At the end of November 2018, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in conjunction with the Mail & Guardian hosted a Critical Thinking Forum that zoned in on the issue of gender-based violence (GBV). The forum involved a panel discussion with representatives from government, research and civil society. We caught up with Beatrice Mutali, the UNFPA representative, to give a sense of how the forum is aligned with the local and global objectives of the UNFPA.
Where are we with the state of gender-based violence and how are we moving the agenda forward?
That GBV is still severe and we know it is grossly under reported also due to the stigma attached to it. The starting point is the situation is dire and it comes in different forms; it comes in the forms of sexual assault and sexual violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking etcetera. There is something that is ingrained in the society very deeply. I think it is also clear that it has reached a tipping point where women are saying enough is enough and something needs to be done. Whilst there have been significant policy developments in recent years, there are critical gaps in the national response to GBV. These include developing a better understanding of the extent of the problem, improving services, capacity and coordination.
The success of the Presidential Summit on Gender-based Violence and Femicide demonstrated South Africa’s stated political commitment to building a more sustainable, co-ordinated and strategic national response to GBV. We saw a positive response at the summit, where there was representation from all sectors to work together to achieve zero GBV in the country. It was great to see representation from many institutions at the summit; even from the top leadership we had President Cyril Ramaphosa and a number of ministers and deputy minister in attendance. The acknowledgement that this is a cross-functional issue is crucial so that men can understand their roles and responsibilities and that women themselves can be aware that they have rights and must be treated with dignity. It will not be done in a year, but it really must be done now and we must monitor the changes as they happen.
Beatrice Mutali, United Nations Population Fund representative for South Africa, says that gender-based violence is still very prevalent in South Africa.
How does this tie in to the work of the UNFPA?
One of the three transformative goals of the UNFPA Strategic Plan 2018 to 2022 is to end all forms of GBV. The United Nations Special Rapporteur Dubravka Simonovic visited South Africa from 4 to 11 December 2015 to examine the overall situation of violence against women and girls in the country. The Special Rapporteur released her preliminary findings on the 11th of December 2015. She recommended the establishment of a Femicide Watch which would release a report every year, detailing the number of gender related killings per year, disaggregated by age and sex of the perpetrators as well as the relationship between perpetrator and victim, among other aspects. “Despite an arsenal of progressive laws and policies to deal with gender-based violence put very ably in place, there has been little implementation, hence impact and gender-based violence continue to be pervasive and at the level of systematic women’s human rights violation,” she said. Furthermore she noted: “There is an urgent need, to focus on prevention. All parts of society, in particular key populations need to be well informed on their rights on all steps of the process from reporting the crime to the prosecution and adjudication of their case.”
These findings are important to note as GBV serves to undermine democracy and the hard fought for values of equality and human dignity of all South Africans. It contributes directly towards HIV and AIDS and poverty. Young women and children’s vulnerability to violence increases their vulnerability to HIV infection. Eliminating GBV is a key priority for our work in South Africa.
The work we have been engaged in includes, supporting the setting up of a multi-sectoral team led by the Office of the Premier (OTP) to coordinate GBV prevention in the Eastern Cape Province, developing a GBV reporting tool that was intended to be used by traditional leaders in four traditional councils in KwaZulu Natal’s Uthukela District to record the incidence of GBV. Due to challenges with the targeted audience, the tool was implemented through a local community structure, but what we discovered was that victims find it easier to speak and report to local NGOs than to the traditional leadership.
What do you want people take away in terms of the conversation at the forum as well as actions in the future?
We work as a team with the other UN agencies, using a multisectoral approach to support the government to create a “safer South Africa” for all who leave in it. As UNFPA we want to raise the issue that that GBV remains a major issue and the efforts that need to be done by several stakeholders in their spheres of influence must be increased. UNFPA globally focuses on the following three transformation goals that we want to achieve by the end of 2030. These are:
1. Getting to zero preventable maternal deaths. We still have more than 100 deaths per 100 000 births and although South Africa has done well compared with other countries we can still do more.
2. Getting to zero unwanted pregnancies. This means accelerating access to contraceptives so that women can a choice on how many children to have and when. Focus on this area also includes prevention of teenage pregnancy.
3. Ending GBV. This result area is the core focus of this Critical Thinking Forum .
What needs to occur for us to live in a world that has zero GBV?
We have to tackle GBV in all sectors. We need to work with community leaders and with religious leaders too because it is a question of changing beliefs — people’s beliefs of what is acceptable from both males and females in terms of behaviour and action. In some instances, women think GBV is the norm and they do not report incidents and it often leads to a fatality.
We also need to work through the education system by implementing evidence based Comprehensive Sexuality Education that also address GBV from primary school upwards. Boys need to realise that they are equal to girls and they must all be treated as equals and with dignity. This must also happen in institutions of higher education.
We also have the issue of the justice system. Again looking at recent cases of incidents where the courts fail women. The justice system must be responsive and deal with the perpetrators swiftly.
Also, we must deliver quality and responsive health system integrated services, from health, social, legal to community to address appropriately the needs of the victims.
Lastly, civil society is vital for ensuring accountability as we saw with the #TotalShutdown recently.