to programmes that attempt to prevent Gender Based Violence. Private sector should educate its employees not only about sexual harassment but about the dangers of domestic violence and violence against women because violence against women impacts on private sector production for example if employee dies or arrested due to gender based violence, the company loses. The employment assistance programme should also deal with problems that workers encounter at home including gender based violence issues.

Community structures like faith based organisations, street committees, traditional leadership structures, stokvels, ward committees, war rooms,  police forums, elders, extended family structures and other important structures should ensure that  gender based violence and violence against women session become part and parcel of their programme. These structures should support victims of gender based violence and admonish and hold perpetrators accountable.  The structures should ensure that their communities are peaceful areas to live in.  The community structures should lead from front to ensure that awareness raising programmes are provided in schools, community gatherings and other community gatherings. Communities should declare their communities peaceful and non violent communities.  

The most critical contributor to gender based violence is individuals. Individuals should ensure that they live life that do not violate other people’s rights and refrain from engaging on violent activities. If individuals feel that they cannot control themselves must request professional help.

Civil society organisations are critical in trying to deal with the elimination of gender based violence but need to work hand in hand with communities, private sector and government.

Government should play a leading role in rooting out Gender Based Violence. Everybody has welcomed the establishment of the National Council against Gender Based Violence in South Africa. This was a noble idea by our Government to establish such a council. Everyone is eagerly waiting to see the council adopting a national strategic plan that will mobilise South Africans to deal with Gender Based Violence. It is our hopes and Prayers that the Council will prioritise the development of the plan to enable South Africans to depart from the same vision and achieve the same outcomes. Furthermore the plan will assist to establish a government wide approach that identifies, coordinates, integrates, and leverages current efforts and resources.    The plan should ensure that appropriate care for survivors while also strengthening deterrents through legislation and legal and judicial action is implemented.

Another critical point that Government and Civil society should consider is to ensure that community anger management programmes are provided to individuals who show signs of anger problems.  There are two government departments in South Africa that provide these programmes which are Department of Social development and department of Correctional services.  These departments should work together to ensure that communities are assisted. Communities should identify people who have anger problems and should ensure that these individuals go through therapy provided by the two departments.   

The decision by Government to adopt specialised sexual offences courts will improve efficiency, minimise the burden on victims and improve the efficiency of dealing with sexual or gender based violence cases.   Furthermore the specialised police Units will ensure that victims are properly cared for. It is my view that these specialised units should be staffed by equal number of men and women. International Research has indicated that women are more comfortable to report sexual and domestic violence cases to women than to men. 

The study of the secretary general on gender based violence states that In terms of criminal justice system, vigorous arrest and prosecution policies make a statement to society as a whole that violence against women is a serious crime that is not condoned by the authorities.  However, the majority of reported cases of violence against women are not prosecuted and of those that are, many do not result in a conviction. Even when perpetrators are convicted, they often receive sentences that are not commensurate with the gravity of the crime (United Nations: 108)   

Furthermore the study carries on Gender Based Violence states that women victims of violence frequently do not seek justice because of feelings of shame and fear of persecution by the criminal justice system. Good practise involves safeguarding the rights of victims and creating a system that respects the privacy, dignity and autonomy of all victims and is conducive to reporting.  In addition the study explains that civil laws complement criminal measures and play an important role in providing victims/ survivors with avenues of redress and compensation. Promising practise in this area includes the availability of civil remedies such as civil protection orders: anti discrimination laws, civil laws to sue perpetrators and state agents for compensation and victim compensation funds that cover cases of violence against women. In tandem with law, a victim may bring a civil action for assault, battery or the intentional infliction of emotional distress, although this is not often done.  Civil suits may result in financial compensation for the harm inflicted.  Victims/ survivors of violence, or families of the deceased, may pursue civil causes of action not only against the perpetrators but also against law enforcement officials when they fail to provide adequate protection to individual victims. 

 3. Drivers of gender based violence

I will concentrate on few drivers of gender based violence. There are some religious, traditional, customary, and family practises which contribute to violence against women and failing to respond to it, and or create environment where violence against women is tolerated, excused or justified.

The other contributing factors at the societal level include limited economic opportunities for women, and women’s insecure access to and control over property and land rights.  Gro Lindstand in UN Women Focus argues that strategies to promote women are economic autonomy and access to skills training, credit and employment: encourage girls completion of secondary school: delay age of marriage to 18 will limit chances of women to experience Gender Based Violence. Gro Lindstand further argues that societies that value women’s participation and representation, and where there are fewer economic, social or political differences in power between men and women, have lower levels of violence against women.

It is important to quickly point out that it does not mean that violence against women does not happen in affluent communities. It does happen and they often hide and also not report it fearing that society will scorn them.

The other driver of gender based violence are broader discriminatory or gender stereotyping norms for example supporting male dominance or entitlement are also associated with attitudes tolerant of violence against women and girls, including attitudes and practises that reinforce female subordination (e.g. dowry, bride price and child marriage); and the normalised use of violence and aggression within the family or society to address conflict? Personal childhood exposure to , or experience of , violence is a strong risk factor for later perpetration, but this by no means inevitable and is affected  by a number of other social, educational and psychological factors.

4. Campaigns

Government should lead campaign that will lead reduction of gender based violence. The stop rape campaign by the State President is welcomed and should be supported by everyone.  The campaign could be extended to include or focus on fighting violence against women and get messages out to primary and secondary schools. The same message should be shared with parents through flyers and during school meetings.

Campaigns like ring the bell campaign or Mpimpa campaign where the violence is reported are encouraged

Sexual offences Act campaign where there is a large awareness rising campaign drive to popularise legislation that fight the gender based violence is critical.

Prevention, Protection and prosecution are three elements at the core of the elimination of violence against women and girls. Furthermore everybody involved in curbing GBV should be informed  by the guiding Principles  and ending Gender Based Violence should observe  the following :-

  • “Prevention of gender based violence from occurring in the first place, and from recurring, by working with local grassroots organisations, civil society, and key stakeholders in the community, including men and boys
  • Protection from gender based violence by identifying and providing services to survivors once the violence occurs; and
  • Accountability to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and to end impunity by strengthening legal and judicial systems”  (USA gender Based Violence Strategy 2010:13)

In observing the above mentioned principles, Government, media, Constitutional bodies and Non Governmental organisations should promote and develop an understanding and recognition of domestic, sexual and gender- Based violence among the general public and specific audiences.  This should be done by undertaking a range of activities including engaging national, local and journal media in delivering articles to the generic public, and to specific audiences (including professionals, vulnerable or high risk groups, older people)

  • To challenge myths
  • To confront offending behaviour
  • To  increase understanding and recognition and
  • To provide practical information on domestic, sexual and gender based violence and services available

5. Resource allocation

There is very limited information on the resources allocated to directly addressing violence against women. It is difficult to do this because there is no National strategic plan to deal with the issue.  Even in countries where National Strategic Plan exists the amount of resources earmarked for measures addressing violence against women is very minimal.  The financing is fragmented amongst National and provincial government Department, disjointed NGO structures and is not easy to draw any conclusion about the level of financing. To fight Gender Based Violence, South Africa needs a much unified civil society.   

6. Partnership

Government should work in partnership with the National NGO networks to develop standardisation with specialist domestic or gender based violence services. This will promote opportunities for networking sharing information and best practise across state agencies.

Furthermore the state is to proactively do everything in their power to prevent, investigate and push acts of violence against women which is called due diligence. The action of the state will assist because some cases do not reach court or, when they do, perpetrators receive minimal punishment.  This discourages women from reporting violence, also given that, in the absence of adequate protection, reporting increases the risk of being subjected to further violence

Oversight bodies like Parliament, provincial legislatures, local government council and South African Constitutional bodies should ensure that monitoring of Government departments is done

All political parties regardless of whether they are in parliament or outside parliament should adopt a political programme to deal with gender based violence or violence against women and children

7. Conclusion

It is important to note that Patriarchy should be eradicated if we are all serious about routing out gender based violence in our society.  We need to identify institutions that promote patriarchal values. Once these have been identified a programme which will seek to dismantle patriarchy will need to be developed.  I am positive we can eliminate gender based violence.