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A support network in Thembisa will help young women identify GBV red flags

Stop Gender Based Violence reads the poster being held by a women during a march in Gauteng
Written by Marcia Zali

People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA) Thembisa is focusing on healing and empowering survivors of gender-based violence through a support network, long after #16Days ends.

As the 16 Days of Activism Campaign against Gender-Based Violence, support will continue for women in of South Africa’s violence hotspots.

People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) has launched a support network for survivors of GBV in Thembisa. Earlier this year, Police Minister Bheki Cele announced that the township in Gauteng was one of the top five hotspots in the country for GBV.

Supporting young women

While the #16Days campaign brought attention to gender-based violence, POWA wants to create a sustained programme in the area.

“We felt that since we deal with survivors, we never have a time where we sit down and share stories so that we can encourage others that they are not alone,” said  POWA Social Auxiliary Worker Connie Dlamini. “This is a journey and there are many of us in this journey.”

Women aged 18 to 35 are particularly vulnerable and need guidance and information on how to navigate adulthood, relationships, and education, the feminist organisation found.

“At this age group, they are facing a lot of challenges in life, that’s where the reality of life starts,” said Dlamini. “When we look at our stats, we realised that people in the 27 years to 35 years age group are struggling, because they are trying to cope, get their lives together, and to understand who they really are.”

Thirty four year-old Jabulile Maseko found comfort in the network.

“This year has been hard on everyone and I felt relieved hearing other women’s stories. We go through a lot and sometimes people see certain behaviour and judge you without understanding its root cause,” she said.

https://twitter.com/POWA_ZA/status/1336604510064558080?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Church support for action

The church plays an integral role in communities. Still, the church can also be a source of stigma. The organisation found that judgment in church deters young women from speaking out about abuse. Pastor Thulisile Mlambo from High Praise Centre says that the healing and empowerment programmes should be held yearly to help young women cope.

“In a church, people are afraid of being judged so such platforms are important because it’s not a church environment we are here to heal and we are women who are trying to help each other,” says Mlambo. “The church is supposed to be a place of refuge but because people are judgmental, people are afraid to talk because others will say they are not holy enough.”

Mlambo also adds that having mentors for young girls can help them identify red flags in relationships. Older women can teach them what to look out for in relationships with men who could potentially abuse them.

“We must at least guide them on how to identify even the subtle signs because there is always something that an abuser will show if they are abusive but we ignore those signs,” says the pastor. “It does not begin on the day that he kills you, it starts in an ordinary argument so it helps that if we speak to these young girls. They will have a clue on how to identify when it is not love anymore.”

The effects of the pandemic

The level of Gender based violence has also increased during the Covid-19 pandemic according to statistics released by researchers. Telecommunications company Vodacom said its call centres saw a 65% increase in women and children confined to their homes and seeking urgent help during the hard lockdown. According to the SA Medical Research Council, levels of GBV would have been even higher had it not been for the ban on alcohol sales at the time.

The Council says harmful alcohol use is a well-documented driver of GBV.

“Drinking, especially binge drinking by men, appears to increase both the frequency and severity of partner abuse,” council researchers reported in a statement.

It says alcohol’s ability to lower inhibitions can escalate quarrelling into violence, particularly when couples drink at harmful levels together. Uncontrolled use of alcohol can also lead to infidelity, or spending money on alcohol instead of essential household items. This also leads to quarrelling in the home, triggering conflict and violence. Between 25% and 40% of South African women having experienced sexual and, or physical violence in their lifetime.—Health-e News

About the author

Marcia Zali