Initiated by the Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, more than 187 countries, including South Africa, have taken part in this initiative in attempts to highlight the societal ill of violence against women and children. World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 12.1 in every 100 000 women are victims of femicide in SA each year. According to The South African, there are 15.2 in every 100 000, painting a grimmer picture of the reality that many faces daily.
According to the Global Citizen, The United Nations’ Global Goal 5 calls for the elimination of gender-based violence in its many forms. While it’s no secret that the pandemic disrupted many ways of daily living, the influence it had on the femicide rates in the country were disturbing. Rose Gawaya, a gender adviser at the Social Policy Network, stated that the femicide command centre alone recorded more than 120,000 in the first 21 days of the nation-wide lockdown. Gawaya further mentioned that the rise in GBD during lockdown occurred since perpetrators could continue the cycle, knowing that support services for the victims were limited. Factors that contributed were loss of income, unbearable living conditions, which put many households under immense stress. According to the burden of disease unit at the SA Medical Research Council, the numbers could have been higher had it not been for the alcohol ban.
While many attributed GBV to alcohol abuse, it became quite prevalent, during the lockdown, that abuse will always happen. This highlighted the intensity of the ill – the issue runs deeper than substance abuse; it is an epidemic that the country needs to deal with before SA overtakes Honduras in femicide rankings. Considering the cultural landscape of South Africa, many cultures deem it distasteful for a spouse to report their partner to the police station without a family meeting – which could take up to weeks. By that time, all the evidence would be nulled. It is also considered a two-way street by many – if a female gets abused, there is always the assumption that the victim provoked the perpetrator in some form. The sad reality for many is that these assumptions meet victims at the police station – known as secondary victimisation- which further discourages them from laying charges due to the confrontation they meet.
While the country’s colonial and Apartheid history also contributes to the deeply rooted violence prevalent in the country, the effects of poverty and unemployment play a role destructive coping mechanism which leads to increased rates of abuse. The increase in child trafficking is a direct effect of the manipulation which takes place in many underdeveloped countries in Africa and South America. Abuse that takes place in religious institutions, according to Wits gender expert Dr Ruth Murambadoro, is always met with questions that allure that the victim was at fault. Abuse takes form in either physically, emotionally, or mentally. The presumption that GBV is only physical leaves many cases unreported due to lack of knowledge. According to the UNFPA, abuse can prevent young girls from reaching their potential, creating more barriers for them to break in the 21st century.
On the 22 of September, police minister Beki Cele 30 communities in the country that were declared GBV hotspots. Majority of the hotspots were either townships or informal settlements. One of the interventions he mentioned for these hotspots was that police stations had victim friendly rooms and had a unique desk to deal with the cases. Gender violence researcher at the University of Johannesburg, Lisa Vetten, highlights the importance of finding out why these areas have high violence numbers. If the state wants to combat this issue, it needs to find out the push factors that cause this. By doing that, more sustainable solutions can be offered, which can also answer the questions to other societal ills like low literacy rates and unemployment.
With social media platforms like Twitter and Tik Tok acting as the mouthpiece for demotivated victims, legal experts have taken pro bono cases to see justice being served. Where police stations don’t record cases, social media takes them and brings them to minister Cele himself or the president. The digital age has seen a sharp awareness of GBV. This has led to multiple marches around the country and endorsements from celebrities and influencers. Political parties have gotten involved in showing their support for the victims and promise to make a positive change should they be voted into office. The plight of GBV is far from over for the developing country of South Africa. While corruption, unemployment, poverty, and other ills run rampant, they further inflate the GBV numbers. While Bills and legislation are being proof checked and solidified to protect victims, women and children still bare the scars of the ill.