“When girls are valued less than boys, women less than men, they face multiple risks throughout their lives – at home, at work, at school, from their families and from strangers. Gender-based violence is a major consequence of gender inequality. It is a worldwide phenomenon.” – Bukky Shonibare, Nigerian activist.
A child is born as a blank canvas, with the opportunity to create the portrait of their lives but for many young women everywhere, this opportunity is curtailed by discrimination and vast inequality. Whilst gender-based violence (GBV) is a phenomenon which affects both men and women, this article seeks to delve into the phenomenon of GBV against women. Only once one understands the far reaching and worldwide negative effects of GBV, can we begin to tackle the issue of prevention and response.
What is gender-based violence?
GBV can be broadly defined as violence that is directed towards an individual based on his or her biological sex or gender identity. Such violence can include physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse. GBV occurs as a result of normative role expectations and unequal power relationships between genders in all realms of society.
Why is it so important to speak about GBV?
GBV is a worldwide phenomenon. A society free of GBV, unfortunately, does not exist. Despite its widespread nature, GBV is largely under-reported due to various issues, such as the trauma inflicted on its victims, the stigma attached to reporting such crimes, as well as a lack of access to relevant support structures and resources. The topic of GB is assisted by anyone who talks about it, thus creating awareness. Prevention and response to GBV can only be implemented and refined once society is fully aware of, and understands, the extent of GBV and its consequences. Regardless of their country of origin, race, religion, sexuality, or gender identity, GBV can leave its mark on any individual.
As a human rights violation that does not only lead to major social and developmental issues for survivors but also heavily impacts a country’s economy and functionality, GBV places a heavy burden on the health and criminal justice systems of a country by leaving many survivors unable to provide for themselves due to physical and/or psychological damage.
What about GBV in South Africa?
Although accurate statistics are difficult to obtain, it is undeniably apparent that South Africa is faced with immensely high rates of GBV with studies showing that around 50% of South African women have experienced GBV in their lifetime. This high rate of GBV, coupled with the poverty dilemma and lack of access to resources for South African women, often results in the death of many women who are unable to find a light at the end of the tunnel.
While South Africa is faced with high levels of GBV, we are also progressive leaders in the field of prevention interventions and response techniques. Recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa has implemented a budget towards the eradication of GBV, assigned a task force to assist in combatting GBV, and introduced three bills to parliament with the aim of bringing GBV to an end. Although these measures serve as a stepping stone towards the eradication of GBV, it is still ongoing and many women will unfortunately experience some or other form of GBV in their lifetime. At the same time, as a society, we need to focus on working together to find new ways to address GBV, in an attempt to curtail this national crisis.
What can you do to help?
South Africa’s prevention and response services aim to support survivors of GBV and while President Ramaphosa has laid the foundation towards a tactical response to the pandemic, in reality it is in not enough.
The issue of GBV is so complex that it requires multi-faceted approaches and responses, as well as uniformity from government as well as society as a whole.
As a citizen, your power to make a difference lies within the concept of awareness. There are many national organisations that offer a range of services to survivors such as legal and emotional counselling services. By spreading the word about these services, you will not only help to educate and encourage survivors to report their cases but also to embark on the journey towards recovery and this, in turn, will positively impact South Africa’s social and economic growth and well-being.
Some of the organisations and support services to be aware of are as follows:
- People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA): A national organisation that provides over-the-phone and in person counselling.
- Lawyers Against Abuse: A non-profit organisation that assists survivors in considering and pursuing their legal options in respect of cases of GBV.
- The national Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC): A 24-hour call centre that offers immediate trauma counselling and assistance. The GBVCC offers the service of reaching out to SAPS on your behalf and puts you in contact with a social worker. You can contact the GBVCC on 0800 428 428 from anywhere in South Africa. Alternatively, you may use their “Please Call Me” facility to get them to call you back by simply dialling *120*7867# from your cell phone.
Having the above response mechanisms are invaluable but it is clear that there is a need to address the underlying causes of GBV within SA. With an approach that focuses mostly on response, as opposed to prevention, we need to keep in mind that by becoming cognizant of the underlying causes of GBV, we can work towards preventing its occurrence in the first place.
Many countries across the globe have taken steps towards combatting GBV but with its effects being of such a nature that many individuals are still rendered victims of GBV it is important to link arm in arm as a society, let our voices be heard, and work together to find progressive and effective ways of preventing and tackling GBV.
“I believe that now, on the eve of a new millennium, it’s time to break the silence. It’s time for us to say here, for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights. These abuses have continued because, for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words. But the voices of this gathering must be heard loudly and clearly.” – Hillary Clinton.