In the past few years in South Africa, more and more people are starting to recognise and become concerned about how big a problem gender-based violence (GBV) is in our country. As a nation, we need to strengthen our response to this growing issue.
The government is continuing to increase its efforts in the fight against GBV femicide (the killing of women and girls, particularly by men), and President Cyril Ramaphosa has stated that these issues form the country’s ‘second pandemic’.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of intimate partner violence, and recent data from Statistics SA shows that rape and sexual violence have become a constant, relentless presence in our country. This affects all South Africans – young and old, black and white, rich and poor, queer and heterosexual, rural and urban. GBV is experienced across all sectors of society.
In the midst of this second pandemic, there is no doubt that this crisis must be brought to an end.
What is gender-based violence?
While there are many definitions of GBV, it can be broadly defined as:
“Harmful acts directed against a person because of their gender.”
GBV is often made worse by gender inequality, the abuse of power, and biased views around how certain genders are expected to look and act.
When most of us hear the term, we think of physical violence and abuse, but GBV can also be sexual, emotional, financial or structural. This violence can be committed by everyone from intimate partners and acquaintances to strangers and institutions. On a one-on-one level, most acts of GBV are committed by men against women, and the man is often known by the woman, such as a partner or family member.
Gender-based violence in South Africa
Although accurate statistics are difficult to get for many reasons – including the fact that most incidents of GBV are not reported – it is clear that South Africa has a particularly high rate of gender-based violence.
Gender-based violence against men
Gender-based violence is not only directed at women and girls, but can happen to men and boys as well. There is a culture of silence around men and sexual abuse that has led to inaccurate data, as there are many barriers that may prevent a man from speaking about his experience; not only is there a lack of awareness about sexual abuse of men and how often it happens, but societal expectations around what it means to ‘be a man’ may cause survivors to hide their trauma.
The impact of gender-based violence
GBV is a serious human rights violation that has a major impact on the survivors, as well as their families, communities and society as a whole.
On an individual level, GBV leads to psychological trauma, and can have mental, behavioural and physical consequences for survivors. In many parts of the country, there is poor access to formal psychological and social support, or even medical treatment. This means that many survivors are unable to get the help they need.
Families and loved ones of survivors can also experience indirect trauma, as many do not know how to provide effective support.
Government response to gender-based violence
The South African government is busy establishing dedicated desks at police stations in GBV and femicide hotspots. These desks will be staffed by police officers who are specifically trained to provide assistance and support that focuses on looking after the victim.
Get the help you need
South African healthcare facilities have estimated that around 1.75 million people seek help for injuries resulting from GBV every year.
If you’ve been a victim of gender-based violence, we encourage you to report the incident at your nearest police station, and/or visit your nearest Unjani Clinic for medical care and support.