Women and girls are at the most at risk of, and most affected by, gender-based violence (GBV) – something known all too well within the South African context. Gender-based violence is explained as violence that occurs primarily against women because of their gender, and involves power imbalances where, most often, men are the perpetrators and women the victims.
Although boys and men are also affected by gender-based violence, women, girls and gender minorities are affected on much larger scale, both in South Africa and internationally. In South Africa, “there is a girl who was attacked near Howick, in Kwa-Zulu Natal on August 27, 2011, when she was 9 years old. She was raped, stabbed repeatedly, almost disembowelled, then left for dead,” reported Independent Online News about a recently publicised case from the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court.
This young survivor shook emotions across the country when the letter and poem she wrote to her attacker was read publicly in court by her counsellor. “What did I do to deserve such a life? Sometimes I feel like you taught me how to hate, hurt and be a monster, but I tell myself I will never be you or like you,” the letter reads.
Her rapist, who never showed any guilt or remorse throughout the trial, was given life imprisonment for the rape and 15 years for attempted murder. While the case itself is horrific, and cases like it all too common in South Africa, the bravery of the now 12-year-old girl and the punishment meted out to her attacker, give hope to other survivors.
The Fear Of A Dark Room
A beautiful room full of light
When I look at this room it brings me joy, happiness
and my heart beats fast when I look at it,
but then you came into that room.
You destroyed everything you made it a dark evil room.
The bed that was full of red roses is now full of red blood.
I dare not look at that mirror, I see a sad girl tears dropping down
there is darkness I can feel some shadow in the dark
a sparkling nightgown is not shiny anymore
It’s all in pieces and full of blood when I look at the bed again
I see a body sleeping, a body without breath, arm without warmth, mouth without a smile,
eyes full of tears in their sleep I cannot wake it up,
but the room is about to fall apart.
Social justifications for violence are often based on gender norms about the roles and responsibilities of men and women in a culture. These norms socialise males to be aggressive, powerful, unemotional and controlling, and contribute to a social acceptance of men as dominant. Similarly, expectations of females as nurturing, submissive and emotional reinforce women’s roles as weak, powerless and dependent upon men. The socialisation of both men and women has resulted in an unequal power relationship between the sexes. This is an issue in cultures around the world.
Despite this, gender inequality is a problem that does have solutions. Activism has shown that achieving the goal of greater gender equality and women’s empowerment is possible, and promoting gender equality can lead to lesser instances of violence against women. Some solutions are presented through campaigns run by different organisations in South Africa and around the world, such as South Africa’s ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Global Gender-Based Violence campaign.
While these movements have been criticised for being only short-term solutions, it must be pointed out that awareness and education is the first step towards change. Though further research is needed, evidence shows that school, community and media interventions can promote gender equality and gender-based violence by challenging stereotypes that give men power over women. (World Health Organisation, “violence prevention: the evidence”, 2009). WHO suggests a series of school initiatives, community interventions, media interventions and income generation programmes involving both men and women, can lead to increased gender equality and, in turn, the possibility of decreased gender-based violence.
These interventions require education and awareness activities at all levels and ages. Often, especially amongst young people, there is little understanding of the scope and depth of gender-based violence. Large scale media campaigns tackling the high instances of rape and HIV infection, like South Africa’s ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’, has made it easier for South Africans to face GBV openly and publicly.
A number of media channels report GBV issues in a way that tries to stimulate change in societal perceptions, but the challenges are still vast. There is a blanket of silence surrounding most GBV cases, the international media is male-slanted and survivors are represented as weak – as victims. Inter Press Service Regional Director for Africa, Paula Fray, suggests that “Violence against women has presented particular challenges to the media and to society because of the way in which it has been consigned to the “private” sphere – dampening public discussions and stifling media debate. Yet, the media has the potential to play a lead role in changing perceptions that, in turn, can help galvanise a movement for change.”
Despite South Africa’s shocking statistics – a woman is raped every 17 seconds in this country, only 1 in 9 report their attack and an alarming 1 in 6 men report they have been a perpetrator of sexual violence – despite all this, South Africa still does not have a fully-funded national campaign to end gender-based violence.
After years of non-delivery of the concerted – and promised – government effort to combat gender-based violence, a group of organisations has written to President Zuma requesting the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into Gender-Based Violence.
South Africa’s response to gender-based violence has become the sole responsibility of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to tackle this difficult subject. The Commission on Gender Equality, NICRO, People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA), RAPCAN, Rape Crisis, UWC Law Race and Gender Unit, Treatment Action Campaign, Thoyando Victim Empowerment Project and GRIP are just a few of the many organisations working against GBV in South Africa.
One of the main problems is that the work done by these organisations is local, with little or no coordination. Interventions thus focus on specific areas of gender-based violence such as rape, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex (LGBTQI) rights, or prostitution, but no one organisation covers the range of social issues that GBV encompasses in this country. Like other NGOs, those with a focus on GBV are often underfunded and therefore sometimes at risk of closure.
In the face of funding challenges, the good work of these organisations still stands testament to the truth that South Africans in communities around the country are invested in tackling gender-based violence head on, and working towards a better future for our children.
As a player in Cape Town’s development sector – and in support of local NGOs – Creative Consulting & Development Works’ if i could… internship programme places qualified interns with a number of organisations working to combat gender inequality, LGBTQI issues and gender-based violence.
if i could… Intern Shannon Kelliher talks about her recent experience supporting a GBV organisation in Cape Town, “I love the organisation and the staff have been incredibly welcoming. I am literally learning more here in a week than I would in a whole semester-long internship in the US. Having this sort of experience is not only personally gratifying, it also makes me a stand out candidate to potential employers.”
Interning at her host organisation has already played a major role in Shannon’s personal development and future career, and she expresses that every day presents her with opportunities to improve and expand her skills in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the United States. Shannon has already had the opportunity to do great deal of development and advancement work, including helping to draft and edit grant proposals for large funding requests, creating and editing promotional and informational materials, writing blog posts, supporting with event planning, expanding the organisation’s social media presence and participating in the organisation’s strategic planning process.
If you are a host organisation that would like to host interns, or have educational or practical experience in these sectors and would like to become an intern, get in touch and make a meaningful difference! Read more about our if i could… internships or contact if i could…
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