With over 13 000 gender-based violence cases currently open in the region, NPOs that advocate for the rights of victims of gender-based violence and sexual offences have voiced their concerns regarding the alarming statistics. They also share possible solutions to lessen the growing numbers.  

When opening the dedicated sexual offence court in Sibasa recently, Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola bemoaned the number of gender-based violence cases in Vhembe which includes rape, domestic violence, and murders. 

Start early

Dr Bardwell Mufunwaini, managing director of Munna Ndi Nnyi? (Who is the real man?), says that parents should instil respect in their children. He says children should also be taught the importance of culture and tradition to ensure that they grow up to be responsible individuals who respect the value of the law. 

Established in 1997, the organisation provides a range of services within Vhembe, which includes engaging men in dialogue and leadership on the issues of gender-based violence, victim empowerment, and health promotion. Mufunwaini says everyone should be worried about the statistics and must unite in fighting against it increasing. 

“We all have a role to play in society to ensure that we end the growing number of domestic violence cases being reported every day. The first thing we must do is to ensure that we raise our kids with love, respect and teach them that violence is never a solution. Even in schools, children should be taught that there are better ways to solve problems instead of violence,” says Mufunwaini.

 “Our children should grow up knowing that no person was born to be abused by another one and that if a relationship or marriage ends, it isn’t the end of the world and does not mean the one who is being dumped should kill the other one. It is totally wrong to kill or abuse another person in the name of love. No one has the right to kill another,” Mufunwaini says.

The link to poverty

A survivor of domestic violence herself, Rinae Sengani is devoted to helping victims of domestic violence through her NPO, Rinae Sengani Foundation. She believes that the high rate of poverty and unemployment among women in rural villages is a contributing factor.

“I believe that the high rate of poverty in our communities, largely due to shortages of jobs, is one of the main causes behind the high rate of domestic violence. Most women are dependent on men and as a result, they choose to stay in abusive relationships, in fear of being left alone without anyone to look after them,” says Sengani. 

Sengani hopes that the recent opening of the court in Sibasa will play a huge role in encouraging victims to speak up and open cases against their abusers. “I have hope that the new sexual offences court will [encourage] victims of rape to come out in numbers and report cases because they will [see] that their cases [are] prioritised.”

Working together

According to Tshilidzi Masikhwa, spokesperson for Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP), which provides counselling, advocacy and support to victims, the problem needs to be addressed before it escalates. “This is something which we all need to come together and fight against it as it seems to be getting out of hand. We cannot continue to live like this as every day we hear of stories of sexual assault and abuse of women and children, we all have to stand up and say enough is enough,” says Masikhwa.

Sengani says that one of the solutions is for the government to work together with local NPOs to address the driving forces behind gender-based violence. 

“The government [should] work with NPOs and communities [so that] we can come up with solutions to decrease the high rate of domestic violence [in] the country. Communities also need to introduce programmes to government that they see fit to deal with issues to deal with gender-based violence,” she says.

Masikhwa suggests working with the police. 

“We have to work together with the law officials to ensure that everyone who commits [these]  crimes… is brought to book and sent away for a very long time. The number of cases we record every month ranging from rapes to domestic violence is too much. We have to come up with solutions to these problems before it is too late,” adds Masikhwa. – Health-e News