14 December 2015

Southern Africa: When GBV Knocks On Activists' Door

opinion

A good friend of mine, who for her whole professional life has been in the forefront of the war against GBV, recently suffered physical abuse in the hands of her husband. Lo and behold, it has been a case gone unreported.

A conversation with one of our partners from local government pointing out that many of the officials we work with are victims of GBV, HIV and AIDS, put things in perspective: "We never swept our room before sweeping the streets," this partner said.

The Sixteen Days of Activism came to an end on Human Rights Day, 10 December, last Thursday. But GBV persists, right in our midst. According to the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer 2015, despite the efforts and commitments made by governments to eliminate GBV, prevalence remains unacceptably high, with many cases going unreported.

Prevalence studies conducted by Gender Links in six Southern African countries show that 86% of women in Lesotho, 72% of women in Zambia, 68% of women in Zimbabwe, 67% of women in Botswana, 50% of women in South Africa's Gauteng, Western Cape, Kwa Zulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces and 24% of women in Mauritius have experienced GBV over their lifetime.

A higher proportion of women reported experiencing violence than men admitted to perpetrating violence in all six countries. However the extent to which men admit to such behaviour is high in all the countries, and is almost equal in Mauritius.

In all the study settings the majority of women who experienced violence did not seek help or support, a finding corroborated in other studies world-wide.

For example the 2015 Barometer reports that a study of 42,000 women undertaken across 28 member States of the European Union found that only one third of victims of intimate partner violence and one quarter of victims of non-partner violence contacted either the police or support services following the most serious incident of violence.

Victims reported the most serious incident of partner violence to the police in only 14 per cent of cases according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Violence Against Women: An EU-Wide Survey (Luxembourg, 2014). Establishing reasons of why victims do not report violence or seek support is of paramount importance in fighting this scourge.

Gender Links provides entrepreneurship training to survivors of violence, as financial dependence is both a cause and consequence of GBV. Other organisations provide Health Care, psycho-social counseling, legal assistance, community awareness and training and capacity building for local women's organisations.

Who takes care of these foot soldiers that go about making these programmes a success when they are on the receiving end? Some of our activists do not shout when GBV strikes at their own back yard. There are many activists who chant gender equality but never in their own homes. We heard one male councilor declare that gender equality ends at his doorstep, where he is lord and master. No wonder there is a yawning gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

I once told an activist that she was in the wrong organisation for living under so much fear, physical, emotional and financial abuse while working for a gender organisation. After an explanation from her I for once felt so helpless, my shouts for gender equality so silently loud, for the fight for gender equality seems so near yet so far.

As the Sixteen Days of Activism is concluded and we continue the 365 days' work, there is a lot more still to be done in GBV issues. After the media support over the campaign, this very same media goes silent until a year from now.

Equitable gender representation in and through the media is advocated during the sixteen days campaign period, yet activists themselves are terrified of what media misrepresentation could do to their reputations. It is apparent that that there should be a stronger sense of trust between activists and the media if this alliance should bear good fruit in the fight against GBV.

According to a 2014 spot-monitoring exercise conducted in 93 Centres of Excellence for Gender in the Media (COEs), the proportion of women sources in the media has gone down slightly from 22% recorded in the 2013 self-monitoring exercise to 21%.

Could this be as a result of the media not using women as sources or women themselves not wishing to be sources because of lack of trust in the media?

As we start on the next 365 days of action, let us take actions to support the campaign. In all SADC countries there is great need to improve data and evidence on GBV through dedicated surveys and crime surveys and research on the causes of violence against women, prevalence, attitudes and consequences. To date only six countries have undertaken the study, GL will continue lobbying the rest of the countries to undertake VAW Baseline Studies.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replacing the MDGs have targets to eliminate GBV. However, the targets are not time bound. The German Development Institute notes that SDG 5 is the only goal that does not have a single time-bound target, out of a total of 17 goals. The inclusion of time-bound targets is indispensable if progress is to be tracked for such an important goal as the elimination of gender disparities.

Let us encourage silent women victims to talk about abuse and ensure that they get help. The time is now!

(Thandokuhle Dlamini is communications officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service that offers fresh views on every day news).

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