Gender Based Violence: Shifting our mindsets from response to prevention

It is a well-known fact that South Africa struggles with high incidence of Gender Based Violence (GBV), which is systemically entrenched in our patriarchal culture and institutions. GBV can be defined as ‘violence targeted at individuals based on their sex, gender identity or whether they are seen to challenge norms’[1]. More recently, in President Ramaphosa’s 2019 State of the Nation Address, he described the issue as having reached epidemic proportions. While the exact economic impact of GBV is not known, in 2017 KPMG estimated it to be between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion per year (or between 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP). The economic losses are due to decreased productivity, absenteeism from work and lower earnings (to name a few). Additionally, the costs that government spends on responding to GBV cases – including arresting perpetrators, keeping offenders in jail, running trauma centres and paying Access to Justice staff – are substantial.

The post-apartheid Government has worked hard to address all forms of violence, including combating GBV. This is reflected in international treaties that SA has signed, such as the 1995 Beijing Declaration, Millennium Development Goals of 2000 and regional conventions (e.g. Maputo Protocol, Southern African Development Community Policy on Gender). Various pieces of legislation have been enacted as well: Domestic Violence Act (No. 116 of 1998), Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (No. 6 of 2012), Maintenance Act (No. 99 of 1998) and Protection from Harassment Act (No. 17 of 2011). While all these treaties and polices are in place, implementation remains a challenge. In addition, much of the country’s efforts focus on response instead of prevention. There is an imperative need to shift energy towards prevention to drive long-term systemic change.

In support of government efforts, Tshikululu, along with some of our key clients, play an important role in GBV issues in South Africa. We partner with a number of organisations providing support to GBV victims across the country. It is critical to take a holistic approach to GBV issues, which means paying attention to both prevention and response.

In our view, prevention activities should focus on:

  • Developing and implementing GBV curriculum in schools, starting from the very early years (as young as three) through to matric, to confront children getting “accustomed” to acts of GBV and accepting such acts as the norm;
  • Formation of networks amongst key stakeholders to ensure a coordinated response; and
  • Inclusion of both males and females in GBV activities to develop more equitable social norms, attitudes and behaviours thereby creating sustainable communities.

From a response side, we aim to focus on continued service provision from trauma to prosecution, including trauma containment, court chaperoning, psycho-social support, access to medico-legal services, home visits, etc.

It is imperative that GBV prevention efforts should be strengthened. Currently, the services designed to prevent or deter GBV are relatively rare in comparison to those that respond to GBV across health, social services and the Criminal Justice system. While much of the work our clients are supporting in this space takes place at a local level – targeting “GBV hot spots” where they are known – these activities can act as a model of how private sector funding, civil society and government can work together to effectively respond to this scourge. Together we can do more.

[1] Centre for Sexualities, Aids and Gender, University of Pretoria. 2017. Power matters: Understanding GBV.