Study shows war on women begins at home

Almost 80% of the men in Gauteng admit to perpetrating some form of violence against women. This was revealed through a prevalence survey on gender violence conducted by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the non-governmental organisation Gender Links.

The preliminary findings of the study, titled The War at Home, was released at the start of the 16 days of activism for no violence against women and children. “The survey in South Africa’s most densely populated and cosmopolitan province shows that while political conflict in the country has subsided, homes and communities are still far from safe, especially for women,” said the authors.

South Africans and the international community were shocked last year when the MRC revealed that one in four men surveyed in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal admitted to committing rape. But this new survey shows that gender-based violence may be even more widespread in Gauteng than in other provinces. More than one in three men in Gauteng admitted to perpetrating sexual violence.

Rachel Jewkes, director of the Gender and Health Research Unit at the MRC, pointed out that only 18% of rapes were perpetrated by partners. “This is a unique and special feature seen in South Africa, that to rape a stranger or acquaintance is more common than to rape an intimate partner,” she said. In most countries, rape is usually perpetrated by someone close to the victim.

“We’re often told by the media and others that we’re exaggerating the problem, that abuse is not rife. But only 21,7% of men said they’d never perpetrated a form of violence against women,” said Jewkes. She said this said much about ideas of sexual entitlement and gender hierarchy in South African society.

Overlapping forms of violence
The survey data was gathered by interviewing a representative sample of 998 men and women in Gauteng. Researchers say the survey is unique in that it is the first baseline study that looks at various types of violence; the survey investigated emotional, economic, physical and sexual violence.

The MRC and Gender Links will release the full findings of the survey in March next year. They say they will encourage government to replicate the study in other regions to get a better understanding of the extent of gender-based violence in the country.

“The preliminary findings of the prevalence survey show why this is important as police statistics either fail to cover many forms of gender violence or understate the extent of the problem,” the authors said.

The survey found that although one in four women in the province said they had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, only one in 25 rapes was reported to police.

The most common form of violence against women was emotional abuse. This included being insulted, intimidated, threatened with violence or humiliated in front of others. It also included women being stopped from seeing their friends and their partners boasting about or bringing home girlfriends.

Physical violence was the second most common form of violence reported. However, most women suffered more than one form abuse from their partner.

Gender equity still a pipedream
South Africa’s constitution may guarantee gender equality but that ideal has yet to trickled down to grassroots level. The study showed that more than 80% of men and women think that people should be treated the same regardless of their sex. But at the same time 58% of women and 87% of men think that a woman should obey her husband.

These views were amplified when study participants were asked about community attitudes towards men and women. For example, 80% of women and 95% of men said their community thinks a woman should obey her husband. This implies that while people’s views on gender may slowly be changing, there is still strong pressure from communities for men and women to behave in certain ways.

More than a third of men also think that men should have the final say in all family matters, that a woman needs her husband’s permission to do paid work, and that if a woman works, she should give her money to her husband.

Kubi Rama, deputy director of Gender Links, said that when it comes to gender, there is a mismatch between what is said in public and what is practiced privately.

“There’s a general acceptance that men and women are equal but in practice we haven’t moved very far. Gender roles are very static in the home,” she said. “In the public space we’re saying politically correct things but in our homes we go back to very patriarchal values.”

Rama said South Africans needed to shift private abuse into the public sphere by making it a community issue. She said many people may not realise when hearing signs of a struggle at a neighbour’s house, often it takes nothing more than a knock on the door to avert violence.

“Communities need to look after each other — Churches, temples and mosques are well placed to get involved and to promote and grasp that truly about safety and equality and the need to respect each other’s rights,” she said.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker


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