South Africa is rated as the most unsafe place in the world to be a woman because women are being violated on a daily basis. These women are violated either by someone very close to them or a stranger they have never even met before. Some of the victims of gender-based violence (GBV) never report their cases, because they fear being stigmatised, or they fear secondary victimisation at the hand of law enforcement officers or health practitioners at public hospitals. Some do not report to the authorities because they have lost confidence in our justice system.
Bill of rights
South African women have become prisoners in their homes, where they can’t even guarantee their own safety because some get attacked in the comfort of their own homes. Others get violated in their workplaces and experience violations at the hand of their own partners. Women are violated even though the Bill of rights enshrines the rights of all people and affirms democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. Added to the Bill of rights, the South African government has passed a plethora of laws to mitigate against GBV, however, the violations of women’s right to safety, in particular, continue unabated. The continuation of GBV costs the government billions of rands on an annual basis.
Eradicating violence against women
As much as the government has passed laws to mitigate violence against women, it has not created an environment that enables women’s safety as citizens. However, in providing services, the government does not apply a gender lens, for example, the building of road networks; where do the roads lead, what services are they connecting communities, is there enough lighting on the roads or streets as well as the state and maintenance of these roads. Infrastructure development has a direct impact on the safety of women within communities and cannot be ignored when dealing with GBV. Therefore, planning within the government must also contribute to the eradication of violence against women.
For a start, for us to end violence against women we need to dismantle patriarchy by all means. This is because patriarchy is the source of men’s feeling of entitlement over women and their bodies. Patriarchy is the root of gender norms and stereotypes within our society which have led to women being preyed on and men becoming predators. Society has to be educated and engaged in the eradication of cultural and traditional beliefs, practices, and stereotypes which legitimises and exacerbates the persistent tolerance of violence against women.
We need to educate society and engage them on gender equality because the inequalities are fertile ground for GBV directed towards women. It is about time people treated GBV as a societal issue and not just a women’s issue because it challenges the moral fibre of the broader society. Gender education must be integrated within the education system so that both the girl and boy child can learn about equality from an early age in order to build a responsible citizenry.
Men should be part of the solution to GBV
Over years we have put the burden of dealing with GBV on women or the survivors and victims. It is as though we have brought survivors and victims into a room to talk about GBV and locked the perpetrators outside and far from the discussion table. It is about time we opened the door and let the perpetrators in and invite them to the discussion table so that they can be part of the solution. The boy child and men need to be part of the discussions so that they can contribute towards the solution to this societal problem and not just women. Society at large must face this monster; the government has passed laws to deal with the perpetrators of violence against women. It has also come up with programmes for the rehabilitation of survivors. However, not enough has been done to identify the causes of violence against women so that relevant measures can be put in place to prevent it.
Police’s handling of GBV cases
We cannot overlook the role played by the justice system towards survivors and victims of GBV, as it is also very important in dealing with it. While an expectation is that the harshest of sentences be given to perpetrators, it also becomes equally important that law enforcement closes the gaps in handling cases of GBV, so that they do not fail survivors and victims. Government has to ensure that the police are trained in handling GBV cases so that their line of questioning and their attitudes do not subject women to secondary victimisation. It is also the responsibility of the government to ensure that laboratories dealing with DNA evidence samples do not cause unnecessary delays in dealing with the samples. The laboratories must be strengthened to respond to pressures being placed on them by the high incidents of GBV in South Africa.
Alcohol contributes to GBV
Within services provided for survivors and victims of GBV, the government also has a responsibility of providing programmes for the rehabilitation of survivors of GBV including providing temporary shelters for their safety. Provision of these services should not just be an exercise for ticking the box rather it should be effective and efficient services. From a number of police stations around the country, it has become evident that the highest number of GBV cases are reported during the weekends and during the festive season. In addition, most of the perpetrators are found to be under the influence of alcohol.
Identifying solutions to GBV
This may be an indication of the relationship between alcohol and GBV and may therefore call upon society together with the government to look at this relationship in order to find a solution. The government still has to identify possible causes of GBV or factors influencing it, in order for us to identify possible solutions to mitigate it; we cannot as a society address a challenge when we do not know its causes.
Dibeela Mothupi is a commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality. Views expressed in the article are hers and do not reflect those of Media Torque