Patriarchal norms and attitudes, including those that excuse or legitimate the use of violence, are driving the high rates of gender-based violence in South Africa.
This is one of the main findings of research carried out in South Africa's Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces by non-governmental organisation Gender Links between 2010 and 2012.
Call for National Council Against GBV
With the 16 Days of Activism campaign against the abuse of women and children under way, Gender Links has called on the government to set up and provide a substantive budget for a national council to tackle gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa.
The body would be a high-level, multi-sector council modelled on the South African National Aids Council chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Gender Links also urged local governments to allocate financial resources for awareness raising and prevention initiatives based on the findings from the research.
"Advocacy programmes must be targeted at changing women's and men's attitudes towards gender relations," the organisation said in a statement last week. "Engaging men and youth in the fight to reduce levels of gender-based violence cannot be underrated."
Gender violence 'a reality in South Africa'
According to Gender Links' research, 77% percent of women in Limpopo province, 51% of women in Gauteng, 45% of women in the Western Cape and 36% of women in KwaZulu-Natal have experienced some form of violence (emotional, economic, physical or sexual) in their lifetime, both within and outside intimate relationships.
A higher proportion of men in Gauteng (76%) and KwaZulu-Natal (41%) admitted to perpetrating violence against women in their lifetime, while a slightly lower proportion of men - compared to the proportion of women reporting GBV - said they perpetrated GBV in Limpopo (48%) and Western Cape (35%), the research found.
"Comparing what women say they experience to what men say they do confirms that gender violence is a reality in South Africa," Gender Links said.
According to the research, the majority of violence reported occurred within women and men's private lives, with 51% percent of women in Gauteng, 51% in Limpopo, 44% in the Western Cape and 29% in KwaZulu-Natal reporting having experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
"The low prevalence of GBV reported by women in KwaZulu-Natal is indicative of an even bigger problem that women may not be openly disclosing their experiences," Gender Links said.
Gender violence in public life
However, women are also vulnerable to violence in public life, the research found, with 12% of women in Gauteng, 6% in the Western Cape, 5% in Limpopo and 5% in KwaZulu-Natal reporting having experienced non-partner rape in their lifetime.
"The proportion of men reporting rape perpetration in the four provinces is significantly higher than the proportion of women reporting experience," Gender Links said. "In Gauteng, 31% of men admitted to having raped a woman at least once in their lifetime."
Over half (59%) of women in Limpopo, 5% in KwaZulu Natal, 5% in the Western Cape, and 2.7% in Gauteng who had ever worked reported having been sexually harassed. "They disclosed that a man either hinted or threatened that they would lose their job if they did not have sex with him; or they would have to have sex with him in order to get a job."
Almost two-thirds (65.9%) of women in Limpopo, 2% KwaZulu-Natal, 1.4% in Gauteng, and 1.2% in the Western Cape who had attended school said they had experienced sexual harassment at school.
"The extremely high prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and at school in Limpopo province warrants further research," Gender Links said, adding that the Limpopo research showed women in the province suffering from violence related to witch-hunting.
"This occurs when communities blame deaths, or sicknesses or other misfortunes in their community on witchcraft ... Those accused experience multiple effects including emotional, trauma, injury, being forced to leave home or relocate, and loss or damage to property. Communities continue to unite in plans to exterminate women suspected of witchcraft."
In the Western Cape, the research shows that women are being forced or initiated into drug-taking by their intimate partners. At times, drug intake becomes an effect, as abused women attempt to escape the trauma that comes with gender violence.
Reactionary attitudes 'fuelling violence'
"In KwaZulu-Natal, women are not speaking out about gender violence," the organisation notes. "Generally literacy levels are low, thus knowledge on the forms of abuse, women's rights and where to get help barely reaches these women. They actually uphold and affirm patriarchy."
The research indicates that reactionary attitudes and beliefs in communities fuel the incidences of gender-based violence, with high proportions of women and men agreeing that a woman should obey her husband.
"However, the proportion of women agreeing to the notion of wife obedience in each of the sites is lower than men's, showing that women are slightly more progressive than men."
Gender Links said the research findings provided "invaluable evidence required to review the 365 Day South African National Action Plan to End GBV," noting that a report released by the Commission on Gender Equality last week found that "government efforts towards implementing the plan have been fragmented and lacked a dedicated budget".