The recent crime statistics released by the South African Police Service show Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is devastatingly pervasive. Lindelwe Nxumalo, Women’s Rights Programme Manager at ActionAid, offers some actions for ensuring a successful national response to GBV.
What steps can South Africa take to strengthen its response to Gender-based Violence and Femicide (GBVF)?
Ending GBVF requires effective systems and committed individuals, institutions and organisations.
Effective justice system: An effective justice system is crucial for combating GBV. The issues in the justice system start at the point of reporting GBV to formal sources. Many reasons prevent survivors of GBV from reporting crime and abuse. These range from distrusting institutions and lacking access to services to fearing retaliation by the perpetrator and social stigma.
We know that many women who have experienced violence do not report to the police. Across the country, for instance, GBV survivors talk of being dissuaded from reporting; not being aware of the procedures for reporting, not having access to female police officers, and facing secondary victimisation.
The under-reporting of GBV is detrimental to ending the pandemic. It limits our understanding of the magnitude of the challenge, weakens criminal deterrence and perpetuates GBV and femicide.
Effective support organisations: Equally important is strong support for education, health and legal support systems. The Covid-19 pandemic severely disrupted society and the work of GBV support organisations. The pandemic highlighted the gaps in the provision of critical services to survivors, including the inadequate funding of our GBV initiatives.
Our systems are yet to recover fully from the disruption due to the health crisis, and there are dire implications for GBV survivors. For instance, rape survivors don’t have continuous psychosocial support. Trauma for survivors waiting for the trial of cases is made worse by incomplete investigations and missing dockets.
Additionally, Covid-19 amplified the need for more shelters. Support organisations struggled to serve the increased number of women needing help. Using their resources, individuals (many of them women already involved in GBV initiatives in their communities) graciously stepped in and provided shelter to survivors. In the journey of a GBV survivor, the needs are many and the supply of services is short. A national fund would support the various initiatives, including those at the grassroots level.
Effective GBV policies: The government has shown commitment to addressing GBV through policy initiatives such as the Gender-based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan. But, we are yet to see the budgetary adjustments for the emergency GBVF plan. The government should address the scepticism about its commitment to implementing GBVF policies and plans.
What are some pillars of a strong national response to GBVF?
- Political will to push for adequate funding for State services.
- Better referral systems from the Thuthuzela Centers and police stations.
- Investment in more shelters that can offer different types of accommodation, as well as catering for survivors who are children/or are related to a survivor.
- Better policing, including sensitisation for staff at the justice department.
- Additional resourcing to support police officers.
- Punitive action against police officers who perpetrate secondary victimisation on survivors.
- Commitment to end patriarchy and other social norms about GBV in the justice system. Survivors should not have to answer questions such as: “What did you do to your husband?”. Or, in the case of a lesbian, “What do you mean she raped you?”
- More support for the health care system’s response to GBV and amid a health crisis.
How can we address GBVF in the LGBTI+ community?
Our society tends to reinforce heteronormativity. Thus, many people can’t fathom GBVF in an LGBTI+ context. We must continue to advocate effective ways of addressing the misconceptions about LGBTI people and the challenges they encounter. Homophobia and transphobia manifest when survivors report abuse to formal sources such as the police. Survivors encounter further victimisation because they don’t look “straight”. But violence is violence. While some police stations are supportive of survivors, many others aren’t. Also, LGBTI+ survivors of GBV equally have a right to care and dignity and they may need dedicated support services.
*Zanele Chakela interviewed Lindelwe Nxumalo for this article.