29 March 2012

Southern Africa: Political Will Needed to End GBV in the Region

Photo: Kate Holt/Irin
Gender violence is seen as a widespread social problem.


Gaborone — Gender Based Violence (GBV) continues to be one of the foremost concerns in the struggle to achieve gender equality in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The findings of a comparative research conducted between 2010 and 2011 in Botswana titled The Gender Based Violence Indicators Study Botswana reveal high prevalence of GBV in that country. One wonders, whether governments in SADC are committed to addressing the problem.

The study aimed to provide baseline data on the GBV extent, effect, response, support and prevention efforts in Botswana and calls for a state of emergency to be declared in a nation that envisions "A safe and secure nation by 2016". In its Vision 2016 strategy, Botswana commits to the elimination of the violation of physical well-being and human rights.

Over two-thirds (67.3%) of 639 women who participated in the nationwide survey conducted by Gender Links (GL) in partnership with the Women's Affairs Department (WAD) in Botswana have experienced violence perpetrated by men in their life time. Forty four percent of 590 men who participated in the survey admitted to perpetrating some form of violence against women. In total, 29% of women in Botswana experienced violence perpetrated by men in 2011 alone.

The prevalence of self-reported GBV for instance in the 12 months before the survey (28.9%) is 24 times higher than that reported to police (1.2%) in the same period. The prevalence of non-partner sexual violence in the survey is 17 times more than that reported to police in 2011. These findings and more, provide further evidence to the underreporting of GBV by survivors and on the shortcomings of police data in informing the extent of GBV in any society.

Responding to the research report, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs in Botswana Honourable Edwin Jenamiso Batshu said the findings are "shocking" and that "there is a crisis of confidence" in which "women were not enjoying the full benefit of the very systems that offer them redress."

Similar studies have been undertaken in, South Africa (Gauteng, Kwazulu Natal and Western Cape provinces) and Mauritius. Overall, GBV prevalence reported in the Botswana survey is significantly higher (67%) compared to Gauteng (51%). The forms of GBV contributing to the significantly higher prevalence include intimate partner violence (IPV) in particular economic violence and sexual harassment which is higher in Botswana than in the other sites.

While a higher proportion of men admitted perpetration in Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal than women reporting GBV experience, in Botswana; Western Cape; and Mauritius, a higher proportion of women reported experience compared to the proportion of men who admitted to perpetrating violence. The disjuncture between experience and perpetration is difficult to interpret but may indicate that although men are perpetrating GBV in Botswana, Western Cape and Mauritius they realise that it is socially unacceptable and hence will not openly disclose it. In contrast the Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal men are confident to disclose it because they perceive violence against women to be what defines a "real man" and men's ability to control women.

In all the research study sites, GBV is rooted in patriarchal social norms that legitimise violence as a means of controlling women, the notion of wife ownership and sexual entitlement. Botswana stands out on the issue of predominant assertions on sexual entitlement following marriage because its constitution does not criminalise marital rape. Although 54% of women and 49% of men participating in the Botswana survey agreed that it is possible for a husband to rape his wife, married women in Botswana have no legal recourse for marital rape. Further evidence to this is the lower reporting of marital rape to police in 2011.

Apart from categorising data as sexual violence, the Botswana police must be commended for also categorising reported GBV cases into the other forms namely physical, economic, emotional, verbal and spiritual. These forms are further categorised into partner and non-partner violence. This disaggregation of GBV data by the Botswana police is an international good practice and should be shared with other policing authorities in the region.

On the other hand, South African Police Services (SAPS) and Mauritius Police are currently unable to inform on the extent of the listed forms of GBV. However, following the Gauteng research, SAPS committed to introducing the relationship tick box to bridge the gap in measuring the extent of the GBV problem. In all the three countries, domestic violence data from the police and service providers is not widely disseminated to stakeholders and decision makers.

Although the Botswana Domestic Violence Act of 2008 specifies that government should provide protection facilities, it has not allocated resources for this. There are only two civil society run shelters for abused women in the whole country. In Mauritius there are three shelters and government funds one of these. In South Africa there are more government funded shelters but these are still disproportionate to the need on the ground.

The high prevalence of GBV in all study sites particularly in Botswana warrants a call for more concerted and multi sectoral efforts to address GBV. Prevention of GBV should be at the centre of all interventions.

Politicians in the region need to acknowledge GBV as a widespread social problem and champion the fight against GBV through addressing it in public speeches and allocating financial resources for programme implementation. The Botswana Government has invested financial resources for this baseline nationwide study and continual investments are necessary for periodic surveys using the same method to measure progress and effectiveness of efforts to arrest GBV.

Mercilene Machisa is the Gender Based Violence Indicators Research Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday views.

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