Preventing and responding to gender-based violence

The work of Sonke Gender Justice starts with a simple concept: supporting local communities. 

Through its flagship One Man Can campaign, Sonke raises awareness and mobilises communities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.  

Sonke, in partnership with a variety of South African and international organisations, launched the campaign on November 25 2006. The campaign’s major goal is to support men to advocate for gender equality. 

An impact evaluation of the One Man Can campaign conducted by an independent consulting firm in late 2008 provides evidence of the effectiveness of the campaign. 

Findings based on self-reporting indicated significant changes in short-term behaviour in the weeks following One Man Can activities, with 25% of participants getting tested for HIV and 61% increasing their own use of condoms. 

About half reported that they had witnessed gender-based violence in their home or community and just more than half (52%) reported it to the police, about a quarter (28%) to community structures and 6% to local nongovernmental organisations.  

 Across South Africa, Sonke is increasingly supporting local communities to demand justice and engage in community driven primary prevention in response to local incidents of gender based violence. To date, Sonke has chosen to do this in the wake of cases of domestic and sexual violence murders. 

These cases generate sufficient community outrage and media coverage and go to trial regularly enough to allow Sonke to work with local community groups to demand justice, address the root causes of systemic gendered violence and generate national attention to the ongoing gender-based violence state of emergency. To date, the most prominent of these cases include: 

– The murder of David Olyn, a 21-year-old openly gay man killed in the rural town of Ceres in the Western Cape. He was beaten, tied up, raped and set alight. For more information see the short film Sonke commissioned to draw attention to the case at

– The child sexual assault and murder case in Delft, Western Cape, of a 9-year-old child, Elihle “Queenie” Hlanjwa, who died two months after she was raped and set on fire. For more on this work see: inside-suddenly-gave-way/

– The domestic violence homicide case in Idutywa, Eastern Cape, of Sandiswa Mhlawuli, who was pulled out of a stationary commuter van and stabbed multiple times by an ex-boyfriend in full view of a few eyewitnesses. Due to the pressure Sonke and its local community action teams exerted, the case was resolved in just 10 months and only five court appearances, a rare accomplishment.  See this article in the Mail & Guardian for more on this work: girlfriend-and-today-he-faces-judgment

In all these cases, Sonke has used community mobilisation with the aim of achieving the following goals: 

– Build community capacity and leadership to respond to gender-based violence; 

– Hold government and the criminal justice system accountable to ensure access to justice for the victims and/or their families; 

– Promote and support community-driven implementation of primary violence prevention;

– Develop and share a community response model that can be used in communities across the country; 

– Engage the media to promote sustained national visibility and attention to the crisis of men’s violence against women and the need for an urgent national response; and

– Generate national and local pressure for a costed, evidence- based National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence backed by strong political will.

Partnerships with government departments 

Sonke believes in the power of partnerships and the need to scale up innovative work through partnerships with key government departments that are constitutionally mandated to implement legislation and policies aimed at preventing gender-based violence and responding to the needs of victims and survivors. 

Examples of partnerships with the South African government include:

Safer South Africa for Women and Children:  

The “A Safer South Africa for Women and Children: Improved Security and Justice for Women, Girls and Boys” programme is designed to create a protective environment that will strengthen national prevention mechanisms to reduce violence against women, girls and boys.  

The programme was designed and is being delivered as a joint initiative by UNFPA and Unicef in partnership with Save the Children Fund and key government departments. Sonke is implementing the programme in the Eastern Cape and Free State and since its inception in 2013 it has managed to train 21 community–based organisations; host 165 community dialogues; support the development of  121 local action plans on gender-based violence prevention; reach 6?406 men and boys with gender equality messages and enrol 378 community members to be part of Community Action Teams that will be able to sustain the community level activism in the long term.

Increasing Services for Survivors of Sexual Assault in South Africa (ISSSASA): 

This USAid-funded programme is a collaboration of leading South Africa organisations (the Foundation for Professional Development, The Soul City Institute, Sonke Gender Justice Network and the South African Medical Research Council) with the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit at the National Prosecuting Authority. The programme aims to enhance the role of the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) — one stop facilities that offer medical, legal and psycho-social support — in tackling the high levels of  gender-based violence and sexual assault.

The programme raises public awareness around the services available at the TCCs and will also expand and improve these services by building more TCCs and training their staff. Sonke’s role in the project include hosting community dialogues in the areas surrounding the TCCs and also building the capacity of community radio stations and community-based organisations to raise awareness around gender-based violence in their communities and the services available in the TCCs.

Advocating for a fully costed National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence by the end of 2015

As we’ve learned from South Africa’s experience with HIV, a National Strategic Plan (NSP) can be an important tool to gain the political commitment and funding required to tackle large social challenges that need a co-ordinated response among diverse stakeholders. 

An NSP creates a national roadmap, aligns the country around strategic priorities, and creates an accountability mechanism for government’s performance.

Sonke and  a number of civil society organisations -— Black Sash; Budget and Expenditure Monitoring Forum; Centre for the Study of Aids and Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria; Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape; Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation; Gender Links; Greater Rape Intervention Programme; Legal Resources Centre; Love 167; Matrix Men; Doctors Without Borders; Nacosa; New World Foundation; People Opposing Women Abuse; Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action; Project Empower; Rape Crisis Centre in Port Elizabeth; Section 27; Sisonke; Slutwalk; Social Justice Coalition; Sweat; Tears Foundation; Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme; Treatment Action Campaign; and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre — are advocating for the development and launch an NSP for gender-based violence that:

– Creates improved implementation of gender-based violence response services;

– Focuses heavily and invests strategically in prevention; 

– Creates real accountability through clear institutional arrangements with clear measurable commitments; 

– Is fully costed and commits significant new resources; and

– Is developed through an open and consultative process.

During 16 Days of Activism 2014, the campaign members will conduct community dialogues across the country and on December 10 they will deliver thousands of postcards with messages from citizens about how gender-based violence affects them to minister of women Susan Shabangu, and will demand from her a response on the status of the NSP.

Networking  across Africa

As co-ordinator of the MenEngage Alliance Africa, Sonke partners with 18 MenEngage country networks across Africa in projects aimed at addressing the high levels of gender-based violence, in particular in post-conflict areas.  

Through a partnership with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, Sonke is implementing a project aimed at advocating for gender-based violence responsive laws and policies in Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and in regional governance mechanisms, to include language intended to engage men and boys in stopping gender-based violence.

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