In South Africa alone, “one in five women in are victims of gender-based violence (GBV) annually,” according to the Southern African NGO Network. While the crime is not limited to just women and girls, they are most at risk because of the gender inequality in the country.We interviewed Nombulelo Mkhuma, a Stop Gender Violence Helpline counsellor from Lifeline SA about the issues around GBV.
GBV comes in many forms
There are many different types of GBV.
Some of them are:
- Physical abuse (battering, mutilation)
- Sexual abuse (rape, sexual harassment)
- Psychological abuse (forced marriage, stalking, emotional abuse)
- Commercial sexual exploitation
- Deprivation or neglect from being properly taken care of, by means of health, education, overall livelihood because of their gender
Mkhuma says that the most common form of GBV is emotional abuse. “It can be difficult to detect whether someone is being emotionally abused because there’s no physical evidence.”
Poverty and gender inequality can lead to GBV
Mkhuma finds that there is a strong connection between GBV and poverty. “The pressures and frustrations of poverty often contribute to partners abusing their loved ones.” But she says that there are other reasons why people become abusers. Some say they have been raised by an abuser so they abuse as well, while others blame it on their cultural beliefs where a woman’s voice holds no value.
“If you look at our society’s background, men were raised to be ‘macho’ and to take care of women, while women were raised to care of the children. Within that context, women are seen as the ‘children of the men,’ so if a woman makes a mistake she will be beaten.”
Victims are too afraid to speak out
Many GBV victims are silent about it because they are too afraid to speak out and seek help. “At times the perpetrator buys into your family to the point where they trust him. Behind closed doors, he may be abusive to you but in front of others, they are seen as perfect people,” says Mkhuma.
As a result, victims are seen as unappreciative and even crazy. “There are cases where victims would tell their mothers that they are being beaten. But their response would be, ‘but he bought you car, why don’t you appreciate him?’”
Another serious issue is that when victims seek help at the police station they are turned away. “Some police officers would tell them that they don’t deal with domestic violence, when in actual fact we have an act in our constitution against it, which states that police must accompany victims to a shelter if there’s a need.”
Mkhuma says police also complain that when victims come forward with a GBV case, victims will sometimes change their minds and drop it the next day. “But what they don’t understand is that abusers have phases, and if you are in love with someone, you can be confused on what to do. On the one hand he’s buying you flowers but on the other he’s beating you.”
How can GBV be stopped
A change in South Africa’s cultural and mental perception in terms of gender equality is key in stopping GBV, says Mkhuma. “We need to teach our children that men and women should be seen as equals in everything. Girls especially, need to learn to stand up for themselves and learn when to say no.”
Mkhuma adds that the country needs to start training people in high places like the police about the workings of GBV so that victims can feel at ease when going to them for refuge.
There is help for GBV victims at any time, any place
“There are a number of NGOs providing counselling. We’ve also got got shelters, such as Ikhaya Lethemba where victims can be taken to. Some of the shelters provide skills development for you to survive,” says Mkhuma.
She urges GBV victims to seek help urgently. “Counselling will able to help you. You will be able to understand that what you are experiencing is not normal.” If you feel like you’ve been a victim of gender-based violence you can call Stop Gender Violence on their toll free helpline on 0800 150 150 which is open 24 hours.
Image by Abigail Javier