“If God exists she is weeping” (protest poster)
Today we find ourselves as South Africans deeply wounded and, a nation in mourning, at the events of the past week. With the rising body count, we face the reality of how endemic and pervasive gender-based violence, femicide and rape actually are in our society.
A Dark Past
Many years of apartheid stripped South Africans of their dignity, equality, human rights and access to equal opportunities. Young boys and men were amongst those deeply affected as family structures and social cohesion was destroyed. Fathers, husbands, and brothers migrated to cities, looking for work in mines and factories, or joined the liberation struggle. Many young boys grew up without fathers and role-models.
Post-1994 and 25 years into our democracy, millions of South African men find themselves unemployed, with a poor education and limited opportunity to play a meaningful role or earn a living to support themselves and their families. Endemic poverty, inequality, terrible living conditions, crime, violence, state ineptitude, and other pervasive factors have created a landscape where hope is in limited supply. Many South African men have resorted to violence to express their frustration and deep woundedness. As a result, many become the abusers.
Coupled with this woundedness, toxic masculinity has taken focus particularly in the past decade under the Jacob Zuma’s presidency where patriarchy, women shaming, misogyny, lack of accountability and respect became the dominant narrative.
No-one can forget the shaming of Kwezi, how she was treated at Zuma’s rape trial1 and subsequently, by his supporters (many of them women, which also included the ANC Women’s League). Zuma epitomises the image of the dominant male. The image of a man in a position of significant power, with numerous wives and girlfriends and 20+ children. There are many examples of powerful South African men, either politicians, sportsmen, preachers, gangsters or businessmen, who have subjugated and violated women, often with no consequence or accountability.
A number of nonprofits have worked tirelessly for many years to address the challenges of gender-based violence and femicide in our homes, workspaces, and communities. There have also been efforts by organizations like Sonke Gender Justice to address male woundedness. Sonke have done extensive work in this area. The deep structural nature of the problems and the causes are well researched.
As one example, in November 2017, Sonke released baseline and social audit findings of a study of 2600 men in Diepsloot and the prevalence and patterns of use of intimate partner violence, as well as gender attitudes and associated factors.
The research was a collaboration with Wits University School of Public Health and the South Africa Medical Research Council and was developed to implement the Sonke Change Trial, a three-year intervention supported by the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) through What Works to Prevent Violence: A Global Programme to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.
These findings reveal that some of the highest levels of male violence against women ever recorded in South Africa. Multiple causal factors were found with the most important being “inequitable and harmful gender norms that grant men a sense of permission to use violence against women.
This is compounded by widespread trauma and mental health problems amongst many men, a high concentration of alcohol outlets and pervasive binge drinking by men, inadequate criminal justice system responses that do little to deter men’s violence, little use of violence prevention strategies, and an urban environment that contains many risks for women, including poor lighting, toilets and sanitation services far from homes, and narrow roads that restrict police movements.” (Sonke Gender Justice)2
The evidence and depth of the woundedness is stark. So what can be done given this mammoth problem we face?
A United Front
There is a clarion call from all sectors of society for the ANC government and President Ramaphosa to take swift and decisive action. The call for justice and accountability of perpetrators and protection, care and safety for women and children is emphatic and resounding, since 19-year old Uyinene Mrwetyane was so brutally killed in a post office in Cape Town. Disturbingly, Uyinene is just one of many women and children who have lost their lives.
There have been strong calls in the past week for medical castration and re-introducing the death penalty. However, these responses won’t necessarily address the structural challenges and causes. Sonke Gender Justice says that these incidents of violence against women and children cannot be looked at in isolation and should be looked at as “systemic manifestations of violent masculinities and harmful gender norms”.
They, along with a number of other organisations active in the human rights and social justice space are working tirelessly and many are calling on the government for the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-Based Violence to be adopted, with sufficient budget allocation.
Sonke and others call for “the implementation of a fully-funded NSP that will ensure that prevention programmes that seek to curb dangerous gender norms are rolled out. But most importantly, the NSP will ensure that survivors of GBV are provided with better services. Bystander programmes, community mobilisation, and early intervention and response, including good quality psycho-social support to survivors have all been shown to prevent violence effectively.” (Sonke Gender Justice)
Stakeholder consultants are currently underway on the Draft Gender-Based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Framework3. Most importantly it is essential that sufficient funding be allocated by National and Provincial Governments to address the huge scale of this problem. The funding issue was highlighted by Shukumisa, a coalition of 80+ nonprofits, community-based organisations, research and legal organisations working actively on this campaign.4
Research studies and evaluations have over the years highlighted the issues. In 2017/18 Creative Consulting & Development Works, the organisation that I was previously Founder and Director of for 15 years, undertook a process evaluation of nonprofit services provided by Thuthuzela Care Centres.
These one-stop sexual assault centers are based in state hospitals and provide services to survivors of rape. This initiative was part of a Global Funded GBV Programme and the evaluation was commissioned by the Networking HIV and AIDS Community of South Africa (NACOSA) with funding from the Global Fund.
Process of Evaluation
This process evaluation sought to assess progress and quality of implementation of services provided by various nonprofits at Thuthuzela Care Centres. A number of critical findings emerged and key recommendations were made for the strengthening of services, enhancement of impact and expansion of the knowledge base on GBV and related services.5
Thuthuzela Care Centres continue to struggle to provide much-needed services, primarily due to lack of funding and a dearth of government support. This is even though the evidence of their remarkable and necessary work persists. President Cyril Ramaphosa committed to “expanding and dedicating more funds to places of support, such as the Thuthuzela Care Centres,” at a National Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide in November 2018. As of June 2019 “months after Ramaphosa’s announcement, only about 40% of the country’s 55 centres have had their international funding renewed.”6
There is no doubt that Thuthuzela Care Centres provide an essential and crucial service to survivors of rape and need the requisite support and funding, yet they are facing an uphill struggle. For our humanity and sustainable future, it is essential that all South Africans mobilise to find ways to collectively deal with this challenge. Each of us must actively engage and find ways to support nonprofits; join these campaigns, marches, protest action; speak up; mobilise; advocate and call loudly for change. NOW.
Read more on the struggle of Thuthuzela care Centres
By Lindy Briginshaw
5The evaluation report can be found here http://www.nacosa.org.za/2018/09/14/evaluation-of-tcc-services/