It has become predictable: Each August, the news platforms fill up with stories of gender based violence. This year is no different.
President Cyril Ramaphosa joined the chorus, acknowledging that we face a pandemic of gender-based violence (GBV), even as we tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
When South Africa’s lockdown first eased in June, President Ramaphosa pointed out the stories of three women: pregnant Tshegofatso Pule, 28, found hanging from a tree in Roodepoort; Naledi Phangindawo who was stabbed multiple times at a festival in Mossel Bay; and Sanele Mfaba whose body was dumped by a tree in Soweto.
The stories are painful to read. But is it useful?
High rates of femicide
The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), currently conducting its third national femicide study due to be released in 2021, found in 2009 that on average one in three women were killed by an intimate partner each day in South Africa. Although this was down from the 1999 femicide rate of four women killed each day, it is far too high. This rate alone should inspire real action from government, civil society, faith-based organisations and citizens to take gender-based violence.
But we have normalised GBV – including femicide. We have been inoculated against feeling the horror it truly deserves, a feeling that should drive us to take action.
SAMRC’s National Femicide study shows South Africa has an intimate femicide rate that far exceeds documented rates for other countries. What will it take for that to be reduced to zero women killed by their partners?
Fear in lockdown
The lockdown has highlighted our challenges. By mid-June, 21 women and children were murdered since the start the stay-at-home orders in March.
Like many women in South Africa, the stories have awakened memories long buried inside me. I was reminded of my niece who was shot and killed 15 years ago by her boyfriend and the father of her children, who then committed suicide. As a family we never got closure but learned to live with the pain of losing a family member. Still, we live with the pain in her children and the emptiness their mother’s murder has created.
Taking gender-based violence seriously
This war, gender-based violence, must be taken seriously at all levels of the justice system. It starts with challenging discriminatory stereotypes about victims and survivors. Police must be adequately trained and regularly monitored in their related investigations. We must ensure that perpetrators are expeditiously brought to book.
In 2017, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) highlighted GBV as a crisis, but it feels like the message was ignored. GBV, which disproportionately affects women and girls, is systemic. It is deeply entrenched in institutions, cultures and traditions in South Africa.
The initiation of the Total Shutdown (TTS) movement in August 2017, with women and men supporters taking to the street, was cause for hope. As was the momentum built around the 2018 Gender Summit and the subsequent development of the National Strategic Plan on GBV in 2019.
Time for change
As a community practitioner, I work in less privileged communities where I hear stories of GBV every day. Often these stories include the difficulty of just trying to report the crime. Women and children have to find money for transport to travel long distances to access a police station. Often, they are further victimised when reporting the case to the police.
We must improve services for abused women and children in ways that also prevent future recurrences of violence. It also means that the services should also include family-oriented interventions to GBV, including a focus on men and boys.
The year 2020 has proven that we still have a long way to go. We can start by refusing to treat this violence as normal. And then take to remove the scourge from our society. – Health-e News
Tsamme Mmammone Mfundisi a Community Practitioner at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). She has worked in different communities around South Africa and is currently working in the Marikana, WonderKop Community in the North West Province. Follow her on Twitter @MmammoneTsamme