Ending violence against women and children requires a shift in our thinking and practices

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Reports have highlighted the impact of colliding pandemics on women and children, Covid-19 and GBV – with levels of violence escalated during “lockdown” at the homes where women and children should ideally be safe.

As we reach the end of the 16 days of activism of no violence against women and children campaign, we have to ask ourselves how do we continue to actively play a part in the fight to end violence against women and children? This year at the launch of the campaign, Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability said to South Africans, “don’t look the other way”, in our fight against gender-based violence.

The past few months were very sobering and resonates well with the need to not “look the other way”. Reports have highlighted the impact of colliding pandemics on women and children, Covid-19 and GBV – with levels of violence escalated during “lockdown” at the homes where women and children should ideally be safe.

For us not to look the other way means that that we must recognise the deep link between violence against women and children in the home. We need to acknowledge that early childhood experiences of violence drive an intergenerational cycle of violence.

Evidence is clear that boys and girls who are raised in households where violence is condoned and used as a form of discipline or who witness a mother being abused by her partner – are likely to perpetrate violence against their intimate partners when they become men whilst women tend to engage in relationships where they are more likely to experience violence.

The impact of experiencing violence in the home has lasting effects as children learn to tolerate violence and more likely to lack empathy. It is very complex to explain – why some people are more prone to violence over others coming from the same house or community.

What we know is that there is a complex web of multiple interrelated factors that contribute to violence against women and children permeating the fabric of our society. These factors include the influence of harmful social norms rooted in gender inequalities and what is expected of men and women.

We understand that violence against women and children is rooted in patriarchal masculinities and the normalisation of practices that disempower and subordinate women and children. Men are socialized to attain masculine ideals of toughness and virility – underpinned by sexual entitlement and practices which violate women and children.

While so much still needs to be done by all of us, promising interventions have shown that it is possible to transform attitudes and practices – change is achievable. Community-based mobilisation initiatives such as SASA! in Uganda and programmes like Stepping Stones, Creating Futures and CHANGE are all interventions targeting men and women in South Africa.

These interventions have all shown to be effective in transforming gender norms that underpin violence against women and children. We have a long way to go to end violence in the lives of women and children – the building blocks are in place, but it requires each of us to start changing our behaviour to enable greater change for all.

* Lehlogonolo Makola is a researcher at the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town. Prof. Shanaaz Mathews is the director of the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town.