On the outskirts of Potchefstroom in the North West, members of the Kanana community have taken it upon themselves to help fight the gender-based violence (GBV) scourge.

With South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, having declared GBV as South Africa’s second pandemic following COVID-19 late last year, community members from Potchefstroom – which falls within the JB Marks Municipality – have joined forces with the local municipality. They have tabled six of their interventions to help eradicate and bury the problem.

On average, one in five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence. 

Thousands of women and children are psychologically harmed by GBV and suffer long-term trauma and harm to their lives. The main drivers are intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. Gender-based violence permeates all structures of society – political, economic, and social -and is driven by entrenched patriarchy and complex and intersectional power inequalities found in race, gender, class, and sexuality.

Taking responsibility

Pastor Njabulo Radebe founded Men Cares; a movement aimed to fight GBV in Kanana. He admits that men are to blame for most cases of domestic violence.

“As men, we need to care for our families, communities, and the environment. We are encouraging our fellow men to stop physically hurting our women and children,” said Radebe.

Meanwhile, the JB Marks Municipality is intent on finding a solution to ending the violence. Two departments, social development and community safety, have embarked on a campaign to put interventions on the table by Kanana residents.

According to the acting JB Marks Municipality Communications Manager Jeanette Tshite, the community has a voice in ending the violence.

Interventions on the table

“The two departments from two spheres of government understand that it’s the people who are the ones that must end GBV. According to police statistics, Potchefstroom occupies the 9th spot based on active GBV reports. We hope that the interactions with the community curb the surge,” said Tshite.  

The municipality and the local community have tabled the following six actions to end the country’s second pandemic.

▪︎Funding women’s full participation in civil society:

Women active in civil society can influence the implementation of global, regional, and national treaties, agreements, and laws by exerting pressure. More money is needed to support women’s active participation in civil society.

▪︎Scaling the efforts for addressing unequal gender power relations

Some programs have structured participatory activities that guide the examination of gender norms and their relationship to power inequities, violence, and other harmful behaviours. These programs work with multiple stakeholders across the socio-ecological spectrum and various sectors, often on a small scale. We need to replicate successful pilot collective impact programs and ensure the sustaining of norm changes.

▪︎Providing GBV clinical services in lower-level health facilities

The provision of GBV clinical services is focused on “one-stop shops” at high-level facilities. But most people who access services at high-level facilities do so too late to receive key interventions, such as emergency contraception and HIV post-exposure prophylaxis. We should focus on bringing services closer to the community for faster access, particularly in rural areas.

▪︎Addressing the needs of child survivors

The children of women survivors in shelters have experienced trauma through witnessing violence against their mothers or have experienced violence. Yet, we lack enough professionals to work with the children. More support is required, especially when the perpetrators are parents or other family members.

▪︎Developing practical guidance for building whole systems

There is ample guidance on addressing GBV in specific sectors or through actions like providing standards for shelters or training for counsellors. More practical support is needed in building whole GBV prevention systems, from developing and implementing laws to creating awareness and training.

▪︎Developing support programs for professionals with vicarious trauma

Burnout of professionals is a reality. When professionals suffer ‘vicarious trauma’ – the emotional residue of exposure from working with traumatised people – they can’t be effective at the job.

Violence is a choice

Tshepo Masiu, a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, told Health-e News: “It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others. Violence is a choice; ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change. However, there are things that you can do to encourage this change. Your actions can make a difference as a friend or family member.”

She continued: “Always know it is not easy for abusers to admit that their violence is a choice or to accept responsibility for their behaviour. An abuser may benefit from having control over their partner and may turn to you to help justify the violence. Do not support the violence in any way. This does not mean you are turning against your friend or family member; you are simply helping them to have the healthy relationship that they deserve.” – Health-e News