The silencing of gross injustices that women face

You’re always thinking, what if this didn’t happen?”

Kgomotso* (22), a postgraduate student at Rhodes University, Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa tells of how her experience of rape affects her on a daily basis.

Like many women, her outlook on life has been affected by this human injustice.

“I have no conception of what an alternative worldview would be” relates Thandi* (24), a South African-born rape survivor from Mpumalanga.

When talking about the repeated incidents of child rape/molestation that spanned over five years of her life, she relates that “as a people, we are facing a social and moral crisis.”

The most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world, gender-based violence (GBV) is a violation of human rights, and includes various forms of aggression and abuse toward girls and women.

In South Africa, violence against women has reached epidemic proportions.

The total sexual offences reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the year 2010-2011 reflects 13% of the population.

As they reflect reported cases, police statistics often understate the problem.

All forms of GBV, such as physical abuse, psychological abuse, deprivation of resources needed for physical and psychological well-being, as well as the treatment of women as commodities is not covered in SAPS data.

South Africa’s startling statistics

• The Medical Research Council (MRC) has revealed: 1 in 4 women in South Africa has experienced physical violence.
• Another study by the MRC shows that over 40% of men reported that they have been physically violent to a partner.
• According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA): 1 in 2 women have a chance of being raped during her lifetime.
• The Gauteng Gender Violence Indicators Pilot Project in 2010 found that over half the women of Gauteng (51.2%) have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime and 78.3% of men in this South African province admit to perpetrating some form of violence against women.

But this is not just a South African issue. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women has found that globally, at least one in every three women has been abused by a man in her lifetime.

Lieutenant Colonel Vanessa Nel from Grahamstown’s Crime Intelligence Unit says that, “The majority of the cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim, and in 60% of recent cases, liquor played a major role in the commission of sexual and assault related crimes.”

Current efforts to alleviate GBV in South Africa
The Gender Forum headed by the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) and the Department of Justice has recently been revised.

Advocate and Director of Social Crime Prevention, Anthea Michaels reports, “Recently, the Minister of Social Development and the Minister of Safety have identified high risk areas in the province where gender-based violence needs to be addressed. The purpose of this forum is to go into these areas and come up with interventions to address GBV with community-based organisations.”

A response
Psychology lecturer at Rhodes University, Mr Werner Bohmke suggests that GBV intervention in South Africa should focus on challenging traditional ways of thinking about men and masculinities.

“Traditional masculinities that men try to reassert are often argued as the traditional or cultural way of doing things, and it might be useful to start challenging the notion that culture and tradition is fixed so we can think of new ways of being men rather than just reasserting these old kinds of hegemonic notions of masculinities”.

Romi Sigsworth, editor at the African Security Review for the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa says that, "South Africa does have a GBV problem that surpasses many other countries and the reasons for this are so many and so complex – suffice to say, the intersection of the country's violent past, deeply entrenched patriarchy compounded by masculinities in crisis, cultural mores that condone inequality between men and women, and the normalisation of violence within relationships and society, all contribute to the problem."

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that GBV is sustained by silence. As women's voices need to be heard, initiatives like the One in Nine Campaign in South Africa which encourages rape survivors to speak out against this silenced issue is one way in which the issue of GBV can be publicly addressed and challenged.

GBV is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace. South Africa has much to address in the structuring of violent masculinities that is to the detriment of countless women and girls.

It is hoped then that the new interventions by the Gender Forum and campaigns like One in Nine will do much to alleviate this social epidemic.

Only once this issue is successfully reduced, can we move toward achieving equality.
*Rape survivors’ names have been changed


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