Jewish Organisations assist in countering violence in South Africa against Women
By Bev Goldman
Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a profound human rights violation with major social and developmental impacts for survivors of violence, as well as their families, communities and society more broadly.
It is disproportionately directed against women and girls and can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial or structural. It can be perpetrated by intimate partners, parents, acquaintances and strangers irrespective of the victim’s race, social or economic status, age, culture, religion; it undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims; it leaves scars that the victims bear all the days of their lives; and it is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world.
Victims suffer psychological trauma; they suffer behavioural and physical consequences; they lose confidence in themselves and trust in others; they often feel guilt at having ‘invited’ the abuse by their speech, their dress, their openness; they tend to blame themselves because in certain societies they are made to feel that way.
It is without doubt one of the scourges worldwide that is affecting society; and its prevalence in South Africa is horrifyingly common. According to a recently released report, GBV in South Africa “pervades the political, economic and social structures of society and is driven by strongly patriarchal social norms and complex and intersectional power inequalities, including those of gender, race, class and sexuality.”
And according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 12 in every 100 000 women are victims of femicide in South Africa each year – a figure which is nearly five times worse than the global average of 2.6.
One of the main reasons for this is the gendered power inequality rooted in patriarchy here. South Africa is a particularly patriarchal society which treats men as superior to women and denies women the right to protect their own bodies, meet their own basic needs or participate fully in society. Men are therefore allowed to perpetrate violence against women with impunity; and as the culture of GBV takes root among younger men, more women and girl children are at risk of becoming victims.
The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign (16 Days Campaign) is a United Nations campaign which takes place annually from 25 November (International Day of No Violence against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day). Also happening during this time are World Aids Day (1st December) and the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (on 3 December annually).
The South African government places much importance on this scourge and is implementing the Emergency Response Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, which was announced by President Ramaphosa in September 2019. The 16 Days Campaign forms the centre point of government’s comprehensive 365 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children; and at the end of the campaign on 10 December 2019, government will officially launch the 365 Days Behavioural Change Campaign.
Shalom Bayit and the Co-ordinating Council of National Jewish Women’s Organisations (which comprises the Union of Jewish Women South Africa, WIZO South Africa and the United Sisterhood) are this year assisting the African Diaspora Forum’s Women’s League in its project dealing with the 16 Days of Activism. The project will be reaching out to the most vulnerable women suffering under GBV, and children, primarily those in the townships in and around Johannesburg, as well as migrant and refugee women. The townships of Katlehong, Orange Farm, Diepsloot, Alexandra and Johannesburg CBD will be visited; clothing and food parcels will be distributed to those affected, including the victims of the September 2019 horrendous xenophobic attacks; women will be given an opportunity to be assessed, counselled and empowered both socially and psychologically; and they will be taught how to deal with many of the causes of GBV, including marital issues, socialisation and self-identification. Empowering women is one of the strongest ways of countering GBV; and the need among South African women is overwhelming.
Across the world, every woman as well as every girlchild has the right to live free of violence and abuse. If the 16 Days of Activism succeeds in empowering the hundreds of women who will be targeted in these townships, their lives will be changed for the better and they will be able to pass their knowledge onto their daughters and future generations, enabling them to break the cycle of this endemic evil.