The State can prevent violent behaviour

2018-07-08 12:00
Colleen Constable

Colleen Constable

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Violence against women and children is a violation of human rights, and it becomes a health issue that leads to terrible consequences for their families and society.

It is a criminal justice matter that requires perpetrator accountability, and it is a human development issue that requires ongoing education and empowerment strategies to eliminate risks associated with violent behaviour.

Violence is also a political issue, where public policy solutions are required to address the social, cultural and economic issues that sustain violence against women and children.

Last year’s SA Child Gauge report shows that 21% of children who are not orphans do not live with their parents; poverty is higher for 62% of children growing up without their fathers; more than half the children in the country live in poverty; 31% of children live in households where no adults are employed; 40% of children (7.5 million) live with their mothers and not their fathers; only 3% of children live in households where both parents are present; and there were about 58 000 children living in 35 000 child-only households in South Africa in 2015. A child-only household is one in which all the people who live in it are younger than 18.

The killing of women by their intimate partners in the country is six times higher than the global average. Statistically, men – irrespective of race, culture or religion – are the primary perpetrators of violence against women and children. This abuse of power, right of entitlement, patriarchal privilege and dominance should be challenged at all levels of the socioecological framework.


Violence is a learnt behaviour, and issues on a community and societal level support or contribute to violence against women and children. The behaviour will only stop when prevention strategies, programmes and policies are linked to each level of the socioecological model. Central to feminist theories are two key pillars – the criminal justice system and restorative justice. Such approaches should be supported by the implementation of other deterrent strategies that draw from all ecological frameworks and have a multidisciplinary approach.

A man’s perpetration of violence can be decreased through evidence-based interventions. Stepping Stones, a life skills training programme, facilitates behavioural change in men. They become good citizens and better partners, friends and fathers as their propensity to commit violence decreases. Programmes that reduce access to alcohol have also showed an effectiveness in reducing violence.

The implementation of primary prevention programmes, such as Isolabantwana (Eye on the child), at community level to prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation of children is critical.

Policy interventions at a structural level can facilitate societal change that produces protective barriers against violence.

These include empowerment programmes and property rights programmes, which have been shown to increase women’s relationships with power and reduce violence against them.


Women empowerment programmes, such as Intervention with Microfinance for Aids and Gender Equity, decreased intimate partner violence by 55%.

Research indicates that a woman’s ownership of housing and land can help her to leave an abusive relationship. Findings in Ecuador indicate that “a woman’s share of a couple’s wealth measured by the value of financial and physical assets was associated with lower intimate partner violence and, in Ghana, with lower emotional intimate partner violence”.

In Tanzania and Nicaragua, “land-owning women faced less physical and psychological intimate partner violence”. In Tanzania, women’s land ownership served as a “pathway for women’s economic empowerment, and raised perceived status and respect of women”. The studies also found that land and property rights minimised gender inequality.

Kenya has a women and property rights programme called Groots that works to reduce violence against women. The organisation monitors women’s disinheritance, mediates land disputes, refers unresolved cases to formal adjudication mechanisms and promotes awareness of women’s rights, women’s land tenure and property rights.

In South Africa, black men benefit from BEE. Corporates comply with broad-based BEE scorecards because there are incentives. Noncompliance is acted on and companies run the risk of losing power to their competitors. Last year’s statistics on employment showed that women filled 44% of skilled posts and that gender representivity was less than 50%. The Top 40 JSE-listed companies had only one female chief executive officer last year. According to Stats SA, women earn 23% less than men. A study by advisory firm Grant Thornton last year showed that only 28% of senior management roles were held by women.

In contrast, diversity targets are not legislated. The true emancipation of women in the workplace is not prioritised. It is regrettable that the draft Women’s Economic Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, previously pioneered by the department of women, has disappeared off the radar.

Our country needs a national, integrated, intersectoral, multidisciplinary prevention strategy and action plan with a budget. A governance structure is required to coordinate a countrywide response to the national crisis of violence against women and children. The responsibility to ensure that women and children are free from all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse rests with government.

The question is, which government department is responsible for leading, developing, coordinating and implementing a national prevention strategy and action plan to improve the safety and quality of life for women and children? Urgent role clarification and action is required.

Violence is preventable.

Constable is an analyst and social entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter @SAIVPrevention


How can government protect women and children against violence, and improve gender equality? SMS us on 35697 using the keyword ABUSE and tell us what you think. SMSes cost R1.50

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