South Africa: fighting for gender equality

For many women in South Africa, rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse are all too frequent aspects of everyday life.

In the Umzimkulu and Ixopo projects, World Vision is fighting to improve protection for women and girls by working with communities to encourage positive beliefs about women’s worth in society.

Gender inequality is a serious concern in the communities that World Vision works within.

Last year, over 62,500 incidents of sexual abuse were reported in South Africa1. That’s around 171 cases per day – making it one of the highest rating countries in the world for sexual violence against women.

World Vision discovered that certain perceptions and beliefs of women and girls are deeply ingrained and start at the household level.

 

“To me, if I have to change nappies, then I’m not really a man,” a community member told World Vision.

“Many of the girls commented that at school, even if a teacher asks them to sweep the floor, boys will simply refuse, stating that sweeping is a girl’s task,” – World Vision staff member.

 

Within Umzimkulu and Ixopo, elderly men believe that instances of rape are increasing in the community.

A police officer interviewed in Umzimkulu commented that with rape and domestic violence, there continues to be an unwillingness to report these crimes amongst the community. Many families prefer to deal with these instances in the traditional way, with the perpetrator making a payment to the victim’s family.

The police officer found this situation frustrating, as it prevented him from doing his job properly. It’s also concerning; as it means that many children are left in situations of risk, with no protection from people who had previously violated them causing substantial psychological trauma for the children.

In Ixopo, a police officer highlighted assault and rape as the most significant crimes, also noting the problem with reporting rape.

 

“If my husband beats me I don’t tell, it affects the children, the neighbours will laugh at me. It is discrimination, but I will also feel ashamed,” a female teacher told World Vision.

 

Women in the communities also told World Vision that girls were responsible for their own rape because of what they wear or how they behave, with little to no consideration for the responsibilities of men.

World Vision’s response in Umzimkulu and Ixopo

World Vision involves community members, local police and government officials in training workshops, and awareness sessions to promote gender equality and protection from abuse.

The campaign “Thursdays in Black” raises awareness about rape and sexual violence by encouraging local members to wear black in respect of victims.

We work within small groups that reach men, women and children, aiming to improve gender relations and create behaviour change at the individual level. This approach works to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault against women in the longer term.

Achievements in 2014

Last year, World Vision ran the Thursdays in Black campaign involving local community members and leaders that challenged assumptions about the cause of rape and domestic violence. The World Vision staff reported a change in attitudes amongst some high level leaders, some becoming especially committed and passionate about involving others in the campaign.

In the Ixopo project, staff have reported that World Vision-trained volunteer child protection officers have been extremely committed with their efforts altering attitudes to gender equality in schools throughout the project.

Bongiwe, a school teacher, has witnessed the shift in attitudes as a result of community meetings and sponsored conversations with teachers, leaders and students. Previously, girls were afraid and often bullied and intimidated by boys at school, but now, she feels that the message has brought a change – and she will carry it on too.

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