Women’s Month in South Africa is meant to commemorate and empower women. However, these ideals seem a distant reality from Women’s Month 2017 as the country was reminded of the increased cases of gender-based violence.
On 6 August Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana allegedly assaulted two women at Cubana in Fourways. A few days later, on 9 August, News24 reported that a 26-year old woman from Khayelitsha was found dead after attempting to escape from her abusive boyfriend. Earlier this year Karabo Mokoena was allegedly killed by her abusive boyfriend, and Hannah Cornelius was raped and murdered.
Tabitha Lage, CEO of Hope for Women and founder of African Alliance against Human Trafficking says that “violence [against women] has certainly increased in 2017. Society has become desensitised to any form of violence and therefore it’s becoming the norm to rape and abuse.”
In April 2016, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) released a report entitled Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in South Africa: A Brief Overview. The focus of the report was to assess gender-based violence against women and use the finding to “inform its gender violence prevention initiatives in various communities”.
CSVR defines gender-based violence as violence that “occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with gender, as well as the unequal power relationships between the genders within the context of a specific society.” The CSVR listed many forms of gender-based violence such as domestic violence which “often involves physical violence or threats of violence” as well as “sexual assault, battery, coercion and sexual harassment.”
While domestic violence is the most common form of gender-based violence (GBV) among partners, sexual violence is the most common form of GBV in general. Sexual violence, stemming from rape culture, involves “rape, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and trafficking.” Other forms of GBV include physical and emotional violence, and economic violence, where a “male partner may be reluctant for his female partner to work or may manage and abuse her payment for work done.” Femicide, the most extreme form of GBV, is the murder of a female by her intimate male partner. On 30 May 2017, The New Age confirmed that 63 women had been killed in 30 days in Gauteng alone. Ten of these murders are confirmed to be cases of femicide.
Violence against women greatly affects the individual and community at large. Lage says that the individual may suffer PTSD and will struggle to lead a normal life as she may not be able to receive counselling. Lage also says that there may be a stigma attached to the violence inflicted on the individual, leading to the victim experiencing feelings of shame and guilt even though “she did not have anything to do with the act of violence.” While the CSVR acknowledges that religious and cultural practices, use of alcohol, ownership of guns and unemployment are causes of GBV, they categorise the perpetuation of GBV into three broad categories. These include inequality, the acceptance of violence, and hegemonic masculinity.
Hegemonic masculinity, which celebrates the dominant position of men through female subordination, is found to be a major cause of violence against women. This is because it reaffirms the notion of male superiority and “feeds into societal perceptions of what it means to be a man.” Patriarchal culture embedded within society marginalises women, therefore making them vulnerable to violence. Lage says that the “moral issue of how a man views a woman today has become totally distorted.” Although South Africa has good policies on protecting women against violence, both Lage and the CSVR agree that there is a lack of implementation in policy.
People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) Executive Director, Nonhlana Mokwena spoke to eNCA about an app that they are launching to help women who are victims of gender-based violence. Mokwena said that “there is an urgent need to co-ordinate services for survivors of gender-based violence nationally.” The app, which can be downloaded for free on Android or IOS devices, will give women information from NGOs, public and private sectors. Additionally, the app will be able to locate a POWA branch or an NGO funded by the Department of Social Development near the victim. It will also link the victim with social workers and counsellors. Mokwena says that lack of information, especially with regard to human rights, is a reason why women do not report incidents of GBV. Lage says that fear of being turned away by the police and death threats also keep a woman from reporting violence, and Mokwena adds that “the treatment [of victims of gender-based violence] at the police station is appalling.” Due to this perception and the increased incidents of gender-based violence, Police Minister Fikile Mablula has created a six-point plan which lists how victims of violence must be handled, but only time will tell if these new policies will be adhered to. In the meantime, it is imperative that women start to report incidents of violence. Lage concludes by saying that the public must “start speaking up against this and take action. Liking a page on Facebook is not enough. Get equipped and empowered and be a voice for someone who needs your voice.”
Illustration: Michelle Hartzenberg