Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

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Gender-Based Violence continues to be rife in South Africa, particularly violence against women. According to the WHO, South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world.

Attempts to ameliorate this situation will prove difficult due to the many challenges that exist. Arguably, one of the most important challenges that need to be addressed is the attitude of men and how they view the status of women in society. Research shows that in provinces such as Kwa-Zulu Natal, adolescent boys are being taught that they are superior to females, which consequently translates into a lack of respect towards women from a young age. The Medical Research Council conducted research across 3 provinces in South Africa and the results showed that 1 in 4 women in the general population have experienced physical violence at some point in their life.

However, since it is estimated that only 1 in 9 cases of sexual violence are reported, looking at statistics alone will never give a true reflection of the scale of the problem. To a large extent the gross underestimation of violence against women in South Africa negates much needed attempts to improve the welfare of women. We also need to address the issue of fear, since this is the underlying reason for underreporting.

Typically, it is found that violence, whether sexual or otherwise, is committed by intimate partners, family members, educators and community members. Reporting these violent acts can often be seen to cause more harm than good for the female victims. If the perpetrators of these crimes are perceived to be of higher social standing, many women may face the loss of community acceptance. But remaining quiet and choosing not to report acts of violence will not dissipate the very act which oppresses them in the first place. Being subjected to sexual violence causes many women to experience various negative psychological and physical effects – often, they suffer in silence.

Another huge problem at the moment is that women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. Sexual intercourse without protection immediately puts women at a higher risk of infection. If they know that their attacker or partner will become violent, attempting to negotiate with that person is usually not an option. Instead, they become a victim in more ways than they initially imagined.

The consequence of all of this is the reinforcement of the notion that men are better than women and that they have a higher standing in the social hierarchy. Gender-based violence deprives women of empowerment and liberty. They suffer humiliation, lose their confidence and self-worth and, ultimately, remain in their shells forced to live with the idea that they are inferior to their attackers.

This situation in South Africa urgently needs to change. If one gender is being deliberately excluded and held back it is in violation of our constitution and paradoxical to South Africa’s message of inclusivity and positivity – disrupting the momentum for positive change currently sweeping the nation.

Through our ResponsibleME programme, we are developing a series of lessons that will specifically target the antisocial behaviour affecting the status of women. The age group being focused on is critical as the ResponsibleME program targets adolescents as they enter a period of key transition within their life. The youth are developing their social and economic independence, considering their identities and developing skills to eventually become fully-functioning adults. If we can make them aware at this age that they are all equal, this should aid in reducing aggressive behaviour amongst adolescents.

We have to dispel the myths about gender violence across South Africa and set new norms. It is imperative that we encourage the access to services and information designed to help those who have been unfairly placed in a vulnerable position. To truly tackle this problem of violence against women, we must accept the extent to which the problem occurs and the scale of its impact, and to work from there.

It will be an arduous task, where setbacks will constantly occur. Yet, we must place trust in this new generation of South Africans. If we can enlighten and educate them at a young age and critical stage of development, then we can truly move South Africa forward on its new and exciting path to success.

By Kitty Ive

Research Coordinator at Regency Global

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