Women’s empowerment ‘key to stopping violence’

26 November 2014

Only a radical shift in approaches to end gender violence will bring about change, says Gender Links, a South African based non-governmental organisation that promotes gender equality across the 15 countries in southern Africa.

Under the banner, “Peace begins at home: End violence! Empower women!”, the organisation is calling for change as part of South Africa’s 16 Days of Activism of No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, which was launched by the government on 25 November.

“Gender violence is a symptom of a much deeper malaise – the gender inequality that pervades every aspect of our lives,” says Colleen Lowe Morna, the chief executive of Gender Links. “We cannot talk about ending violence without talking about women’s political, economic and social empowerment.”

Gender Links plans to begin its campaign with breakfast meetings in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana to profile the achievements of more than 1 000 survivors of gender violence who have received entrepreneurship training and are “taking charge” of their lives. Representatives of government, civil society and the business community will attend.

“For many years we listened to survivors of gender violence tell their stories, what we call the ‘I stories’,” Lowe Morna says. “We realised that in almost every instance women [went] back into abusive relationships because they [had] no options. Economic empowerment and independence does not necessarily mean an end to violence, but it is a key pre-condition.”

Violence in numbers

According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca), the incidence of violence against women in some African countries may be up to five times that of some developed economies. It is estimated that reported acts of violence cost between 1% and 12% of gross domestic product; the monthly cost of violence against women is 20 times that of average medical expenditure for a household.

Speaking at the African Beijing Plus Twenty Review in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 19 November, Uneca executive secretary Carlos Lopes noted that despite growth of more than 5% over the last decade, Africa “has not been capable of propelling strong transformation of its economic realities.

“Without jobs, inclusion, and social distribution the good news is limited. We cannot build dynamic African countries if women and girls, who form the majority of the population, remain marginalised or excluded.”

Lopes announced the Continent-Wide Initiative for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, covering economic empowerment, women’s human rights and the social sector.

Gender Links has highlighted the fact that next year’s review of the Fourth World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing in 1995 coincides with the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals – goal five of which concerns gender equality. It has a strong emphasis on ending violence in the broader context of women’s political, social and economic empowerment.

Behind closed doors

The NGO’s Gender-Based Violence Indicators studies show that the most violence takes place behind closed doors, perpetrated by family members and intimate partners. They highlight the importance of peace in the home and the need for women to be safe in private and public spheres.

It found high levels of gender-based violence in all six countries surveyed. The highest incidence was in Zambia: 89% of women in Zambia’s four districts of Kasama, Kitwe, Mansa and Mazabuka had experienced violence in their lifetimes.

In addition, 86% of women in Lesotho, 68% of women in Zimbabwe, 67% of women in Botswana, 50% of women in the South Africa provinces studied and 24% of women in Mauritius had also experienced gender-based violence. More women reported experiencing violence than men admitted to perpetrating violence in all six countries.

Gender-based violence within intimate partnerships was the most predominant form of violence experienced by women in the six countries. This ranged from 90% in the Zambian districts surveyed to 23% in Mauritius.

Though not yet fully recognised as a crime, marital rape is pervasive and contributes to the HIV and Aids pandemic

Other types of violence that remain underreported include sexual harassment and human trafficking. Homophobia and transphobia also fuels gender-violence directed at people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities; the call includes an end to violence against anybody and a full respect of all human rights.

Government responses

Despite the high level of violence, Gender Links says that governments’ negligible expenditure on prevention and their insufficient gender budgeting hinder implementation of legislation as well as action plans to tackle gender-based violence.

“There is an urgent need to establish gender-based violence baselines in all Southern African Development Community [SADC] countries and strengthen integrated, costed planning frameworks for ending it,” it says.

“A commitment to 365 days of no gender violence is crucial if we are to ever totally eradicate gender-based violence and achieve gender equality. The 2015 SADC Gender Protocol deadline to halve gender-based violence is a matter of months away.

“Sadly, the SADC region will not meet this target. However, with an unwavering attitude of zero tolerance we can strengthen the targets and goals in the post-2015 agenda to ensure this mark is not missed again in 2030.”

In its campaign, Gender Links is broadening the theme and placing special emphasis on economic empowerment as key to addressing gender violence. It has contributed to changing the lives of over 1 000 women since 2013, with the roll out of its Entrepreneurship Training Programme for survivors from five southern African countries.

The programme is based on the belief that to achieve gender equality, women’s economic status must be improved.

“One of the biggest challenges in achieving gender equality is gender-based violence, and economically disempowered women are less able to escape this abuse. The aim of the programme is to economically empower women, helping to increase their self- confidence, agency and independence.”

Throughout 16 Days, Gender Links and its partners will host events across the region, including workshops, training, protest marches, and online cyber dialogues and Google hangout sessions.

SAinfo reporter and Gender Links