South Africa is notorious for its high levels of gender-based violence

Photographer Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ana)

Photographer Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ana)

Published Apr 29, 2021


Photographer Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ana)

Amanda Gouws

SOUTH Africa is a country that is notorious for its high levels of gender-based violence (GBV).

The SAPS statistics for reported rape cases for 2019/2020 is 42 289 and for sexual assault 7 749 (Department of Police, 2020), amid huge under- reporting of rape.

Intimate femicide is five times the global average.

Of reported rape cases, only about 14% goes to trial and there are convictions in only about 7% of these cases. There is indeed a high attrition rate.

The 2016 #EndRapeCulture and the 2017 #TotalShutdown campaigns were the push back from women against the normalisation of sexual violence.

Protests against GBV often demand retributive justice or punishment for perpetrators with greater incarceration and harsher sentencing.

Other campaigns demand restorative justice to restore the dignity of survivors and their communities but rarely is GBV dealt with as a matter of distributive justice.

The major tenets of distributive justice are equality, proportionality and fairness of the distribution of both material and non-material resources.

GBV disproportionally places the costs of violence on the shoulders of victims or the state and therefore reduces resources that can be accessed by victims or spent by the state.

The 2014 KPMG Report Too Costly to Ignore, calculates the costs of GBV between R28 billion and R42 billion per year.

That is between 1% and 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Costs include medical, legal, relocation, shelter, loss of jobs, lack of productivity, psychological therapy, and loss of earnings.

Government spending on GBV is not ring-fenced, and therefore, unidentifiable in national expenditure data. Specific challenges exist across government departments in estimating expenditure on GBV.

For example, doctors are not required to record incidents of domestic violence as such and the police frequently record domestic violence as general incidents of assault or murder.

Furthermore, estimates of pain and suffering are not included.

Iris Marion Young, a feminist theorist, argued that violence victimises entire groups and make them live in fear.

This a form of oppression that is less tangible than, for example, unequal payment in the workplace. A focus on material issues prevents us from seeing the impact of structural and institutional inequalities.

For Young, one of the solutions to make the consequences of violence visible is the politicisation of how norms contribute to and normalise violence.

She also suggests that we make a distinction between blame, which makes people liable for punishment and is, therefore, a retributive strategy, and accountability – holding people responsible for accepting certain norms, or supporting certain attitudes that entrench rape myths that normalise rape.

A rape myth, for example, blames the victim who was wearing a short skirt or who was drunk.

In this regard, there has to be a change in aspects of culture that support perceptions of women that make them vulnerable to violence.

We need to mobilise resources for cultural change and preventative action.

From a distributive perspective, issues of economic maldistribution are at the heart of gender-based violence.

Many men lack breadwinner status and take their frustrations out on women; women are economically dependent on abusive men, and there is a lack of funding for shelters to which women can turn in times of crises related to gender-based violence.

There is a chronic underfunding of shelters. A 2017 report of the Heinrich Bohl Foundation on shelter funding for the Western Cape showed that only 1% of the R1.3 billion budget of the Department of Social Development went to the Victim Empowerment Programme in 2013.

This programme includes shelter funding, victim empowerment and counselling.

Only R4 million was distributed over 12 state-funded shelters. It has not improved since then.

On the contrary, many state and non-state funded shelters have closed down.

On February 4, 2021, President Ramaphosa virtually launched a private sector-led, multi-sectoral Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund aimed at supporting the implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP), and the wider GBVF response in the country.

The National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence includes six pillars.

These are: accountability, coordination and leadership, prevention and rebuilding social cohesion, justice, safety and protection, response, care, support and healing, economic power and research and information management.

Each of these pillars will need funding to implement and make them work.

This will mean that the government has to budget for implementation and maintenance of the plan.

R21 billion has been allocated over the government’s three-year medium-term expenditure framework.

The Ford Foundation has pledged R20.2 million, Absa R20 million and Anglo American R30 million. This is a start, but what women want to know is for which aspects of the Strategic Plan is the money prioritized and how will corruption be kept at bay.

Will this be money find its way into the crony capital networks of the state?

President Ramaphosa indicated that the criminal justice system should be strengthened and that women’s economic empowerment should be promoted. These are, however, long term goals. How much of this money will go to improve shelter funding and to develop measures to deal with toxic masculinity/ norms that normalise violence?

These issues are a matter of distributive justice. No law reform or greater carcerality by the state can deal with attitudinal change. No matter how much the women’s activism calls for “rapists to rot in jail”, solutions are tied up with distributive justice. The state owes women redistributive justice.

Prof Gouws is the Research Chair in Gender Politics at Stellenbosch University

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