Gender-based violence is a global scourge that only for 16 days of the year gets thrust into the spotlight.
Suddenly, activists and survivors are given a platform to tell their stories, which in return, are met with solemn looks and messages of support. After that, it’s back to your regular scheduled programming.
In South Africa, GBV is the catalyst for many violent crimes. Of the 53 293 reported cases of sexual offences from the 2019/2020 police crime statistics, 31 100 were against women and 22 070 against children.
The pandemic has further escalated the numbers. As a result, women’s rights NGO People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) has been forced to realign their operations in order to reach survivors and provide them with support.
“When the police statistics indicated a huge spike in GBV, we were alarmed because of the low influx of victims into our GBV shelters,” said POWA acting executive director Jeanette Sera.
“It is then that we realised that needs of survivors had changed and, in many ways, become more urgent because of the isolating effect the pandemic has had on individual households.”
POWA, in collaboration with JOKO, has called on the government to boost resources towards helping survivors of GBV with the inception of the #DonateYourVoice campaign.
“Often, when victims don’t speak out, it’s because they don’t think they’ll be believed, and we as a society are to blame for that mindset because often, women are not believed,” added Sera.
Cristianne Wendler, head of programmes at Shout-It-Now, a local NPO that empowers youth to have agency over their sexuality, has also called for communities to take action.
“Every year for 16 Days of Activism, we, as a society, highlight gender-based violence and renew calls to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. But, in the 23 years since South Africa joined the 16 Days of Activism campaign, what has really changed?” asked Wendler.
“Life is cheap, freedom is denied, and women are dis-empowered. To stop gender-based violence, we need to stop hiding behind an acronym and stop accepting this as the norm,” she added.
Another frightening aspect of GBV is that it’s a major contributing factor to HIV infection. According to UNAIDS, about 700 adolescent girls and young women have become HIV positive every day in 2021.
The facts are that in most cases, they aren’t given the choice to choose safe sex or refuse unwanted sex out of fear of facing violent repercussions.
Further compounding this are cultural, social and economic vulnerabilities. This dis-empowerment, according to Shout-It-Out, creates a vicious cycle that drives HIV infections.
For Wendler, it’s time to start hard, honest conversations as a call to action.
Currently, Shout-It-Now provides free, community-based HIV prevention services, gender-based violence services, sexual and reproductive health services, and life skills programmes in Gauteng and the North West.
“Adolescent girls and young women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and HIV, and this is why they are our primary focus,” said Wendler.
“By providing our clients with healthcare, psychological support, life skills and other essential services, we empower them to make informed decisions and lead healthy, independent lives.”
Teaching the girl child to have body autonomy should be something taught by parents, and it’s organisations like Shout-It-Now that are empowering both caregivers and children with the tools to get it right.
Eyakho Mo’ghel, meaning “it’s yours, girl”, is a new campaign started by Shout-It-Now. The programme provides young women (ages 15 – 24) with the tools and resources to help them make healthy life choices.
In order to qualify for Eyakho Mo’ghel, clients must access at least one of Shout-It-Now’s sexual reproductive health services, such as HIV testing, PrEP (the HIV prevention pill) or contraception, as well as be enrolled in one of the life skills programmes.
One of the benefits included is the new data-free iSHOUT! app, which provides current information on a range of health and life topics, a service locator to find trusted service providers, the ability to track points and rewards, and more.
“Our young clients are tech-savvy, and they wanted to access Eyakho Mo’ghel easily from their phones, so it made sense to create an app, which puts our services in the palm of their hands,” commented social worker at Shout-It-Now, Mxolisi Mnguni.
“We know that so many girls and young women aren’t safe at school, in a taxi or even in their own homes, which is why we give them a space where they feel safe and supported, and feel that they belong.”
Contact Shout-It-Now viaWhatsApp on 087 135 8989 or visit https://shoutitnow.org/.
To support Shout-It-Now by making a financial contribution, visit https://shoutitnow.org/donate/.
#DonateYourVoice by visiting joko.co.za