According to reports gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa is alarmingly high compared to many other countries, while South Africa has one of the highest rates of GBV in the world. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape globally, with a reported 66,287 cases in 2019/2020 alone. Other forms of GBV, such as domestic violence and femicide, are also prevalent in the country. In 2020, it was estimated that one woman was killed by their intimate partner every three hours in South Africa. It is important to note that GBV is a global problem, and various countries face their unique challenges. However, South Africa's high rates are particularly alarming and have garnered significant attention both within the country and internationally. The South African government and activists are working towards addressing this issue, implementing measures, and raising awareness about gender-based violence in the country.
According to Safer Spaces (n.d), the expectations associated with different genders vary over time and from society to society. “Patriarchal power structures dominate in many societies, in which male leadership is seen as the norm, and men hold the majority of power. Patriarchy is a social and political system that treats men as superior to women – where women cannot protect their bodies, meet their basic needs, and participate fully in society and men perpetrate violence against women with impunity”.1 It further added that GBV can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or structural, and can be perpetrated by intimate partners, acquaintances, strangers, and institutions. Most acts of interpersonal GBV are committed by men against women, and the man perpetrating the violence is often known by the woman, such as a partner or family member.
As voiced by former South African President, Nelson Mandela: “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked upon, human rights will lack substance”. As South Africans, we cannot look away or ignore the uncommon truth that is GBV. We can admit that the social and economic issues during COVID-19 impacted the most vulnerable groups including women at large in South Africa: resulting in the highest rates of GBV seen in our country. The rate at which women in South Africa are murdered by intimate partners is five times higher than the global average, according to the World Health Organisation. Is it viable for us to say that certain factors might have directly influenced the rate of GBV: such as alcohol, job loss, and economic and social strain?
Any form of violence against women and girls or vulnerable groups is a human rights violation in any country: it has no social, economic, or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime (United Nations Population Fund, n.d). Victims of GBV lie entrenched in a philosophy that if a woman cannot make her own coerced choice: nevertheless, the culture of silence will engulf sufferers, and they tend to turn to depression, suicide, and years of pain they keep to themselves. A victim’s dignity, health, and security are all undermined, and hence they can suffer from sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, trauma, and sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and consequently death (UNPF, n.d). Rape culture in South Africa is not a new norm, it has been around for years: however, many victims that are raped, assaulted, or even harassed shy away from reporting their crimes to the police, over reasons such as embarrassment and humiliation.
According to Doctors without Borders (2020), former South African Police Minister, Bheki Cele, announced that 2230 gender-based violence cases were reported during the first week of the national lockdown, revealing that the numbers were 30% higher than that in 2019 for the same period. However, the opposing party the Democratic Alliance (DA), leader John Steenhuisen, said that Ramaphosa was all talk and very little action. Ramaphosa slammed these allegations by saying that the new council members would consist of mainly women, and therefore, they would not like being called a “talk shop” because they must be seen as activists.
The causes and concerns on violence against women are disheartening, do we stand and listen to a President who can implement national councils, however, is also known as just a “talker”? Or do the fundamentals of GBV lie in a system of patriarchy, with little emphasis on the importance of gender roles? Or do we put our hope into programs and organizations that fight GBV, and rely on a sisterhood to march and protest, every time another woman is killed or raped at the hands of their perpetrator? South Africans are known to stand together and protest for change. Women are resilient and givers of life. Let us rather lean on a sisterhood entrenched in South African history, than always learn to be silenced because of gender.
1 Safer Spaces. (n.d.). Gender-based violence in South Africa. Retrieved September 2, 2023.
Sultana, Abeda, Patriarchy, and Women’s Subordination: A Theoretical Analysis, The Arts Faculty Journal, July 2010-June 2011.