The debate about gender-based violence is easily obscured by statistics, as horrifying as they may be.
The data might be a barometer by which to measure progress — or lack thereof — in reducing these incidences, but tells only part of the story.
This point was made without reservation on Tuesday at the third in the series of CSI That Works corporate-interest breakfasts hosted by the FirstRand Foundation.
The event was dedicated to the subject of gender-based violence and followed on the "Reframing Interventions to End Gender-Based Violence in South Africa" research report commissioned by the foundation.
The panel consisted of Lisa Vetten, research associate at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research; Bafana Khumalo, co-founder of the Sonke Gender Justice Network; and the founder of the Masimanyane Women's Support Centre, Dr Lesley Ann Foster.
Opening the session, chairman of the FirstRand Foundation Sizwe Nxasana said this topic was selected because it is one that people often don't want to talk about.
"As we all know, gender-based violence affects all members of society and we continue to see increased incidents in the homes and in the workplace. This has to be a serious cause for concern. Look at the impact it has on families and children and we see the degradation of the moral fibre of society, and if this is not combated we will continue to suffer the social ills that we face in our country."
Foster suggested that efforts must be focused on mobilising the private sector's CSI programmes and NGOs to work together.
She further emphasised the need to support government and law enforcement agencies in improving the effectiveness, funding and management of gender-based violence to reduce the incidents and effectively prosecute cases.
Her position on the role of the state was based on the rights enshrined in the Constitution, which states that the state had a responsibility to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights of all citizens, she said.
This argument for state commitment was taken further by Vetten, who said that although the political will on this issue had been expressed, it had not directed adequate funding from the national budget towards gender-based violence.
"It is when you look at the budget that you realise that there is still a need for lobbying government to prioritise this social pathology," she said.
The decision by the department of social development in 2011 to cover only 75% of the salaries of those providing these services to communities further shifted resources away from gender-based violence. There is a need to realign funding with key social development priorities.
Beyond financial support
This also raised the question of the viability of non-profit organisations dedicated to dealing with gender-based violence. Khumalo said it was a tragedy that many organisations run by women have shut down in the recent past because of financial pressures.
"These are the challenges we should be raising to see to what extent the corporate sector can come on board to support these initiatives and also how we hold our government accountable," he said.
He called on corporates to look at providing more than merely financial support and to use their interactions and influence with government to place these issues on the agenda.
Vetten supported this notion, but added that this would require them to walk a fine line between getting involved in advocacy and treading into the policitcal arena.
"The challenge in getting corporates to look at taking up advocacy and holding government to account is that it is uncomfortable work," she said.
The level of discomfort was evident, said Vetten, in a mere R15-million in corporate social investment in 2012 being directed toward victims of abuse and violence out of the more than R3-billion CSI spend that year.
Foster added that the corporate sector had a meaningful role to play in supporting the "voices that are trying to be heard around how to deal with issues of gender equality and deal wth discrimination against women, which is expressed as violence against women".
Foster indicated that the voices of powerful women with a good understanding of gender inequality and violence against women often fade as their knowledge, skills and experience are also needed elsewhere.
"Some of these powerful women have been posted outside the country to our embassies to great advantage to our country. However, the end result is that we lose their skills and expertise."
What the statistics show
• Domestic violence incidents suffered by women 1998: one in four in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.
• Domestic violence incidents suffered by women in the past year: one in 10 in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.
• Homicide rate of women in 1999: six times the global average. Their partners perpetrated 50% of those deaths. Homicide rate of women in 2009 versus 1999: 5.6/100 000 versus 8.8/100 000
• Domestic violence reports in Gauteng in 2010: 18.13%
• Rape statistics in Gauteng 2010: one in four women reported having been raped in the course of their lifetimes. One in 12 had been raped in 2009 alone.
• Men admitting to having committed rape: Eastern Cape 28%; Gauteng 37%. — Lisa Vetten
The contents of this page was paid for by FirstRand and approved by all presenters