Gender-based violence (GBV), or violence against women and girls, remains one of the most pressing issues facing modern societies today, impacting nearly one in three women worldwide and nearly half of all women in South Africa.
At last month’s POPCRU (Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union) Central Executive Committee meeting, members swore allegiance to bolster their fight against this rampant societal issue and lit candles to honour the memory of GBV victims. But despite national efforts to eradicate the scourge of GBV, latest statistics show that cases of rape totalled over 10,000 in the three months from July to September this year.
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About 62% of rape incidents occurred at a residence, followed by public places such as streets, parks and beaches, and next public transport sites such as buses, trains, and taxis as the most likely places where people were raped.
Over the same period, 13,000 women were victims of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, attempts were made on 1,277 women’s lives, and 989 women were murdered—an overwhelming average of ten women every day. Critically, behind each of these numbers is an individual woman whose life has been taken or irrevocably changed by an act of violence. These overwhelming figures are, therefore, all the more contemptible, and a great deal more must be done to protect our women and children.
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For this reason, I propose implementing the following three solutions with urgency:
1 - Funding safe havens for GBV survivors
Most towns have at least one publicly or privately operated shelter specifically dedicated to women and their children fleeing from abusive situations. However, far too few havens exist to protect all the women and children who need them.
Additionally, these centres are often heavily underfunded and cannot afford an adequate amount of sufficiently trained social workers.
State investment is desperately needed to open more shelters and improve the ones we have. These should be places that can provide immediate refuge to any woman seeking safety and should never have to face capacity concerns.
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2 - Enhanced support services
Like shelters, support service centres assist women in dealing with specific GBV issues and situations, advising victims, providing mental and emotional support, and helping them to open cases with the police. Support services also include GBV call helplines, SMS lines, and Skype support services.
Increased funding is therefore needed to properly facilitate these services and ensure that enough well-trained support staff operate the lines to meet the exceptionally high demand.
3 - Dedicated courts for GBV crimes
South Africa already distinguishes between civil, constitutional, labour, land claims, equality, and sexual offences courts, amongst others. The next logical step would be to make the same provision for GBV.
I strongly advocate for the establishment of courts solely dedicated to GBV cases, which would help reduce the backlog of GBV court cases and expedite the judicial process for grief-stricken victims.
Continued and enhanced government intervention is needed if we are to have any hope of reducing GBV incidents in any meaningful manner. It is time that we increase our efforts and let perpetrators know that they will be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
* Zizamele Cebekhulu-Makhaza is the President of POPCRU
If you're being abused and want to connect with a counsellor, you can contact the following organisations:
• POWA on (011) 642 4345/6 or (011) 591 6800 (available from 8:30 to 16:30 from Monday to Friday) or 076 694 5911. WhatsApp POWA on 060 400 0669 (available from 8:30 to 16:30 from Monday to Sunday). You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Contact ADAPT at 011 885 3332 / 011 786 6608 or email email@example.com
• Contacts TEARS foundation on *134*7355# (Free) or contact TEARS on 010 590 5920 (24/7)
• Contact the #GBV Command Centre on 0800 428 428 for counselling services 24/7.