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GBV in SA: To what barbaric abyss are we descending into as a nation?

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Picture: Diana Cibotari/Pixabay – We as parents, educators and policymakers all have a role to play in eradicating patriarchal tendencies; becoming anti-GBV activists in our homes, communities, work and position, says the writer.

By Irene Charnley

“41 695 rape cases were reported over the past year. Happy Women’s Month in the rape capital of the world” screamed a social media message hash-tagged #standup.

“Nothing happy about Women’s Month in South Africa. We continue to be under siege,” was one of the hundreds of comments from one social media enthusiast.

Once again, the unpleasant reality of the appalling gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) cases in our country has been brought to the fore by the rape of eight models, some of them virgins, shooting a music video in West Village outside Mogale City.

A few days ago, two Grade 12 schoolgirls were attacked with an axe while in their student accommodation in Ngwangwane village in the Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma local municipality in southern KwaZulu-Natal. It is alleged a man entered a rented house, killed the girls and dismembered their bodies.


Just as we celebrate 2022 Women’s Month with the theme “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Resilience”, the rate of GBV, as well as the failure of the criminal justice system to curtail the crisis, suggests an unacknowledged gender civil war even if President Cyril Ramaphosa called it a pandemic.

Spare a thought for the above sarcastic social media messages. A woman experiences the most terrible ordeal of her life, a rape so brutal that the physical wounds take months if not years to heal and the emotional scars much longer, sometimes her entire life.

The West Rand episode is just one out of many such sordid rape tales that have come up of late. No wonder residents of West Village say the government is simply not doing enough to ensure that women are safe in South Africa. They say crime against women has become a norm.

The GBVF epidemic sweeping across our nation with impunity tells it all: these days South Africa is no country for girl children and women in general.


For women, sexual violence is not called a fate worse than death for nothing. Those of us at the International Women’s Forum South Africa, the local division of a global organisation of more than 7 500 pre-eminent women of significant and diverse achievement from across 36 nations and six continents, who know women who have suffered it, like the eight models filming a movie, understand that only too often something within them does indeed die.

Actually, all peace, all security and sometimes all chances of happiness have been destroyed by the sexual violence they suffered allegedly from the illegal miners, the zama-zamas.

Though a global phenomenon, the appalling side of GBVF just as we celebrate Women’s Month has to do with the attitude of the perpetrators, the lacklustre response of law and order agencies and officials and the absence of an institutional supportive system to help the victims.

GBVF victims suffer abuse that is worse than physical injury. Sexual violence takes away the right to dignity of a woman, let alone the right to personal liberty and security to enjoy the freedom of movement whether at the West Village or anywhere in our country.

Sadly, the onus of proof lies only with the victims of GBVF. They must provide their underwear and not clean themselves before going to the police station to report the violation and to the hospital or doctor for hospital tests.

Of course, we have bills, legislations and laws aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system. The latest such laws are the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, Domestic Violence Amendment Act and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Act.


While we welcome these laws aimed at strengthening efforts to end gender-based violence by closing gaps which have allowed perpetrators to take advantage of legal loopholes to evade justice, we need to ask ourselves, why is our country continuing to have the worst-known figures for gender-based violence? Why does sexual violence remain a socially endorsed punitive project for maintaining patriarchal order?

According to statistics, a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa. The World Health Organization has reported that South Africa’s GBVF statistics stand at 12.1 per 100 000 women, five times higher than the global average of 2.6 women per 100 000.

Also, Statistics SA has reported that 138 women per 100 000 were raped in the country, the highest rate in the world.

More worrying is that suspected rapists move freely on the streets after committing these heinous acts. Sadly, the prevalence of GBVF calls into question not only our sense of justice, but our civilisation as a people.

When rape victims do have their day in court, they find that their case is judged less by the nature of the harm they experienced and more by the extent to which they are blamed for the assault.


GBV underscores the sorry state of mind of the perpetrators. The blatant way rape is often committed shows that perpetrators still operate in a distorted mindset of women as assets to be used and dispensed with at will.

In this day and age, many still believe that women or girls invite to be raped by wearing provocative clothing, in most cases short skirts or hip-hugging trousers.


Indeed, there are no perfect solutions that can wipe out GBVF, but a significant part of the problem can be addressed by changing traditional gender role socialisation that puts females in the position of being vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Our focus in dealing with the evil of GBVF needs to be a larger focus concentrating not only on the individual rapists and the victims, but also on the cultural underpinnings that foster a rape mentality and culture leading to sex crimes.

For me, the GBVF culture is the normalisation of sexual violence due to societal attitudes and cultural perspectives that addresses the sex roles as part of our patriarchal society. The sexual violence culture is primarily rooted in self-entitlement and a genuine disregard for a woman’s well-being.

Until some men begin to look at women as human beings like them – with dignity, greatness and worth – there can be no respite from GBVF in our country.

Unless some men realise that the pain they inflict on women and girls is as painful as those they experience in their own bodies, and the shock, anguish, humiliation and trauma she undergoes at their hands are unwelcome to society, no rapist will refrain from this inhuman brutality they inflict on women.

One solution is for schools, colleges and universities, apart from taking learners to academic excellence, embrace a grave responsibility to provide them with sound moral education and sexual education, and instil in them respect for girls, women, the elderly and every fellow human being who shares a common humanity.


The dangers of GBVF should be taught as part of sex education at primary and high schools and even universities as an effective means of countering the rape culture entrenched in a patriarchal system.

Our future generation must be taught a clear distinction between right and wrong behaviour, the importance of self-restraint and the dangers of perpetuating male chauvinism at the expense of women’s rights and dignity.

We as parents, educators, and policymakers all have a role to play in eradicating patriarchal tendencies; becoming anti-GBV activists in our homes, communities, work and positions; challenging cultures and practices that perpetuate gender inequalities; avoiding looking away and reporting abusers; being sensitive and supportive to victims of sexual violence, and teaching our children values of respect and gender equality.

Let it sink in that all of us have a role to play in confronting and eliminating gender-based violence in our society.

Happy Women’s Month anyway.

Irene Charnley is a successful businesswoman and President of the International Women’s Forum of South Africa.

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