15 / 12 / 2020

South Africa rape and femicide shocking rates

We know that South Africa is ranked as the rape capital in the world; we also know that with three to nine women raped every day, this a country that is not considered safe for women. A woman is murdered every three to four hours, and half of those murders are at the hands of an intimate partner, either through femicide or partner violence.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is not only a crime or public health issue, it is also a financial burden, with a report released by KPMG in 2017 showcasing its economic impact. According to the report: “Based on prevalence rates of, between 20% and 30% of women experiencing gender-based violence within a given year, this study estimated that the economic impact of that violence is between at least R28.4-billion and R42.4-billion for the year 2012/2013, representing 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP respectively.”. This makes GBV one of the most expensive public health burdens, not only for the department of health but also for the department of justice and finance.

The government of South Africa is attempting to respond to this scourge through the introduction of various policies such as the National Strategic Plan that President Cyril Ramaphosa has committed to, as well as new GBV bills (the Criminal and Related Matters Bill, the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Bill) introduced by the Department of Justice to parliament. As much as government is putting all these measures forward, there is also room for other social stakeholders to play their part in working together with government to respond to this scourge.

Faith and religion play a leading role in many South Africans’ lives, particularly women; more than 60% of all practicing Christians are women. The church is one of the most important pillars of society — in South Africa particularly, the church has a long activism history. It played a vital role in advocating for freedom during apartheid, and was at the forefront of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, enabling South Africa to be the only country in Africa that transitioned from an oppressive system without civil war breaking out. The church also played a key role during the HIV epidemic, rolling out treatment when the government was still in denial.

However, with GBV, the church seems to be silent and is not taking the lead in condemning this scourge. GBV is documented as one of the main factors that increase women’s vulnerability to HIV infection in South Africa. Women who have experienced or are in abusive relationships are more likely than their counterparts to have HIV. The gender-power dynamics that are unfavorable for women in those relations explain the link to HIV vulnerability, which occurs mainly through unprotected sex and multiple concurrent partners.

The question of the church’s role in its response to GBV is vital, as it affects both women and children. The CRL Rights Commission has over the past couple of years been receiving cases of sexual offenses within faith institutions. There was the famous case of the Timothy Omotoso trial, where a young woman stood up in 2018 at one of the Methodist church branches and accused one of the church leaders of sexual harassment. She was silenced not just by church leaders, but church women as well.

As a result of all these cases and accusations, a research project and workshop were commissioned as part of the Tekano Atlantic Fellowship Advocacy Project for Cohort ll, to explore the ways in which faith-based women perceive the effect of their belief systems and responses to certain aspects of GBV.

The purpose of the In Her Shoes Workshop is for women to share their experiences with regard to their awareness, experience and understanding of GBV, and break the silence around this topic. The WITSIE research team based within the department of psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand has been working in partnership with the GBV Prevention Network over the years to help disseminate such workshops and interventions in the sub-Saharan region to raise awareness about gender-based violence. This tool was used to run a workshop with 13 women from the Methodist Young Women’s Manyano Gauteng region, with representatives from the various regions within Johannesburg.