By Annalise Kempen
25 November to 10 December = 16 Days of Activism of No Violence against Women and Children.
South Africa’s rate of femicide is among the highest in the world.
Gender-based violence is a national crisis, but government alone cannot solve it.
Our current plans, programmes and interventions are not working.
During September 2019, thousands of South African protesters gathered at different venues across the country to voice their opinion about the violence that is being perpetrated against themselves, as well as against their fellow citizens on the basis of their gender. Posters with the words #AmINext #JustNo #EnoughIsEnough and a call for the reinstatement of the death penalty were common as protesters called on government to stop the violence against women. One of the first protests to make headlines happened outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre while the World Economic Forum on Africa was under way. The protesters later joined another group of protesters outside Parliament who said that they feared for their lives following a spate of rapes and murders of women and children. The protesters had mainly gathered after Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old student from the University of Cape Town (UCT), had been raped and murdered after she had visited a post office in Claremont, a mere 11 days earlier. Sadly, Uyinene was not the only victim of gender-based violence (GBV) at the time and therefore the protesters later handed over a memorandum at Parliament (Brands and Persens, 2019).
What is gender-based violence?
In September 2019, a World Bank report explained that GBV is a global pandemic which affects as many as one in three women in their lifetime. According to fact sheets released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) (2017), 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence; 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner; and as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
Many people are of the opinion that gender-based violence only affects women. According to the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) (Nd) resource guide, the terms “gender-based violence” (GBV) and “violence against women” (VAW) are often used interchangeably, since the majority of gender-based violence is perpetrated by men against women. Few people however realise that GBV can include violence against men, boys and sexual minorities or those with gender-nonconforming identities. In theory therefore, violence against women and girls is only one type of GBV. For the sake of our article we will mostly focus on this latter type of GBV also because of the vulnerability of women from their childhood throughout their life-cycle and the long-term impact of sexual and physical violence on women and girls throughout their lives.
The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) (Nd) explains that GBV is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of their gender. It constitutes a breach of the fundamental right to life, liberty, security, dignity, equality between women and men, non-discrimination and physical and mental integrity.
This type of violence can take a variety of forms including sexual, physical and psychological abuse and can occur at home, on the street, at school, at the workplace (including on farms), in refugee camps, during times of peace as well as during times of conflict and crisis. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is regarded as the most common form of gender-based violence and refers to behaviour by a current or previous husband, boyfriend, or other partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours. Such violence both reflects and reinforces underlying gender-based inequalities (VAWG, Nd).
A variety of risk factors are associated with GBV and the WHO (2017) provides some insight into some of these factors, namely:
- lower levels of education (perpetration of sexual violence and experience of sexual violence);
- a history of exposure to child maltreatment (perpetration and experience);
- witnessing family violence (perpetration and experience);
- antisocial personality disorder (perpetration);
- harmful use of alcohol (perpetration and experience);
- having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity (perpetration);
- attitudes that condone violence (perpetration);
- community norms that privilege or ascribe higher status to men and lower status to women;
- low levels of women’s access to paid employment;
- a past history of violence;
- marital discord and dissatisfaction;
- difficulties in communication between partners;
- male-controlling behaviour towards their partners, including sexually;
- gender inequality and norms on the acceptability of violence against women; and
- weak legal sanctions for sexual violence.