Reflections of Gender Based Violence and using ICT arsenal to fight the war

Count Me In: Reflections of Gender Based Violence and using ICT arsenal in the fight to win the war

The campaign for the 16 Days of Activism for no Violence Against Women and Children has provided an opportune moment for South Africans and the world at large to the re-evaluation and re-strategizing on strides being made to halt in its tracks this horrendous scourge in our society. We do this under this year’s theme: “Count me in: Together moving a non-violent South Africa forward.”

During the Parliamentary Debate, held on the 21 November 2014 on 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, Honourable Minister of Women, Ms Susan Shabangu said, this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children takes place within the broader context of the country’s twenty years of democracy as well as the 60 years of the Women’s Charter, it also marks the 16thAnniversary of the Campaign. The Campaign reflects on 16 years of raising awareness on gender based violence and 20 years of democracy. We indeed come a long way with this struggle for gender equality, gender mainstreaming and women empowerment in honour of our rich history which lead to equality being entrenched in the constitution. While we can talk to many gains one of the achievements of the Campaign over the years she highlighted is the many in which the campaign has taught us that , gender based violence is a societal problem demanding a co-ordinated and an integrated approach. The campaign brings together all sectors of society to speak in one voice against this scourge: “many voices one message,” 365 days.

We would like to re-affirm the commitments and partnership with organisations such as the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa (PWMSA) which works closely with our communities and makes sure that groups such as women and young girls are included are safe, are empowered , skilled and given opportunities to be independent and enjoy full benefits of freedom.

Women’s rights are human rights, much as we accept that women will always take responsibility in defending their human dignity and values we all have a duty to embrace, defend and protect them.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender. It constitutes a breach of the fundamental right to life, liberty, security, dignity, equality between women and men, non-discrimination and physical and mental integrity. Gender-based violence reflects and reinforces inequalities between men and women. It is often difficult to distinguish between different types of gender-based violence since they are not mutually exclusive, gender-based violence includes:

  • domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, sexual violence during conflict and harmful customary or traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour crimes;
  • trafficking in women, forced prostitution and violations of human rights in armed conflict (in particular murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy);
  • forced sterilisation, forced abortion, coercive use of contraceptives, female infanticide and prenatal sex selection.

According to the South African Police Service domestic violence can be regarded as:

  • sexual abuse (whether you are married to the other person or not);
  • physical abuse or assault (for example, slapping, biting, kicking, and threats of physical violence);
  • damage to property or anything you value;
  • stalking (when the other person follows or approaches you or your children repeatedly);
  • economic abuse, that is, when the other person keeps money to which you are legally entitled from you in
    an unreasonable manner by –

    • refusing to pay or share the rent or mortgage bond for the home you share; or
    • disposing of any property (household goods) in which you have interest, without your permission;
  • emotional abuse (that is, degrading or humiliating behavior, including repeated insults, belittling, cursing and threats);
  • any other controlling or abusive behavior which poses a threat to your safety, health or well-being.

When we reflect on the 16 Days campaign therefore we are also expressing the mood of the women of 1956 who tackled the male dominated apartheid regime and said no to Pass laws. We say women’s rights are human rights, any form of violation is one too many.

The UN Secretary-General a few days ago, when launching the 2014, 16 Days of Activism Campaign, used his campaign: UNITE to End Violence Against Women to introduce the brand “Orange YOUR Neighborhood” . We are invited to take this UNiTE campaign to local streets, shops and businesses, and organize these “Orange Events” in our own neighbourhoods between this period 25 November and 10 December.

Ours must be a concrete response to the UN Secretary-general’s call. For us as government it is also in the spirit of the NDP vision 2030 which emphasizes the importance of partnerships with civil society and the private sector in the transformation of our society.

We all know that the world’s successful people in any sector will tell you one thing, that is to say, they had to put in 10 000 hours more. The same applies to a commitment to eliminate GBV in our communities, it calls for all stakeholders united as communities to put in 10 000 hours more.

What the United Nations Secretary-General expects from us as Government includes:

  • Adoption of national and local plans of action for ending violence against women, including allocating funds and resources for prevention and awareness raising programmes and activities.
  • Review of existing legislation and identify gaps and areas to be strengthened, working with civil society groups.
  • Development of policies and regulations to implement legislation at all levels, including by health, police and justice officials.
  • Ratification of relevant international treaties to which your country is not already a party. Improve data collection on violence against women and girls, including through population-based surveys.
  • Inauguration of an annual award to recognize women and men working locally or nationally to end violence against women.
  • Creation cross-sectoral coordinating committees to address the issue of violence against women, working with civil society groups.

The United Nations Secretary-General expect these actions from the civil society:

  • Work with government officials at the local and national levels to establish legislation to help end violence against women in your country or community. You can consult the violence against women database. To find out about your country’s legal framework, policies and programmes on the issue, as well as data and statistics.
  • Initiate an SMS/text message campaign to create awareness about gender-based violence in your community.
  • Produce a compilation of real-life stories of women and men working to end violence against women, and send it to government officials, NGOs and media.
  • Organize seminars and speaking events that focus on issues such as national legislation on violence against women and the role of men in stopping violence against women in local communities.
  • Ask local artists to create a piece on violence against women and organize an exhibit to display the work. Screen a film which highlights the issue, and follow it with a panel discussion or question and answer session with the filmmakers.
  • Run a workshops for local journalists to sensitize them to issues of gender and reinforce the importance of the role of the media in ending violence against women.

Much as we have different obligations, it’s our belief that they should be met within a coordinated and integrated programme of action. With initiatives like this event we are already on the right track. A journey of a million miles starts with only one step. All that which we need is determination and the need to succeed in the fight against gender based violence. In all our endeavours the political will determines how fast we move in the journey.

In the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Africa ranked fourth among 87 countries. This high ranking reflects the country’s strong legal framework in respect of gender equality and women’s rights. However the high prevalence of GBV is a contradiction in a country with such a high rating in terms of gender mainstreaming .

According to Statistics South Africa the discriminatory practices, social norms and persistent stereotypes often shape inequitable access to opportunities, resources and power for women and girls. There is also a further serious gender-related challenges persisting, including unacceptable levels of gender-based violence. Every day we witness gender-based violence persisting at a great expense to the women victims , and to the State, as the emotional costs are inculcable, The management of legal processes and care affects our GDP. Survivors do not cope well at school, in society and work place , being ultimately pushed to welfare hand outs.

Gender-based violence poses significant costs for the economies of developing countries, including lower worker productivity and incomes, lower rates of accumulation of human and social capital, and the generation of other forms of violence both now and in the future. According to a KPMG report released in September 2014, gender-based violence costs the South African economy an astounding R28.4-billion to R42.2-billion a year. The report says the cost could be as much as 0.9% to 1.3% of South Africa’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). Based on a prevalence rate of 20% – an assumption that one in five women experience an incident of gender-based violence each year. What is worrying about this is the fact that such kind of reports are based on the limited information that is currently available in the public domain.

Many incidents of gender based violence such as rape go unreported; some studies estimate that if all such cases were reported, the figures could be as high as over 500 000 for the entire country. A total of 4850 sexual crimes have been reported in the North West Province for the period April 2013 to March 2014, this is compared to a total 5521 reported in the period April 2012 to March 2013. The April 2014 figure accounts for 7.7% of the national total which is 62649.

Although the statistics shows a slight decline, we know that there are a lot of cases which are withdrawn and others are not even reported. The major shortcoming of our official statistics from SAPS is that it does not give disaggregated statistics such as age categories of the reported crimes, and the kind of violence emitted per age category.

According to Rape Crisis, an NGO, based in Cape Town, some of the reasons why so many incidents of gender violence go unreported to the authorities include:

  • fear of retaliation or intimidation by the perpetrator
  • the fact that many survivors lack access to services
  • the personal humiliation of being exposed as a victim of rape in a community
  • the extreme suffering that goes hand in hand with rape as a psychological trauma
  • reluctance to cause pain to loved ones
  • the fact that the offender is often known to the victim and frequently a member of the victim’s family
  • the possibility of negative financial consequences, particularly if the victim is a child and her family relies on the perpetrator’s income to survive.

The question has been how can the abundance of ICT’s strengthen our revolutionary strategies towards the elimination of gender based violence.

The Department of Telecommunications & Postal Services will provide support from an ICT perspective as our mandate is to create an inclusive information society. The thrust of our policies is “South Africa Connect” which is our Broadband Policy and its related strategies. The approach leverages the linkages in the ICT ecosystem to create a more equitable knowledge economy and information society. The information society in the context of this dialogue talks to shared information on the practices and trends of GBV.

A survey by Research ICT Africa (2012) shows that in South Africa, whilst there is not much difference in terms of the number of males and females who own mobile phones more males (59%) than females (44%) have mobile phones capable of browsing the internet and more males use the mobile phone to browse the internet and access social media platforms. In addition, a higher percentage of males (36%) than females (23%) use a computer and more males use the internet at work (45%) and at home (46%) than females (at 38% and 25% respectively).

Technological advances have brought about new forms of GBV like the commodification and objectification of women’s bodies and sexualities. Traffickers now use the internet to recruit victims , domestic violence perpetrators use tools such as spyware and GPS (global positioning systems) to track and control their partners’ movements and ICTs are enabling sexual predators to exploit women and girls anonymously. We are facing dangers of cyber stalking, cyber bullying, digital voyeurism which are violations typical of the internet age.

Against this background, we need to work together, government, civil society, gender advocacy groups and the private sector to ensure that we have strategies and tools that address the gender divide and reduce inequalities related to ICTs and to identify ways to use ICT pro-actively and effectively to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. There are already initiatives at the UN level to ensure that governments lead discussions on how access to the internet is closely monitored and regulated so as not to undermine the values and principles of the Constitution.


Using ICTs , we have an opportunity to eliminate GBV by creating an ICT anchored platform.

During the International Telecommunications Union 19th Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, South Korea which was held from 16 – 31 October 2014 we learned from awardees who had tackled GBV problems using technologies under the thematic area the GEM TECH. One of the nominated and winning projects is the South African based project whose efforts are aimed to reduce threats online and building women’s confidence and security in the use of ICTs Association for Progressive Communications (APC) called “Take Back the Tech!”.

Since 2005, APC Women’s Rights Programme has looked at the connection between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and violence against women, and found this to be a critical issue that compelled deeper engagement. The Take Back the Tech! (TBTT) campaign was initiated in 2006 as one of the ways of achieving this goal. TBTT is a collaborative campaign that accompanies the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence to harness ICTs to end violence against women. The campaign calls on all ICT users – especially women and girls – to take control of technology and strategically use any ICT platform at hand (mobile phones, instant messengers, blogs, websites, digital cameras, email, podcasts and more) as part of their activism against gender-based violence.


Through technology, we as a country have the ability to create both the awareness of this concern, and also seek to improve and support victims of such abuse.

On this premise, we have sought to partner with private sector having a common interest in technology with a willingness to contribute to women in ICT supporting gender based violence.

The private sector partners will be contributing by providing an online system enabling women to reach out for assistance.

Another ICT player has pledged to support this initiative by providing the necessary technical infrastructure needed to compliment the online system.

ICT service providers have committed to provide digital literacy to empower women. This will provide a platform to teach women to access information online providing them the ability to network, and access relevant support structures without fear of stigmatization that has stopped many from seeking and getting the necessary help.

This will then serve a double purpose of including women in accessing and the use of ICT sector and also contribute to the support of alleviating gender based violence.

ICTs are definitely a game-changer in other spheres and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be for eliminating GBV.

We remain committed to ensuring that violence against women is eradicated. We must pay more attention to the use of ICTs as a platform for new ways in which women experience and confront violence. Working together with stakeholders, we can eliminate GBV in society.

>> Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize is the Treasurer-General of the ANC Women’s League and Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services

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