The War on Women: South Africa’s GBV Crisis

As National Women’s Day passes in South Africa, there is little to celebrate in a nation marred by a shocking rate of femicide and sexual violence against women – almost 30 years after apartheid had ended.

Described as the country’s ‘other pandemic’, South Africa has long suffered from the disease that is gender-based violence. With an estimated 2,700 women murdered last year – the equivalent to one every three hours – and at least 100 rapes reported each day (SAPS statistics, 2020), it is a scourge which face masks cannot prevent, medicine cannot cure, and one which had grown worse under national lockdown.

Protests erupted all across the country in early June against the brutal murder of Tshegofatso Pule – a woman 8 months pregnant who was stabbed to death and found hanging from a tree. Countless users on social media rallied behind the hashtag #JusticeforThsego to express their sadness and outrage, but stories of this kind are not new to the public, and regrettably, this is becoming the norm.

Naledi Phangindawo, Nwabisa Mgwandela and Nompumelelo Tshaka were just a few of the thousands of women who were killed in recent weeks, with a worrying number of them stemming from domestic violence by intimate partners. In a speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa noted that as much as 51% of South African women have suffered violent abuse by someone with whom they are in a close relationship.

The protests mirror those that came after the rape and murder of 19-year-old film student Uyinene Mrwetyana one year ago and sparked the #AmINext Movement – a campaign against violence towards women in South Africa.

The threat of sexual violence is so bad that President Ramaphosa was forced to declare it a national crisis in September last year and promised additional funding for special sexual offences courts, police training, and clinics who help survivors.

I myself am South African and was shocked and saddened to hear news of this kind circulating on my Twitter and Instagram feed. How did this come about? When will it end?

One could posit that gender-based violence comes from outdated beliefs that hold that women are the cause of violence done to them, which are not reserved to one culture or race. Beliefs such as women having to be submissive to male family members, males having the ‘right’ to use coercive force to punish ‘incorrect behaviour’ and even that women cannot deny their male partners sex are views prevalent in South Africa.

It is was so commonplace that I can still remember being warned and taught against it in Life Orientation: a special subject all students take from Grade 3 until they graduate high school which teaches the basics of the political system, civics, and the warning and prevention of negative life choices.

However, swift action has been taken to combat GBV which rose significantly since March. As well as various initiatives and campaigns being drawn up, an amendment Bill is currently in the works in Parliament which sets tougher bail and parole conditions on the prosecuted and lengthens sentences for rape and related offences.

A national conversation is finally being started about GBV, and it is time that female voices are heard.

By calling GBV out and addressing the issue honestly and openly, especially among men, we can begin to realise just how dangerous being a woman is in our country and take positive steps to end it.

As the President once said: “Gender-based violence thrives in a climate of silence. With our silence, by looking the other way because we believe it is a personal or family matter, we become complicit in this most insidious of crimes”.

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