Pre-Khutbah Talk – Friday 27 November 2015 – Violence Against Women:  by Dr Naeemah Abrahams

Pre-Khutbah Talk – Friday 27 November 2015 – Violence Against Women: by Dr Naeemah Abrahams

20151127_131546Violence Against Women: Do we need to know more to take action?

In the Name of Allah, the Sublime, the Loving, the Embracing

Today is the 3rd day of the 16 Days of Activism against no violence against women and children. It starts on the 25th November which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and it ends on 10 December (International Human Rights Day). This campaign started 24 years ago in Latin American – and it was in response to the political killing of the three Mirabel sisters in the Dominican Republic. South Africa has been participating for the last 16 years. The theme for the global campaign this year is ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for all. Another important campaign is the White Ribbon campaign because this campaign stated as a male response to the 1991 shooting of female students at the University of Montreal in Canada. Today the white ribbon campaign is a very active male driven campaign in many countries.

Violence against women is a profound and pervasive human rights problem in South Africa and across the globe. It is also a health problem, often seen as a social issue only or a crime issue, a justice issue and sometimes, ….this is part of the problem here in SA, we stuggle to find the correct government department to take the lead on the issue.

What is Violence Against Women?
There are many definitions of Violence against women (VAW). The UN Commission on the Status of Women define it as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

There are many different types/forms of VAW: physical and sexual are the two most common forms known by most, but emotional /psychological abuse is common as is economic abuse. Sexual violence is also a very broad term and encompass many acts and not just rape. Some forms of culturally specific acts such as female genital mutilation or Ukhutwala – the abduction of a young women in isiXhosa culture or even girl/child marriages, are considered forms of VAWC. The killing of women by an intimate partner is the most extreme form and consequence of violence and honour killings is a common form of violence found in the Mediterranean/Arab speaking region and acid throwing is common in India. Trafficking of women between countries and regions are also a form of violence against women

We can look at VAW in many different ways. We can look at it by the type as I did but we can also look at it from where it happens, the home, school, workplace or any other social settings even in settings such as faith based organisations. We can also look at it from the perspective of who the perpetrators are – Strangers, acquaintances, neighbours, peers, family members, teachers, colleagues, the taxi driver, the priest/imam or gangs, but we know from research that intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence women experience–this is violence perpetrated by a husband, a partner, boyfriend and it can be a current partner of an ex-partner.
It is also acknowledged that we should not separate violence against women from violence against children. The two forms of violence are interconnected and very often a woman and her children will be abused in the same household.

How big is the problem in South Africa?
Violence is systemic in South African society – we live in a society that have a very high tolerance for violence. We see interpersonal violence in all aspects of South African lives – it is normative, it’s the way we resolve conflict, the way we demonstrate anger and although I do not have time to discuss this in detail it is certainly routed in the repressive apartheid system. It is largely male behavior and VAW is a part of interpersonal violence.

In South Africa, over half of homicide women victims are killed by their intimate male partners – this is known as femicide or intimate partner femicide. A national study looking at 2009 homicides found 56% of the women killed were killed by an intimate partner- this is 3 women a day. The global rate is 36%. Other than the femicide study, South Africa has not done a dedicated national survey on VAW. Provincial studies has been done and in Gauteng. We found 37.7% of women living in Gauteng had ever experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV), with 18.8% having ever experienced sexual IPV. Forty six per cent (46.2%) of women had ever experienced emotional or economic abuse. Rape reported to police and services are not accurate reflections of the problem as 1 in 25 women told us that they did not report a rape to the police. We have done perpetration studies and invariably men report higher levels of perpetration. 37% of men from Gauteng reported rape of a woman or girl.

How do we compare with global data? Last year was the 1st time that a reasonable accurate global rate for intimate partner violence and non -partner sexual violence were reported. The global study found that 1 in 3 women globally have ever experienced physical/sexual violence by a partner. We see variations across regions and countries with physical/sexual violence by an intimate partner ranging from 15% in Japan, to 70% in Ethiopia and Peru, with most sites reporting rates of between 29 and 62%. There are countries with worst levels of violence than South Africa. Very high levels were reported in Papua New Guinea – a country with a long history of conflict.

What contributes to VAWC?
Many factors coalesce to lead to VAW but the most common definitive feature is gender inequality. VAW is one of the most profound indicators of male power over women – essentially evidence of patriarchy. Social norms that accept male dominance and norms that accept violence are the two main contributing factors. Surveys show that men and boys with more rigid views about masculinity are more likely to report having used violence against their partners. Women who are more acceptable of these same norms are also more likely to be abused. Therefore interventions that promote gender equality among men and boys is important have shown promise and we need to do more of this.

Women and girls may experience violence against them due to other forms of discrimination such as race, class, caste, sexuality, ethnicity, HIV status, migrants or disability. All of this is enabled by unequal gender power relations and resulting norms that tolerate or even encourage violence.
Many other contributing factors have been found to contribute to the use of violence and these risk factors interact with each other. We have factors at the individual level (education, poverty, experiences of violence as a child) at the relationship level (communication between people, alcohol drugs use) community level ( acceptance of violence) and societal level (laws that protect women).
I want to focus on experiences of childhood violence and child maltreatment. Studies suggest that exposure to violence during childhood increases the likelihood of men perpetrating violence against intimate partners 3 to 4-fold, compared to men who are not exposed to violence as children. This has been shown consistently in research across the globe where men who have witnessed abuse or who have had difficult harsh childhoods are more likely to be perpetratrators later as adults. This has taken our attention to parenting and working with children within schools. We need responsive parenting where relationships with children are nurtured and we need to assist women and men in maternal and paternal coping skills. Poor emotional attachments in early childhood has been linked to aggressive behavior in adolescents. I have heard a child psychologist say that the African baby has 3 of the best interventions of being raised in a responsive environment where the mother connects all the time with her baby. A black African baby is carried on the mother’s back, the baby is breast fed and the baby sleeps in the bed with her. But sadly these practices are losing its attraction with modern ways of raising children. Positive discipline is another intervention we are testing in a school based intervention. We have found teaching parents and teachers positive discipline techniques as part of the interventions are showing some promise. Reading to babies and children – just for 10 minutes a day can ensure some responsive and bonding engagements. There are a number of parenting interventions being tested across many settings including locally in Khayelitsha.
Consequences of VAW
The knowledge on the consequences of experiencing violence are emerging slowly. Death is certainly one as I spoke about femicide earlier. The mental health consequences of intimate partner and sexual violence include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, suicide attempts, and substance abuse. If you go into our mental health institutions you will find many of the women with depression have a history of violence by partners. The South African Stress and Health study found a third of SA population had been exposed to violence and rape had the strongest association with PTSD for women. For men it was other forms of criminal violence.

Stigma and shame of being in an abusive relation is common and can contribute to the mental health problems. It is hard for a women to accept that she is married to an abusive man and she may be shy and ashamed to share this. If you dating you always hopeful that he will change. Violence often remains hidden, we turn our head, we close our eyes, we shrug our shoulders and we blame the women for her situation. This happens in all cultures across the globe.

Physical health consequences include injuries, chronic pain syndromes, gastrointestinal disorders, and disabilities. Violence can lead to unintended pregnancies, gynecological problems, miscarriages and HIV. We have shown in a study here in SA that women who experience violence from a partner have a 51% increase risk for HIV.

Witnessing intimate partner violence can damage the normal development of children in the family. Studies have shown that some children exposed to violence between parents have more social, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and general health problems than children from families where there was no violence between parents.

Intimate partner violence has a substantial economic impact as well. A costing study by KPMG in South Africa has shown a conservative estimate, of between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion for 2012/2013 representing between 0.9% and 1.3% of our GDP.

What works to prevent VAW
We need to focus on prevention and we need to know that it works. We must make sure that our helping does not cause further harm. How often have women been told – ‘just stick it out’ , ‘that is life get on with it’ , or ‘what are you doing to make him angry’ . I know that sometimes the 1st port of call for many women in abusive situations are to see the Imam. I am not sure what happens and if this helps families. I have heard anecdotal reports of Islamic based services using a spirituality approach. Women are told they are in the abusive because they have not been practicing their religion, they have not prayed on time or they need to make more salahs, duahs and prayers. I am not critiquing it because I have not yet seen how and if it is effective in stopping the violence.

Our Unit is part of a global program called What Works and we testing interventions in many parts of the world including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and in Palestine. Many of these are testing interventions and working with women, parenting interventions, interventions within schools and combining micro-finance interventions with gender transformative interventions.
There are a number of promising interventions. We have tested Stepping Stones with young adults and showed decrease violence perpetration. Interventions with economic empowerment focus among women has shown promise but it is not effective on its own – it requires a gender component. A programme called IMAGE in South Africa shows great promise. IMAGE targets women living in the poorest households in rural areas, and combines financial services with skills-building sessions for women and men on HIV prevention, gender norms, cultural beliefs, communication and intimate partner violence. Two years after completing the programme, women participants reported 55% fewer acts of violence by their intimate partners. The One Man Can an intervention developed by Sonke Gender Justice works with men in communities is also being tested in Gauteng – in a township setting.
We have just analysed and presented the results of a school based intervention earlier in the week. We developed a life orientation curricula for Grade 8s – we trained the teachers to do it – we had a parenting intervention with parents. We focused on communication and positive discipline. We followed the grade 8s for 2 years and we found an impact on girl’s experience of violence – i.e. a decrease. This intervention is known as Skhokho.
What can faith based organization do?
We need both prevention and response to victims/survivors and we need support from different sectors. Faith based organization are increasingly been recognized as having an important role to play particularly in conflict settings such as DRC. There is little research to document what the contribution is and we have no idea if the religious leaders / imams have had training. We know that some dogmatic views on men and women’s role and conservative religious views can be huge barriers or even create more harm for women. There is also increasing recognition that a focus on the spirituality of survivors can assist in the healing and mental health support. But it requires a gender transformative components as well.

Call to Action
Globally, one of the greatest advances in the past year is the inclusion of a goal on gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goals. The goal includes targets to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. These are positive developments but leadership and coordination across UN agencies and by governments to drive progress must be part of this. Without these actions, the targets will not be realised.
I want to end with the global Call to Action. Violence against women has moved from it being a private matter to a global issue. There is a call for five actions
1. For leadership in VAW and dedicated resources
2. For equality as the primary prevention action
3. For all the sectors, education, health, justice, FBO to play their role
4. For a change in norms that support violence
5. For an investment in research and more knowledge generation

And lastly I ask for us to basically find our humanity and find our own individual way of not using violence, assisting in the prevention of violence, to support women and children in abusive relationships and to assist men who are at risk of being abusers.

Useful References

Study on Violence Against Women in South Africa\

What works to prevent violence against women.

Sexual Violence Research Initiative.

World Health Organisation. Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. Geneva: World Health Organisation, 2013.

García-Moreno C, Zimmerman C, Morris-Gehring A, Heise L, Amin A, Abrahams N, et al. Addressing violence against women: a call to action. The Lancet. 2014.

Abrahams N, Mathews S, Martin LJ, Lombard C, Jewkes R. Intimate Partner Femicide in South Africa in 1999 and 2009. PLoS Medicine. 2013;10(4).

Too costly to ignore – the economic impact of gender-based violence in South Africa KPMG Human and Social Services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.