Written by Ronel van Zyl

Women walking freely in the street and children playing safely in open spaces are the core of the National Development Plan goal on safety and security. A society free of fear of violence and discrimination is essential, not only as a basic human right but also as the foundation for economic development of a country. However, the 2018 Crime Statistics show that violence and abuse of women and children is a stark reality in South Africa.

The 2016/17 Victims of Crime statistical release reported that 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offences compared to 120 out of every 100 000 men. Using the 2016/17 South African Police Service statistics in which 80% of reported sexual offences cases were rape, together with Statistics South Africa’s estimate that 68.5% of the sexual offences victims were women, we obtain a crude estimate of the number of women raped per 100 000 is 138. This figure is amongst the highest in the world. South Africa is frequently labelled as the “rape capital of the world”.

We also know that 50% of children are subjected to violence in South Africa; 34.8% are subjected to physical violence and 3 children are murdered daily in South Africa.

Why do we talk about violence against women and children and don’t address all violence, including violence against men?

Whilst we believe that all violence is wrong, regardless of the sex of the victim or perpetrator. But there are distinct gendered patterns in the perpetration and impact of violence. While men are more likely to experience violence by other men in public places, women are more likely to experience violence from men they know, often in the home. The overwhelming majority of family and domestic violence, sexual assault are rape is perpetrated by men against women.

The current state of violence against women and children is serious, prevalent and driven by gender inequality. Gender drivers of violence against women include:

  • Condoning of violence
  • Men’s control of decision making and limits of women’s independence in public and private life
  • Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

Can we change the story?

We believe that violence against women and children is preventable. Together we can choose to build a future where all women and children live free, when they are not only safe from violence, but are respected, valued, equal and loved. To achieve this, we need social change. We need to:

  • Challenge condoning of violence against women;
  • Promote women’s independence and decision making in public and private life by equalising access to power and resources by women and men, including strengthening of women’s economic security;
  • Foster positive personal identities and challenge gender stereotypes and roles;
  • Strengthen positive equal and respectful relations between and among women and men, boys and girls;
  • Promote and normalise gender equality in public and private life.

We can take the following actions to address reinforcing factors:

  • Challenge the normalisation of violence as an expression of masculinity or male dominance;
  • Strengthen efforts to promote nonviolent parenting and discipline of children in homes and schools. If we want to heal our communities we must turn our attention to cycles of abuse that begin at a very early age;
  • Address the intersections between social norms relating to alcohol and gender, challenge drinking cultures that emphasise male conquest and aggression and attitudes that use male drinking as an excuse for violence or women’s drinking as a reason for victim-blaming;
  • Reduce backlash by engaging men and boys in gender equality, building relationship skills and social connections;
  • Promote broader social equality and address structural discrimination and disadvantages, and promote social and economic justice.

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