As we join civil society, the media and government during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, not forgetting LGBTQIA+ people, we are reflecting on our role in perpetuating this social ill. 

At the second Presidential Summit on gender-based violence and Femicide (GBVF), held on 1 and 2 November, President Cyril Ramaphosa committed to eradicating this violence and reported on the steps taken to achieve this. We note that there is not much effort being put into investigating the unique experiences of people with disabilities, sex workers,  LGBTQIA+ people and migrants, who are disproportionately affected by GBVF.

We cannot develop practical solutions against GBVF without considering the experiences of those who are further marginalised based on race, sexuality, class, disability and nationality. With this in mind, we call for an intersectional approach to address and prevent the high rates of GBVF. Intersectionality is a framework that looks at the interconnectedness of different oppressive systems. 

The theory, coined by the legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, asserts that people are often disadvantaged where their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability and nationality meet. Crenshaw first used intersectionality to analyse and examine how US courts failed to address black women in cases of GBV.

Understanding intersectionality is essential to combat the prejudices that reinforce GBVF, and lack of attention to it inhibits us from assessing the scope of GBVF and our ability to assess how differently positioned groups experience discrimination and violence.

GBVF does not exist in isolation

Negative attitudes such as homophobia, ableism, xenophobia and HIV stigma are some of the main barriers to achieving gender equity.  

Consider the experiences of a disabled, transgender woman who works as a sex worker. Where does she report a case of abuse when disabled women aren’t even believed to be sexual beings or desirable? How does she seek healthcare when transphobic nurses and doctors tell sex workers that they spread HIV? 

By understanding how violence is perpetrated and experienced, an intersectional approach can design and develop appropriate and context-specific responses when addressing GBVF.

For example, an understanding that disabled women face multiple marginalisations based on their disabilities does not necessarily ensure that policies respond to these intersectional needs. In our recent webinar about the intersections of GBVF and disability, a representative from the KwaZulu-Natal Deaf Association explained that an understanding of the multiple marginalisations that disabled women face should lead to designing a service that specifically meets their needs, by involving them in decision-making processes, instead of speaking on their behalf and deciding what is best for them. 

In alignment with this year’s theme for 16 Days of Activism, Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment to build Women’s Resilience against GBV, the government and the private sector need to take urgent action against the discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment of women and LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace. Moreover, we call for all members of society to take on the responsibility of protecting adolescent girls from rape, resulting in unwanted pregnancies that change their lives.

Earlier this year, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority approved the monthly dapivirine vaginal ring as an HIV prevention option for women 18 years and older. The ring made history because it is the first long-acting HIV prevention method that is created specifically for women. 

It puts prevention in the hands of women, it creates an enabling environment for them to exercise control over their own bodies and can ensure that young women in all their diversities assert their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women and young women in particular continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the global HIV epidemic, with nearly two-thirds of new adult infections in South Africa and across sub-Saharan Africa. 

Increasing their options for HIV prevention is instrumental in ensuring a decrease in new infections, but alone they will not bring an end to HIV. While this scientific breakthrough is yet another step in the right direction in finding ways to reduce women’s risk of HIV infection, we cannot forget the real culprit behind girls’ and young women’s increased risk to HIV infection — patriarchy.

Scientific and medical interventions such as the HIV prevention pill — and now the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring — are critical for HIV prevention, especially for girls and young women, but alone they will not decrease HIV infections. We must address the social and behavioural factors that contribute to this, including condom negotiation, comprehensive sexuality education, and centring and recognising girls’ and women’s sexual pleasure as a sexual and reproductive right. In acknowledging their pleasure, we also acknowledge their agency and see black girls and young women as more than just HIV statistics. 

Check your privilege

It has become common for us to speak about women, girls and LGBTQIA+ people in the context of abuse and hate crimes. But members of these groups are people who deserve to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our society is incredibly cruel to people who do not have power or live up to colonial and patriarchal standards. Imagine the world as an onion – the layers furthest from the centre are seen as less than and therefore, disposable. Kgalemelang: From Awareness to Accountability seeks to sensitise communities to these deep-rooted issues as well as to seek solutions while holding ourselves accountable. 

Ahead of 16 Days of Activism against GBVF, Minister Bheki Cele reported increased violence against women and children in the second quarter of 2022. During this time and beyond, we need to reflect honestly on who the 17 410 victims who reported these crimes are and what role we have played in exposing them to violence. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were systems of oppression. But we should all strive for equity and justice by ensuring that our views and actions are not harmful to others, particularly those who are vulnerable. 

Ha re kgalemeleng

The South African Constitution guarantees everyone the right to safety and freedom. This and the UN Declaration of Human Rights are the best examples of an intersectional framework in policy. However, social attitudes continue to keep systems of violence alive, at the cost of vulnerable members of society.

The Soul City Institute GBVF prevention campaign, Kgalemelang: From Awareness to Accountability, is based on the belief that communities working together can overcome violence. It involves creating opportunities in our families and communities, and at the government level for direct communication, understanding and repairing of harm, and readjusting power toward equity, safety, respect, and pleasure. 

Studies have shown that over 60% of survivors choose not to report their abuse and engage in criminal legal processes due to a myriad of discouraging and traumatic barriers – failure by the justice and healthcare systems, as well as the culture of silencing and dismissing survivors.

Moreover, the idea that abusers aren’t “real men” but these mythical creatures that no one knows, shifts accountability and is not an honest reflection of the scourge of violence in our country. We need to identify and speak up against perpetrators of violence, while also interrogating ourselves and listening to understand how our actions and attitudes have impacted those around us.

In her recent report to the UN, our board chairperson Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng emphasises that to achieve a comprehensive health response to violence, it is necessary to adopt an inclusive and non-binary approach to gender and gender-based violence.

After 27 years of activism and campaigning for health rights, the Soul City Institute attests that intersectionality is a sustainable response to GBVF and we ask all communities, organisations and the government to join us in our efforts to protect the right to safety and freedom for all. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

This content was originally published here.

Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: