person holding where am I safe? sign - gender based violence protest south africa

How does Gender-based violence affect South African Townships?

South Africa is, sadly, severely affected by Gender-based violence and according to the WHO, has one of the highest rates of GBV

In a country with an Apartheid history and continued high-levels of poverty, this issue affects the whole nation, however, poverty increases the risk of Gender-based violence. In poorer communities , violence can be used as a means to resolve conflicts regardings women’s power and men’s identity. 

All of these factors are present in South African townships and if the GBV problem in South Africa is going to be solved it has to be solved in the townships. 

When looking at the stats the challenge of gender-based violence in townships seems like an impossible mountain to climb but we are confident the situation can and will change.

Statistics of Gender-based violence in South African townships:

In July of 2020, Sarah Smit compiled data from the SAPS SA Law Commision Paper 18. From that data, it was found that between April and June in 2020, 9126 cases of domestic violence were reported. During those three months just under 5 cases of rape were reported a day, in total there were 312 cases of rape reported. In the same period 65 women were reported murdered, that means a woman was murdered every two days during those three months. 

All of these statistics only represent the reported cases, with an unknown (but likely large) number of cases going unreported. To make matters worse a staggering 68% of these reported domestic violence cases do not go to court and if they do, only around 15% actually make it to verdict. 

These numbers are extremely concerning. Revealing how dire the situation truly is in the country. A worrying element is that rather than improving, the statistics are seeming to get worse, especially in light of the recent global pandemic. With these statistics, it is clear that this is a national crisis. 

The areas that are hardest hit by gender-based violence tend to be those that are also most affected by poverty. The correlation between GBV and poverty in South Africa is staggering. 

In September 2020 the South African Police Minister, Bheki Cele, revealed the 30 hotspots for Gender-based violence in South Africa. The number 1 hotspot is a township in Cape Town named Delft. Of the top 30 hotspots, almost 100% of them are South African Townships. 

The Western Cape alone has 7 areas in South Africa’s gender-based violence hotspots. All of these areas are poorer areas in the province.

This shows that GBV is an issue that is connected to poverty and the family structure, two things that are a major issue in the South African township.

COVID-19’S influence on gender-based violence (GBV):

During the lockdown in South Africa due to COVID-19, Gender-based violence increased by 500% according to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union. 

Gender-based violence is often committed by family members, a situation worsened by lockdown where families were forced to stay home together. There are a few further factors as to why COVID-19 has worsened gender-based violence in South Africa:

  • Stuck at home with abusers: As we have discussed the perpetrators of gender-based violence are often family members. During Lockdown many South Africans were at home with their families and had to suffer under those conditions with little support. With everything shut down support outlets were shut down too. 
  • Loss of income: Due to the economic impact of COVID-19 many people lost their incomes temporarily or permanently. This loss of income furthers the experience of poverty and increased frustration in heads of households and abusers. Sadly, leading to the frustration being taken out on those around them.
  • Alcohol: South Africa has an alcohol abuse problem, and when alcohol is abused violence takes place. The victims of that violence are usually women. 
  • Growing distrust in the criminal justice system: Many women who are victims of sexaul abuse do not report it because they do not have trust in the South African police force to make a real difference.

Practical solutions for gender-based violence:

The fact that most cases of GBV take place in the home, and the growing mistrust of the criminal justice system suggests that we need to take the approach of changing the society rather than punishing the individual. 

We believe that practical and long-term solutions are needed in order to solve the Gender-based violence crisis in South Africa.

Community-led intervention

Community-led intervention refers to actions that address social problems (in this case GBV), and takes place in a neighbourhood or community. It is an intentional action to promote change according to the needs of the community. 

We believe that to effectively improve the situation of gender-based violence in South Africa, changes need to happen within communities with communities themselves taking charge of the change. 

The desired outcome of community-led intervention would be to see gender-based violence being rejected en masse by communities where GBV has been prevalent.

Sustainable vs. outside intervention

Outside intervention, such as, having larger policing in Gender-based violence hotspots could help solve the problem in the short-term. 

There are a few issues with outside solutions. They often have a more negative impact on the society in the long term, while not doing enough to solve the problem in the present. 

This type of solution doesn’t solve the root cause of the issue. You may reduce cases of GBV, but once policing leaves the communities, the problem will arise again. While also making the area feel less safe for community members. 

A better option would be to look at sustainable solutions which will have long lasting effects on the community. Sustainable solutions look at the issue as a societal one, rather than an individual one. It is understanding that the society needs to be changed. We are working on some of those solutions.

What we are doing to help:

We have partnered with FAMSA WC, a non-profit organisation (NPO) specialising in relationship counselling, to work together on finding sustainable solutions to Gender-based violence in the country. 

We focus on providing psychological training and support to those involved in Gender-based violence. Through this we try to create a positive and lasting impact. 

Additionally, we have created a plan of action to fight GBV in South Africa. That plan consists of a 24 hour team to provide support for victims, awareness campaigns, and collaborations with communities and police stations to further aid the crisis.

We are working closely with FAMSA Western Cape on this plan to ensure that we are creating community-led sustainable solutions to the plague of gender based violence.

Our partnership with FAMSA:

FAMSA Western Cape is a non-profit organisation (NPO) that specialises in relationship counselling. It is FAMSA’s belief that “healthy families create healthy communities”, for them healthy families are the foundation of our society. At Open Foundation we agree with this belief. In a secure family an individual can develop into their full potential, through developing positive identities that form a positive set of values for life. 

We are partnered with FAMSA Western Cape in the fight against gender-based violence  through a number of community projects: 

Men Stopping Violence Group

The Men Stopping Violence Group is a weekly men’s group to provide a safe space for them to self-reflect and figure out why they resort to violence. 

It is a space where men can be vulnerable and real about their feelings of hurt, sadness, anger, guilt and shame. The goal is to inspire change in men through inner transformation and conviction.

The men that take part in this group have a ripple effect. The impact the lives of their families and communities. Once they understand themselves, they are able to help other men liberate themselves from the generational cycle of violence. 

FAMSA is also in the process of creating a support group for women themselves as victims of Gender-Based Violence. To start the group they are looking to secure more funding at the moment.

Community Lay Counselling Project

FAMSA Western Cape provides professional counselling by a social worker in a number of areas around Cape Town. This includes a number of Gender-based violence hotspots, such as Mitchell’s Plain. 

We also have 4 other community offices where professional counselling is provided. These areas are as follow:

  • Facreton
  • Elsies River
  • Dunoon/Joe Slovo
  • Bishop Lavis

The community lay counsellors provide basic relationship counselling and are trained to identify when couples, individuals and families need to be referred to professional social workers. For people who need more in-depth counselling, they have social workers available.

Fatherhood Project

The Fatherhood Project is a part of a global initiative called Men Care. The goal is to inspire fathers to be a bigger presence in a child’s life. For those fathers to be champions of gender equality, and their child’s overall wellbeing including their mental health. 

This could go a long way in helping fight gender-based violence.

How you can help:

If you want to help, there are a few things you can do.

Firstly, constantly educate yourself and others about the realities of gender-based violence in South Africa. Many people do not believe it is real, and acknowledging it and spreading awareness is already a huge help.  If you are aware of the issue and why it is happening, you can help others learn what needs to be done to improve the situation. 

Secondly, there are a variety of organisations that you can donate to. Open Foundation SA and FAMSA being two of which. A few more are; the Saartjie Bartman Centre, the Rape Crisis Centre and Sonke Gender Justice.

Thirdly, you could volunteer to support organisations actively fighting the GBV crisis in South Africa. We really appreciate volunteers who are willing to help with our training and support to help prevent gender-based violence.

GBV in South African townships finds its roots in a society impacted by poverty, a tough history and various societal factors. Due to the history of South African society, this process will take time and care. However, with training, support and education we believe that we can improve the situation. We believe that a South Africa where women feel safe is possible. Help us make a safer South Africa!

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