Creating pathways to end violence against women and children

2017-12-10 06:09
Shanaaz Mathews

Shanaaz Mathews

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We are, once again, coming to the end of the 16 Days of Activism to end violence against women and children.

This yearly campaign aims to increase awareness of the negative effects of violence and abuse, but the reality for millions of the country’s women and children remains unchanged.

It is critical to end the ongoing damage to their lives, which results in lost potential and perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of violence that does not bode well in the long term.

This year has been marked by a powerful, global #MeToo campaign that not only highlighted the hidden nature of sexual violence but revealed the impunity of perpetrators, who are, overwhelmingly, men.

It has encouraged millions of women to speak out about their experiences, highlighting the universal nature of this problem.

Nevertheless, breaking the silence is only the first step to transform the norms and culture of violence against women and children.

There is an increasing recognition that violence against women and violence against children often co-occur and that they share common drivers.

For instance, young boys who witness abuse of their mothers in their home or who are abused as children are more likely to perpetrate violence against women and children later in life.

We also have social and cultural norms that tolerate men’s violence towards women and children.

Evidence shows that men’s violence and controlling behaviour towards intimate partners often extends to the use of physical punishment as a means of disciplining their children.

Importantly, research is now revealing that women who experience violence by a partner are more likely to use physical punishment to discipline their children, thus driving the cycle of intergenerational violence.

Understanding these interconnections is important to guide our strategies to break this cycle.

These emerging intersections might be the key lever for change.

Sustainable interventions

Research from a UN study on men and violence in Asia and Pacific countries suggests that this relationship is so strong that preventing violence against children might be essential for the long-term prevention of violence against women, and to disrupt the intergenerational cycle.

We need to draw on innovative strategies to prevent violence against children by working together to design sustainable interventions.

A partnership between government, civil society, academics and business is required.

The country has a national programme of action to reduce violence against women and children, which ends in 2018; and the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation is in the process of reviewing it.

It is important that this review and a new plan include all role players.

For children to reach their full potential, the programme of action should be multipronged and aimed at preventing violence, and providing an effective response and support to those affected by it – including children who have witnessed violence.

It is imperative that our interventions also address societal beliefs and attitudes that perpetuate violence against children, thus undermining children’s achievement.

These strategies should be informed by evidence on “what works” to prevent and respond to violence against children.

There are a number of interventions already in place, but the challenges are to, through increased funding, expand the reach of these programmes, and to target them where the needs are the greatest.

Central to achieving an end to violence against women is the mobilisation of political will, combined with the promotion of evidence-based interventions to address the factors that contribute to children’s experiences of violence.

A Global Partnership to end violence against children has been created by UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations to speed up action, leverage resources, build commitment from governments and provide technical support through an exchange of knowledge.

But it requires governments to commit as “pathfinder” countries, through a formal request to join the Global Partnership.

We urge the South African government to join the 13 countries that have already agreed to be pathfinders, as this will be a sign of its commitment to end violence and can translate into significant gains for the women and children of South Africa.

Mathews is the director of the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town; and contributor to the South African Child Gauge 2017, released last week

Read more on:    gender based violence  |  women abuse

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