Real Action Needed To Stop Gender Violence Before It Happens

Don’t assume that none of your co-workers or neighbours have experienced some form of violence or sexual violence in their own homes.

Although it may seem unlikely in the cold light of day, as people don’t typically speak about it, Associate Professor Shanaaz Mathews, Director of the Children’s Institute at UCT says that statistically up to 50% of women in South Africa are likely to have experienced gender violence in their homes.

According to a 2011 study by Gender links and the MRC carried out in Gauteng a shocking 37,4% of men admit to having raped and 50% of being violent towards their partner.

Speaking at the UCT Graduate School of Business recently, Mathews said that SA also has the highest intimate femicide rate in the world (women being killed by an intimate partner) – almost three times higher than the US. “We are top for all the wrong things,” she commented. “These numbers shows us how endemic violence against women and children is in South Africa. It is the kind of cost you expect when you are at war – women are sustaining the same casualties that you would expect when going into combat.”

The cost of this war to individuals and the economy is substantial she said. An MRC study carried out ten years ago reported that the direct cost of treating victims of violence in state hospitals in just three provinces amounted to R29 million in one year. Indirect costs in the form of loss of work days, psychological disorders and substance abuse are also impacting on the bottom line. “What does this do to the psyche of a country?” she asked.

Given the scale of the problem Mathews questioned whether the new national council against violence proposed by Zuma in his recent State of the Nation address is sufficient to address the scourge

“Can a national council shift entrenched patterns of gender based violence or is this just a way for government to say it is doing something. Is it real action?”

Real action, according to Mathews needs to move beyond reaction towards prevention. Most interventions in this country only happen at a secondary stage – after a violent act has been committed – but unless we move into addressing the root causes of violence against women and children – looking at how to prevent this – we are fighting a losing battle, she explained.

“A national council can only have effect if it really has political will to be influencing our primary prevention and early intervention strategies – and not just a talking shop.”

Mathews said that effective action will require that government, donors and civil society work together to address the challenges, which include changing attitudes and gender norms, promoting more effective parenting, targeting abuse in schools and closing the gap between what communities need and what services there are in a community. Business too has a role to play.

According to Walter Baets, director of the GSB, business is currently an untapped resource. Although it may seem like an unlikely player in the sphere of gender violence, he said that social innovation and entrepreneurship could, for example, play a huge role in identifying business models to assist government deliver social services such as children’s treatment clinics to the communities that need them most or creating employment opportunities for women – and the men who rape them.

Mathews said that research has shown that employment – which keeps potential perpetrators off the streets – can reduce the prevalence of rape.

She said that working together, all players need to use an evidenced based approach in order to determine what is working and – if possible – scale that up.

“We have to start looking at the evidence and gathering the right data,” she said. “And we have got to start looking for and partnering with those who can show us a way forward. Find what works and take it to scale. It is possible to break the cycle of gender based violence, but action needs to be much more targeted, evidence-based and collaborative.”