Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

Private sector can help curb gender-based violence and femicide

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 24, 2021

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Irene Charnley

There is the adage that people should leave personal issues at home. After all, it is nobody’s business. The truth is gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) is a scourge that needs resources and must be collectively addressed everywhere and all the time.

GBVF is not a respecter of status, class, race, age, culture or creed. Unfortunately, none of the characteristics, individually or collectively, are a panacea from gender-based violence at home, at work or anywhere.

Regrettably, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to eliminate GBVF. Effective strategic plans might share several features, but they must be tailored to the needs, resources and circumstances of victims.

Resources are the foundation for tackling gender-based violence.

As with most other risks, prevention of GBVF begins with meticulous planning.

The International Women’s Forum South Africa (IWFSA) has aided the government in a fund-raising drive to augment government resources.

This has birthed the private-sector-led GBVF Response Fund1, the culmination of the successful collaboration between the public and private sector which raised more than R128 million at the launch.

The GBVF Response Fund1, which is planned to operate for two years, honours and recognises women and girls whose lives and voices mattered but were silenced by the GBVF pandemic, and the inability to put enough resources behind ending it. This is our response to the plight of women and children across all 44 districts of our country, who live in fear, and die every day, due the GBVF pandemic.

The aim of the response fund is to support the National Strategic Plan on GBVF, whose foundation is based on five key interventions that seek to eliminate women’s vulnerabilities:

* An urgent response order to support victims and survivors of GBVF.

* Broadening access to justice for survivors.

* Changing social norms and behaviour through high-level awareness raising and prevention campaigns.

* Strengthening existing architecture for intervention programmes and promoting accountability.

* The need to create more economic opportunities for women who are vulnerable to abuse due to poverty, unemployment and social inequality.

The private sector not only has a fundamental role in the prevention of GBVF, and in the social and economic empowerment of survivors, but also needs to demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship.

The first step in addressing GBVF is understanding and learning about it. GBVF is a pattern of coercive behaviour, including acts or threatened acts, used by a perpetrator to gain power and control over a current or former intimate partner, family member and even a stranger, resulting in injuries and even death.

Violence against women and children is not a linear process. It is not a straight line that gets worse and worse nor a cycle that comes and goes and comes back again just to traumatise someone.

Judging by GBVF statistics, the scourge is like a tornado or a twister that gathers momentum as it builds up a destructive power and swallows a person and those around her toward its vortex and then spits them out, leaving them battered and disoriented.

Daily, South African women are victims of gender-based violence including sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Our sisters are forced to work in an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment, and experience various unwelcome forms of sexual conduct. Ultimately, this grossly negatively impacts productivity and leads to financial loss in the business.

Daily, women bear the brunt of requests for sexual favours, inappropriate jokes and unwanted physical contact tantamount to assault. Despite its massive scale, GBVF remains under-reported because of fear of disbelief, blame, or social and/or professional retaliation.

The theory of “battered woman syndrome" described by psychologist and battered women's advocate, Lenore Walker, argues that “some women who have endured long histories of abuse are so transformed through terror and suffering that they perceive and respond to the world very differently than people who do not share their gender and their experience of abuse”. One component of battered woman syndrome is what Walker calls "learnt helplessness, ,that is, an acquired sense that one cannot control what happens or intervene effectively in the course of events.

Walker builds her theory on evidence that a battering relationship typically moves through "a tension-building phase”, in which a woman experiences "walking on eggshells" and tries a variety of strategies to avoid or defer a violent incident; the acute phase, in which a batterer inflicts severe harm over a period ranging from two to 24 hours (but in some cases stretching to a week or more); and an unreliable respite phase of kindness and contrite, loving behaviour.

This is sometimes referred to as the “honeymoon” phase. The psychologists believe, at best, this is a shaky reprieve within a context of coercion, threat, restricted options and injury.

In a concluding summary, described as the "love, hope, fear”, Walker says the cycle continues in a spiral with the tension-building period getting longer, the violence more intense and the respite period getting less and less.

The private sector not only has a stake in the prevention of GBVF, and a responsibility to the social and economic empowerment of survivors, but also needs to demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship in the proposed construct.

Indeed, the private sector can have a positive impact on employees and help end GBVF by creating an environment where all workers are trained and there are clear policies in place that address the issue without fear or favour.

The fund, chaired by Dr Judy Dlamini, a prominent businesswoman and academic, has been structured with the highest governance processes, and the funding approach is grounded on principles of fairness, integrity, women empowerment, social consciousness and measurable impact.

The fund ensures that it builds a transparent and robust grant-making system that could potentially be transferred into a public GBVF fund in the future.

Among other key objectives, this fund will:

Support measures that seek to eradicate GBVF as per National Strategic Plan.

Provide a channel for the private sector to make wider contributions.

Make resources accessible – priority to grass-roots organisations and NGOs.

Strengthen existing architecture for GBVF intervention programmes through partnerships.

Support/fund research and data collection.

Provide technical support for the delivery of GBVF programmes.

Facilitate operational and strategic cohesion between donors, the private sector and the government.

Ensure accountability and sound governance through the Board and performance measurements.

We have assembled critical partners from the most reputable private sector companies, who are all contributing their resources on a pro bono basis to help us with legal agreements, tax implications, corporate bank accounts, balance sheet management, project management capacity, donations, administration of the fund, cash flow management, disbursements to beneficiaries, asset management platform, actuarial services, sustainability management to ensure the fund accounts properly, advisory and governance services, overview of management accounts, accounting policies, governance documentation and auditing services.

Women and girls, who constitute most citizens in South Africa, live in fear. It is time for action with measurable results through the GBVF Response Fund1.

This fund is setting a concrete pathway and clear recognition that gender equity through sharing of economic benefits is the only way to secure the social and economic prosperity of South Africa.

This collaborative approach between interdependent stakeholders in combating GBVF reinforces the fact that a thriving business and economy is dependent on social stability.

The private sector is a key player to help achieve the strategic objectives of fighting GBVF, with leadership from the private sector and philanthropic sector needed to secure active participation and financial investment to effectively respond to the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide.

The struggle against GBV and Femicide requires a collective and strategic leadership approach. No one can eradicate this scourge alone. All sectors need partnerships to create safe communities.

Let us harness the collective resources of the private sector and tackle the GBVF pandemic in South Africa head on.

* Irene Charnley is the president of the International Women’s Forum South Africa, a global organisation of more than 7 000 pre-eminent women of significant and diverse achievement across 36 nations and six continents.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL

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