The South African Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, Monday called for Southern African countries to develop a comprehensive, holistic and integrated approach to end gender-based violence (GBV).
In her keynote address to the opening session of the third annual Gender Justice and Local Government Summit, Minister Xingwana, added that countries must continue to focus on the links between HIV and AIDS and GBV in strategies for prevention, response and support.
"The issues of poverty and violence which expose women and girls to increased risk of HIV infection are not adequately addressed," the minister said, adding that it is in Africa's best interest to address these issues in a holistic manner and through advocacy to bring about behaviour change.
The three-day summit (April 23-25), organised by Gender Links (GL) under the banner "365 days of local action to end violence and empower women" comes in the wake of two recent incidents of GBV in South Africa which have made national and international headlines.
In the space of two weeks, two mentally disabled youth, a 17-year -old girl and a young boy, have been sexually assaulted. The young woman was gang raped by seven young men who videoed the rape, which went viral on social media websites. The two girls who raped the young boy left a message, which said "Welcome to the world of AIDS."
Minister Xingwana announced that South Africa's Cabinet approved last November the creation of the National Council against GBV, chaired by the Deputy President. The Council's official launch will take place in August 2012 during Women's month. An interim Council has been in place and working since the Council was established.
Violence against women is still at "crisis levels" throughout the region despite the range of laws on countries' books to protect the rights of women, Minister Xingwana said, adding that effective communications strategies also must be put in place to inform and educate communities on the laws to combat GBV.
According to the findings of GL's GBV Indicators Research Project in South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius 67% of women in Botswana, 51% of women in South Africa's Gauteng Province and 45% of women in Western Cape, and 24% of women in Mauritius have experienced GBV.
The research also found that men are the majority of the perpetrators of GBV and that the most predominant form of GBV experienced by women and perpetrated by men in the three countries occurs within intimate partnerships.
Commenting on the recent widely publicized incidents of GBV in South Africa, Maggie Manamela, a female delegate from South Africa attending the summit said, "We need to be more aware of this problem (GBV) because it's happening right under our noses."
Ticha Tsedu is a Research Intern at Gender Links. This article is part of GL Opinion and Commentary Service, special news and analysis series on the 2012 Gender Justice and Local Government Summit