August is celebrated as women's month in South Africa, but is there really much for women to celebrate? This was one of the questions raised at a discussion event in the town of Ekangala, organized by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and the Embassy of Finland on August 23, 2016.
Finland supported CSVR's work against gender-based violence (GBV) through the Embassy's Local Cooperation Fund in 2013-2016. With the project coming to an end, we wanted to celebrate our cooperation and raise awareness of CSVR's work. The organization has been working in different communities, encouraging traditional and religious leaders to take the lead in the fight against GBV.
As CSVR's study (link below) shows, the statistics on GBV in South Africa are harrowing. Even though South Africa has a set of extremely progressive laws protecting women and their rights, implementation is often weak. GBV is caused by several cultural, economic, religious, community and individual factors. South Africa lived through extremely violent and oppressive times during apartheid, which still reflects on the society. On an individual level, children raised by abusive fathers are more likely to become violent towards their partners.
Furthermore, an estimated 20-30 % of South African children grow up without fathers, which can have a negative impact especially on boys. While South African women are becoming more economically empowered, some males turn to violence as a tool to maintain their patriarchal power. And – not unlike Finland – alcohol and drug abuse is adding to the problem.
Old cultural traditions often set women in a subordinate position to men, and some of these traditions have become distorted over the years to implicitly or explicitly condone and tolerate GBV. In South Africa one of these traditions is lobola – the provision of gifts to the parents of a bride-to-be. Some men think that this payment allows them to treat their wives as their property. A study quoted by CSVR showed that a shocking 84 % of women interviewed in the eastern and northern parts of the country actually agreed that once a man has paid lobola, it is culturally acceptable for him to beat his wife!
As noted by the CSVR at Ekangala, traditional chiefs – who still retain an important role in their communities – can play a crucial role in addressing GBV. Their task is to explain what the original benefits of the old traditions are and ensure that they are not used in a distorted way to increase the risk of GBV. Traditional leaders must teach boys to be better men!
The discussion at Ekangala was vibrant and open, showing a community which has through the help of CSVR and local psychosocial workers committed to tackle the problem of GBV. They now need to deal with practical problems. Many community members raised concern that the police force does not react effectively enough in situations where victims of GBV come forward. The police station is far away and many victims are not able to reach it due to lack of money for transport. One solution put forward was by the local pastor, who was open to receiving reports of domestic violence and other forms of GBV and promised to report them to the police. His "green door" is always open for victim. Local Chief Mabena also stressed how seriously he took the matter and vowed to fight GBV and help its victims.
The community of Ekangala showed there is a very strong will for the community members to carry the work forwards. The solutions are already lying in the communities, reminded CSVR. GBV is a human rights issue which affects every single one of us. The Embassy of Finland is very proud to be part of efforts to fight gender-based violence in South Africa.
Text: Anna Merrifield
To follow the work of Finland and other Nordic countries on gender issues in South Africa, have a look at the Twitter hashtag #GenderNordicsSA !
The reports prepared by CSVR as part of the project funded by Finland can be found here: