It is estimated that one in five women in South Africa are victims of gender-based violence (GBV) annually. This chilling statistic alone should be enough to indicate that there is a need to stand up and stamp out the prevalence of GBV in society. But when we consider that the violence carried out is often directed at women and children who comprise a significant proportion of our country’s youth, it becomes a critical matter of safeguarding our future.
In 1993, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women offered the first official definition of GBV. According to the declaration, “violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
The definition has since been expanded on by United States maternal and child health researcher Dr Shelah Bloom, and GBV is now considered a “general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society.”
GBV can take physical and non-physical forms, such as: domestic violence, where there is a pattern of behaviours a perpetrator uses against a survivor; physical violence, which involves acts of physical abuse such as shoving, pushing, restraining, punching, choking or the use of weapons; sexual violence, which can take many forms such as sexual slavery, sexual harassment, trafficking, forced pregnancy, forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced marriage, genital mutilation and incest; and psychological violence, which may include threats of violence or harm, emotional violence, the use of children to control or punish adult victims and financial or economic violence.
More detailed statistics from the South African Police Service relating to GBV indicate that one in two women might be raped in their life; one in four women is in an abusive relationship; one in four girls has been sexually abused; sexual abuse, physical and emotional violence, as well as bullying, are the most common forms of violence, and perpetrators are overwhelmingly relatives, friends, acquaintances or neighbours; in schools, 16.8 percent of learners report having experienced physical punishment; about 15 percent of South African learners have been forced to have sex; 32 percent of learners feel unsafe at school; many social norms and cultural practices cause emotional and physical harm. According to the ‘Optimus Study on Child Abuse, Violence and Neglect in South Africa’ by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention at the University of Cape Town, a total of 169 559 crimes were committed against women; of which 2 354 were homicides, 2 651 attempted murders, 54 621 assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, 80 672 common assault and 29 251 sexual assault. Domestic violence, in one form or another, affects as many as one in two women in some parts of South Africa.
In response to these shocking statistics, as part of an evidence-based initiative called A Safer South Africa for Women and Children, national youth leadership development organisation loveLife, along with Sonke Gender Justice and the National Institute Community Development and Management, ran various programmes with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
One such programme involved research on and the implementation of GBV prevention methods in the Eastern Cape and Free State, provinces where there is a high prevalence of GBV. Launched in 2013, the prevention programme aimed to modify social norms that make the prevalence and effects of violence against women and children expected and acceptable, and also aimed to create and promote new ideals of behaviour to be endorsed by social norms held by wider society.
The programme’s objectives were to increase awareness, increase knowledge, encourage open communication, increase the use of services and reporting on GBV, change attitudes, increase community response, and decrease GBV by creating more effective response mechanisms.
In driving the GBV prevention programme, loveLife, South Africa’s youth leadership development organisation, and its partners carried out an array of initiatives in eight districts in the Eastern Cape and Free State, including: radio programmes on national and community radio stations; an engaging citizen journalism programme through loveLife’s Media Ys programme; the production of a special online edition of loveLife’s UNCUT magazine to coincide with Women’s Month in August, which featured a package of GBV-related stories; and the commissioning of a community-mapping exercise in the Eastern Cape’s OR Tambo district municipality and the Free State’s Thabo Mofutsanyana district municipality. The study involved the rapid social mapping of the two districts to identify GBV hot spots for better programme planning and implementation.
In addition, loveLife’s pervasive network of empowered youth volunteers, the groundBREAKERs, facilitated youth outreach campaigns on GBV prevention and gender equality, and supported GBV-prevention programmes and messages targeted at young people (aged 10-24) through community and national radio stations, as well as on social media platforms.
Findings from some of the study include: prevalent forms of GBV are forced and early marriages; though GBV was found to be a result of cultural and social norms, these are now being distorted for the gains of men who violate young girls for their sexual gratification; and, similar to other studies in other parts of South Africa and the world, sexual violence is prevalent and the victims are mainly female, while perpetrators are predominantly male.
In responding to these findings, A Safer South Africa for Women and Children created a platform for authentic young voices to raise awareness of social and structural factors behind GBV, and facilitated dialogues that lead to community-owned solutions. To date, millions of young people have been reached with GBV-prevention messages through loveLife’s radio and multimedia platforms, and large numbers of youth have been reached through the organisation’s groundBREAKER and mpintshi teams, and now possess information on GBV and where to go for support to address it.
If you are in an abusive relationship, you can send a PLZ CAL ME (Please Call Me) to loveLife’s Contact Centre on 083 323 1023 and a counsellor will call you back as soon as one is available.
For more about loveLife, refer to www.lovelife.org.za.
Photo Courtesy: Greek Reporter.