Curb Violence Against Women

Gender-based violence is an epidemic in South Africa. Puseletso Mompei speaks to gender activists to find out what can be done.

According to the Soul City Institute, studies show that Africa has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence (GBV) in the world. According to the Statistics South Africa Crime Against Women in South Africa Report, femicide increased by 117 per cent between 2015 and 2016/17. A study conducted by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in three South African provinces showed that one in four women have experienced physical violence at some point in their life.

The pressing challenge is finding long-term solutions to curb the scourge of violence against women.

Collective Action

Soul City Institute CEO, Lebo Ramafoko, says the power of unified action and keeping sustained pressure on government and society at large is a critical component of fighting GBV. “We are tired of the misogyny exhibited by men across all walks of life in South Africa. Moreover, we are tired of the empty promises by the South African government to deal with gender-based violence. Too often our leaders say one thing and do another.”

National action campaigns and networks leading the fight against GBV are necessary. Ramafoko says that collective action cannot be taken only during 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. “More collective action needs to be taken all year around.” Campaigns such as #TheTotalShutdown that was held in August 2018 are powerful expressions of women’s power against the scourge of GBV.

Research To Develop Targeted Campaigns

Shenilla Mohamed, executive director of Amnesty International South Africa, says her organisation is researching GBV at universities. Research which assesses the forms and prevalence of GBV in educational institutions, and specifically South Africa’s public universities, is lacking. “Anecdotal evidence indicates that violence against women at South African universities is widespread. We believe that universities are a microcosm of society and if we begin to understand the extent of the problem we will be able to develop targeted messaging and campaigns to address it”.

Socialisation

Mary Burton, patron of the Black Sash, whose activism spans over 50 years, says society must bring up children with different attitudes, a responsibility which falls on parents, extended families, schools and role models. She emphasises that, “finding new ways in which women and men are portrayed in the media, in art of all forms, [and] in social media is a key part of changing the way we all think.”

A Strategic National Plan

Ramafoko says a resourced national plan to deal with GBV would allow for monitoring the performance of the criminal justice system and accountability. “The finalisation of outstanding Bills that relate to gender-based violence and femicide, as well as the protection of the rights of women and girls, must be fast-tracked.”

This, she says, includes promulgating the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, the Victim-Support Services Bill, the Traditional Courts Bill, as well as the consideration of the decriminalisation of sex work.

Reforming The Criminal Justice System

Ramafoko adds, “There are currently no consequences for criminal justice officials who subject victims of gender-based violence to secondary victimisation by refusing to take statements, conducting poor investigations and evidence gathering, prolonging court cases.”

Burton agrees and adds that there needs to be additional training for police personnel, which focuses specifically on GBV special and rapid response initiatives. “The police services should also be strengthened for this purpose. Where gender-based violence has occurred, investigations, prosecutions and appropriate sentences must follow.”

Image: Mary Burton, patron of the Black Sash

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