The fight against GBV in South Africa

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In Chile an anti-femicide movement was started in response to lack of action in ending femicide in that country. The movement was famously known under the banner of “El Violador Eres Tu” loosely translated as “The rapist in your path”. Similarly in this country, there is a growing concern that not enough is being done to deal with GBV and femicide especially because of statistics that keeps on rising. Nevertheless, the country initiated different approaches and strategies to end GBV and femicide. 

However, the statistics keep skyrocketing with a daily reporting of gruesome cruelty against women and children. For any solution aimed at ending the scourge of GBV, one has to explore the contributing factors and lack of speak out by the victims. This piece isaimed at exploring reasons that make people remain in an unsavoury relationship.

Different social media hashtags were initiated with the aim to highlight the scourge of GBV and femicide in the country. Women were able momentarily to speak out about their treatment at the hands of men. Social media platforms are flooded with reports of incidents of men killing their intimate partner in some gruesome-sensitive manner. You would think that such wide-spread awareness would help, but it does not stop men from killing. The government designed efforts to manage the situation and R1 Billion was allocated by the government to handle Gender-Based Violence but the statistics keep rising showing no hope of slowing down. 

A research study conducted by Gender Links, reports that 76 percent of men admitted perpetrating GBV in Limpopo, South Africa. A similar study conducted in Gauteng by the Institute for Security Studies found that 80 percent of men admitted having transgressed against intimate partners. It should be noted that SAPS statistics do not reflect on Gender-Based Violence. It has acceded that GBV statistics do not reflect the true story but it is merely a “tip of an iceberg”. GBV incidents are hardly reported or uprooted and brought into mainstream discourse until in recent times.

As part of the national strategy to deal with Gender-Based Violence, mass communication was designed and implemented to educate people about GBV. 16 Days of Activism, 364 Days campaigns forms cornerstone of efforts to uproot GBV. The institution was developed to house victims of GBV, like shelters (Civil Society), Khuseleka One Stop Centres, Victim Friendly Rooms in Police or Thuthuzela Care Centres by NPA etc.  The Department of Social Development introduced Gender Command Centre to help victims of crime in the country. With all these efforts, the statistics keep rising. There are a number of reasons why it is very difficult to deal with GBV and the statistics keep on skyrocketing. Women struggled to leave abuses because of the following issues, they are not limited to these:

Socio-cultural factors

Boys and girls are socialized into society along with patriarchal gender roles. The Chilean anti-femicide movement stood by the following statement: “the patriarchy is a judge; that judges us for being born”. Patriarchal values instil discriminatory and oppressive values to a girl child than to a boy child. There is an emphasis that a lady must at all times hold the family together. In traditional culture, a married lady who has children enjoys a higher social status than an independent and educated unmarried lady. It thus puts pressure on women to be married at all costs. Divorced ladies are regarded as a failure. Hence in African idiom or proverbs, it is said: Lebitla la mosadi ke bogadi. Women remain in an abusive relationship because they are afraid to be looked down and discriminated. Society will talk down the idea of divorcing an abusive partner.

Therefore the “circle of violence” plays a crucial role in women remaining silent even when the going gets a little tougher. There is a stage that victims of GBV normally go through before getting to the full-blown gruesome abuse. It starts with the honeymoon period, where the women are showed with gifts, presents etc. The lady is pampered with romantic gifts, vacation etc. then moving into “little incident or altercation”. Somehow the perpetrator will spin the story into “a blame game” that will translate into the victim feeling that they were beaten because they made a mistake by angering the boyfriend or husband (typically know as gas-lighting). The boyfriend will apologise by pampering the lady with more romantic gifts and vacations. Those gifts will make a lady reconsider moving out of such an abusive relationship.

Threat of violence

Some ladies date a man unaware of their violent potential. As soon as they are deep into the relationship they begin to realise toxic elements or insalubrious personality or character. The partner often threatened to use violence against them or their families. In most cases, the partner threatens to kill the entire family. We may scream why can’t women report to the police. The legal instruments available are the Protection Order. However, a Protection Order does not stop a violent man from killing a woman. Violation of protection order does not mean a long jail term, and the perpetrator may be released in no time. The victims are back to square one and women are forced to choose between a rock and a hard place. Ultimately they remain silent and endure all pain and suffering.

Economic dependency

Nelson Mandela speaking at a dinner celebrating Women’s Month on the 25 August 2003, stated: “Too many women continue to bear the brunt of social and economic deprivation, in the rural as well as urban areas…” Consequently, as much as there are inroads in economic emancipation of women in the country, however, the pace of transformation is happening at a slow scale. A South African report “On the Progress Made on the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action states: “In 2017, although women constituted 51 percent of the total population of South Africa, they make up only 44, 3 percent of the employed workforce, which is often concentrated at lower levels of organisations”. The labour market is generally geared to absorbed men in well-paying and influential positions with better benefits and regulations. Africa women are mostly employed in the lower position, often in informal sectors and prone to abuse and harassment. With the gender disparity in the labour market, women are often depended economically on men. This opens a gate of vulnerability to men. These women will find it hard to speak out even they are subjected to abuse at home. Thus, they rather stay than to let go. It has been said on several platforms that “rather cry inside a mansion than in a shack”.

In order to make meaningful inroads in ending GBV and femicide, society should dismantle the patriarchal system. The government and business community to strengthen its transformation agendas and ensure that women are emancipated and brought into mainstream economic. The labour market disparities are addressed as a matter of concern.

Vester Sibuye has written this article in his personal capacity.