Violence Against Women and Children in South Africa

“I am living in hell from one day to the next. But there is nothing I can do to escape. I don't know where I would go if I did. I feel utterly powerless, and that feeling is my prison.” 

- Haruki Murakami

Violence against women and children manifests in different ways, in different circumstances, and with different types of violent acts. These include physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, economic violence, and violence at work or home.

The most common form of violence experienced by women is physical abuse inflicted not by a stranger but by an intimate partner. Studies show that rates of female murders by an intimate partner range from between 40% and 70%. In South Africa alone, an intimate partner kills a woman every eight hours, and someone is a victim to rape every four minutes. Over 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. And, the majority of trafficking victims are women and children, many of whom are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.

These statistics are just a small example of a phenomenon that is growing around the world. Violence has a huge impact on the lives of victims, with the resultant psychological consequences often producing substantial disabilities, including depression and suicide. Furthermore, the social and cultural consequences that prevail in some parts of the world, South Africa included, often make it impossible for the abused woman or child to leave their threatening environment or for perpetrators to be prosecuted.

The fact is, violence has nothing to do with perceived or accepted cultural norms. While it can be attributed to a combination of risk factors in offenders - innate tendencies, pathology, brain chemistry, unfavourable environment, or painful childhood experiences - violence is a basic violation of human rights. There is nothing natural or right about violence against women and children, and, as such, countries have an obligation to address and prevent this problem.

Yet, the proliferation of violence against women and children is proof that not enough is being done to address the problem. So much so that many countries have inadequate laws that criminalise violence against children and women. And of those that do, many laws are not adequately enforced. Educational and psychological resources to help and support the sheer volume of incidents of violence against women and children is yet another problem many countries face, specifically in developing countries. 

Numerous awareness campaigns have been launched to address the problem of violence against women and children. While they are successful at drawing public attention to the problem, alone they do little to solve the global pandemic. Overcoming this ideology implies creating complex strategies within the socio-historical, political, economic, and cultural spheres of individual societies in a manner that extinguishes domination-exploitation systems grounded in class, ethnicity, and gender. 

This calls for governments, women's organisations, the private sector, the media, as well as you and I to join forces. There is no silver bullet or quick fix. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once said, there is only one given truth - that violence against women and children is unacceptable, intolerable, and inexcusable.

The time to act is now.