GBV: How women are forced to adapt their lifestyles

Protestors against gender-based violence outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. (File Photo: Lee Saunders/ Health-e News)

South Africa has a rate of femicide five times higher than the global average with a woman being murdered every three hours in South Africa according to the latest statistics verified by Africa Check, the non-profit organisation set up to promote accuracy in public debate and the media on the continent. 

There has been greater awareness of this historic problem in our country. According to the South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics, there were 40 035 rape cases reported in 2017/18. Sexual violence continues to be the reality for South Africans.

Detriment to women’s health

According to a researcher at the Institute for Gender Studies at the University of South Africa, Sivuyisiwe Wonci, gender-based violence takes away from women’s confidence, freedom of movement and opportunities

She says: “Gender-based violence contributes to what we call ‘premature deaths’ in public health. Due to the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa women’s lives are lost before the average age of death which is 75 years,” says Wonci.

Wonci, who specialises in gender, health policy, and health care systems reforms in South Africa, adds that GBV is a public health issue in South Africa. It contributes to high rates of mortality and morbidity among women.

“It puts women at risk of life-threatening physical, emotional, and psychological illness. It threatens women’s dignity, safety and security both in public and private spaces,” she says.

The harsh reality women live with

Following high profile cases of GBV cases this year: the murdered boxer, Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jeggels; student, Uyinene Mrwetyana and another student, Jesse Hess; some women have decided to take action to stay alive and keep other women around them alive. 

Nomandla Vilakazi is a third-year student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and a rape survivor. She facilitates classes with high school students about consent and rape culture.  Like many students who attend UCT, Vilakazi was left shocked and fearful following the rape and murder of a fellow student, Mrwetyana.

“I carry my guard up every day, I was raped last year, and I finally got to a place where I was comfortable with myself and I felt independent. [But] after Uyinene’s death I went back to [experiencing] anxiety,” she said.

Vilakazi says rape feels like a disease that can just happen at any time without warning, even though a person is taking every precaution. 

“I would love to take up walking, if it’s in a group it would be okay. But I am scared of someone walking up to me, it’s scary and gives me anxiety and it holds me back. I have to watch my behaviour and think about everything, what activities I’m doing, what time I’ll be back, how will I get home, stuff like that,” says Vilakazi. 

Stephanie Thomson* (26) from Cape Town says the fear of being violated has stopped her from exercising.

“I gained weight and it becomes a sick cycle to break, even if I would gym, I would avoid the ‘men’s’ section because it feels like all eyes are on you and anything can happen.” 

Lisa, who was sexually abused at her former workplace, tells OurHealth that she even takes longer routes everywhere just to avoid being raped. – Health-e News 

*Not her real name 



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