The statistics scream – ‬the response is muted

On the average day in South Africa three women are killed and‭ ‬109‭ ‬rapes are reported.‭ ‬Most rapes are perpetrated against women and girls.‭ ‬Marike Keller of Sonke Gender Justice began her presentation with these and a few more devastating figures:

  • Only‭ ‬8.4%‭ ‬of all reported rapes end in a conviction in a court of law.
  • One in five women with partners experienced physical violence at the hands of the partner in the‭ ‬12‭ ‬months preceding the‭ ‬2016‭ ‬Demographic and Health Survey.
  • The economic cost of gender-based violence is in the region of R28.4‭ ‬billion to R42.4‭ ‬billion a year,‭ ‬according to a‭ ‬2014‭ ‬study by KPMG.

The statistics spoke,‭ ‬Ms Keller said,‭ ‬to a problem that was every bit as destructive as racism.‭ ‬But where was the political will to deal with it‭?

She described the roots of gender-based violence as varied and complex.‭ ‬They include a patriarchal social system that institutionalises gender inequality and discrimination‭ – ‬for example,‭ ‬a pay disparity of‭ ‬27%‭ ‬exists between men and women in South Africa.

To this should be added other social factors such as the normalisation of violence,‭ ‬an extensive pattern of excessive alcohol use,‭ ‬widespread gun ownership and economic stress factors.

Customs such as ukuthwala‭ (‬also known as ukuteka,‭ ‬a practice rooted in various South African traditions that involves abduction for the purpose of marriage‭) ‬and certain religious beliefs further exacerbated the disempowerment of women,‭ ‬she said.

At the individual level,‭ ‬early childhood exposure to violence was strongly associated with the perpetration of violence later in life.‭
Given the multiple causes,‭ ‬tackling gender-based violence is clearly no simple matter.‭ ‬The complexities were illustrated by an exchange between confeence participants on whether ukuthwala was inherently harmful or only in the context of apartheid’s distortion of gender roles among black people.‭

So,‭ ‬where was the‭ “‬multisectoral,‭ ‬coordinated and costed National Strategic Plan on GBV‭” ‬that such a complex and grave national problem demanded,‭ ‬Ms Keller asked.‭ ‬Where was the commitment to turn around this epidemic as firmly as the country had checked the HIV epidemic‭?