The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV) is an annual international event that was initiated by activist during the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991. Ever since its inauguration, it has become a yearly event under the coordination of Center for Women’s Global Leadership. This event always run from 25th of November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to the 10th of December (Human Rights Day). The sole aim of the international event is to advocate for the total elimination of GBV against women and girls throughout the world. In support of this laudable initiative, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called for aggressive campaign and awareness against GBV with the aim of completely eradicating the menace by 2030. In 2019, the official opening of the 16 Days Campaign took place in Limpopo, South Africa on 25 November under the theme: Enough is Enough – 356 days to GBV and Femicide.
Most acts of GBV are committed by men against women and girls. These violence may be physical, domestic, emotional, sexual and economical. Perpetrators of GBV are usually close associates or spouse. GBV can lead to serious physical, psychological health problems, depression and eventually death. There is no discrimination in age, race, religion and culture of penetrators and victims involved in GBV. Victims and survivors of GBV are often helpless and traumatised. Most often, they find it difficult to live a normal life. Before going into the reasons why 16 days of activism against GBV hasn’t worked in South Africa, it is very expedient to be familiar with the various types of GBV commonly perpetrated in South Africa.
Physical violence is rampant and a hilarious crime against women and girls. This can happen at work place and involve the abuser (usually men) taking advantage of the abused (women). Physical violence may involve physical combat that may result in grievous harm such as bruises, breaking of the skull, dislocation and/or fracture of one or more bones. Physical violence are also often experienced at schools between the students. The boys are always seen taking advantage over the girls either during class or at break time. Sometimes this may degenerate into physical abuse such as slapping, hitting and flogging. In series of occasions, the physical injury may be so severe and can involve the use of hard objects, knives or broken bottles. All these can ultimately lead to death. Hot water, pepper spray and chemicals such as acids have also been reported as weapon of physical assault. In cases where victims of physical violence are lucky to be alive, they may have to cope with severe bodily injury such as loss of beauty, blindness and physical incapacitation.
Sexual violence is an attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, against a person’s sexuality by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, at home or place of work. Sexual violence includes rape, attempted rape, sexual abuse, trafficking, forced early marriage and rape in marriage. Many of such cases occur between women and their male bosses at work. Sexual gratification is always expected from women before they can be promoted or given their due entitlements. When the woman concerned is unyielding to the inappropriate advances, rape and sexual abuses often occur. Rape cases has also been reported in schools against women and girls; in fact in some cases between the male lecturers and female students. It has also occurred between close relations such as father to daughter, uncle to niece and so on. The aftermaths of rape on women is extremely painful and last for a life time. It is a moment of bitterness, emotional torture and grieve for the victim who are often women and girls. In South Africa, one out of four women had been raped or sexually assaulted one time or the other. The resultant effect of sexual violence often leads to depression and suicide if not properly managed. Also, victims of rape are at risk of unwanted pregnancy, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases which can eventually lead to death.
Domestic violence is a type of GBV which occur within the family. It may involve violence against an intimate partner (spouse) usually women. This violence usually don’t start abruptly, it is a gradual process that occur over the years with the women trying to endure and tolerate the various abuses until when it becomes unbearable. In some cases, domestic violence often lead to sexual abuses or what is being referred to as rape in marriage. During these abuses, the other partner (husband) usually inflict bodily injury on the wife using dangerous objects such as knifes, rope, broken bottles, acids and in rare cases, guns. It has also been reported that food poisoning are employed to carry out this nefarious act against humanity in an attempt to evade suspicion. Lack of love, greed and mutual respect within the family are the major causes of domestic violence. Sometimes, the wide age differences between the spouses coupled with low level of exposures on how to handle family issues are always responsible for this menace in our society.
Emotional violence involves a psychological torture usually on the part of the woman. This type of violence are usually common in homes and can also occur in the secular spheres. It is much more predominant than imagined. At work place, women are usually believed to be less intelligent and lack the capability or capacity to take up certain responsibilities. This create a low self-esteem and results in emotional attacks most especially when such duties are within the range of their competences. Emotional violence are very critical because it sometimes result in a state of despondency. If not checked or adequate measures taken in good time, such a person may slip into depression characterized by various health issues that can ultimately lead to death.
Economic or Financial violence occurs when a male intimate partner has complete control over the woman’s money and other economic resources. Apart from the family environment, it can also occur in other sectors of the society. The male abuser took total control over the finances of the family withholding funds needed for basic necessities such as food, health care and clothing from their victims. The abuser also decides on how the victim’s money is to be spent without the woman’s consent thereby putting the victim on strict allowance or making the victim completely dependent on the abuser for money to meet her personal needs. It also involves the act of denying the woman the financial autonomy to either start or complete formal education which may ultimately affect the employment opportunity.
Human trafficking is an act of engaging young girls and women against their wish in forceful labor and commercial sexual exploitation. South African girls are trafficked either for the purposes of domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation. Reports has also shown that South African women or girls are engaged to provide forceful unpaid labor in exchange for their normal entitlements such as accommodation and education. Traffickers always deceive their potential victims into getting them a decent job. They will rather prefer to travel abroad where there are “better opportunities” than struggling with uncertainty. This deceit is much more convenient for the traffickers to facilitate the movement of their potential victims to their preferred destinations without any form of suspicion from the relevant agencies. The post-apartheid period during the 20th century in South Africa makes women susceptible to the antics of traffickers because of financial inequality which made the higher classes be in control of most of the state’s income. This worsened the opportunity for women in Africa to be in positions of power thus limiting the prospect of obtaining education and relevant skills.
Cultural violence against women are rampant in our environment. It prevents the woman from having any form of independence against any custom regarded as age long traditional believes. In order words, women’s consent are not sought before important decisions that has to do with them are taken. Some of these cultural violence ranges from female genital mutilation to early or forced marriage. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the damage or removal of the female genital tissue or organ thereby interfering with the normal functioning of the women body. It has no health benefits but rather cause harm and inflicts pains on girls and women in many ways. This may lead to psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Some other damage caused by FGM includes excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling, pains, infections, urinary problems, shock and death. FGM has also been known to reduce sexual sensitivity of the woman due to the loss of the highly sensitive clitoris to this hilarious practices. Early, child or forced marriage, is very rampant in Southern African countries. It is an act of violating the human right of a girl usually below 18 years of age. This is usually seen as cultural issues which when not practiced could mean drifting away from the age long tradition. It involves child brides usually from the rural areas where most of the inhabitants are illiterate and underprivileged. In South Africa, 1% of girls are married off before the age of 15 while 6% got married before the age 18 years. During this practices, the girl child has no say and cannot refuse or resist the wishes of her parents who must have collected money or gifts from the potential husband. It is worthy of note that South Africa is committed to ending child marriage by 2030 in agreement with TARGET 5.3 of The Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
Due to the scourge of GBV, South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, through a national address in September 2019 announced the implementation of Emergency Response Action Plan on GBV and Femicide. The advent of COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 also increased the incidence rate of GBV. This was further heightened with the lifting of ban on alcohol sale on 1st of June 2020. About 2300 cases of GBV was reported during the period of COVID-19 lockdown according to the South African Police Services. It is pertinent at this juncture to look at the possible causes of increase in GBV despite intensive measures and activities put in place by various stake holders.
Reasons why 16 days of activism against GBV hasn’t worked in South Africa
A rigid mind set: Some individuals have a rigid mind set concerning situation of life. There is hardly what you say or do that can change them. They will rather prefer to pretend rather than comply. Such set of people continue to cause GBV even in the face of protest and activism against such. Government with the help of security agencies can help apprehend and prosecute such people. More sensitization and advocacy should continue (as some abusers might have a repentant heart) until the society is safe for our women and girls.
Increase in unemployment rate: South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rate in the world. According to International Monetary Fund, the unemployment rate in 2019 is 28.7% and it is forecasted to be 35.3% in December 2020. It is believed that unemployment rate has a relationship with crime rate in South Africa. Unemployment as documented by News24 leads to poverty/idleness, poverty/idleness leads to crime such as GBV. There is possibility that creation of job opportunity may reduce GBV.
Alcoholism: Alcohol intoxication has led to so many crime in the society. During COVID-19 lockdown when alcohol sale was banned, there was drastic reduction in crime rate as attested by South Africa’s police minister Hon. Bheki Cele. As soon as the ban on alcohol was lifted on 1st June 2020, there was a sharp increase in crime rate including killings of women. This necessitated the reason the South African President tagged the two weeks after alcohol ban was lifted as “dark and shameful”. This suggest that alcohol influence can lead to crime against women and girls.
Group of perpetrators are often left out: Men and boys who fall within the group of perpetrators are not always or adequately carried along. They should be at the fore front of activism against GBV. By so doing, it will further increase the consciousness against GBV among men and boys in the society thus slowing down the crime rate against women.
Low level of education: Apart from unemployment, low level of education has been linked to increase in crime rate such as GBV in South Africa. This was established in a study by Tshabalala in KwaZulu-Natal province. He concluded that low level of education leads to high rate of unemployment and has a direct correlation with the high rate of crime. He further recommended creation of educational programmes and training which can be helpful in the acquisition of needed skills for employment in order to reduce crime rate.
In conclusion, it is the collective responsibility of everyone to work together and say NO TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS in our society. We should realize that the first step against this menace begins with YOU.
Dr Esther Adebimpe Ofusori is a researcher at the School of Chemistry and Physics, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa. She writes in her personal capacity.