The prevalence of violence against people based on gender in South Africa is unprecedented. According to South Africa's 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, one in five women older than 18 has been victim to physical violence.
Myths and stereotypical attitudes around gender-based violence (GBV) shape the way in which society perceives and responds to violence against women. Such myths lead people to blame women for rape, to make people doubt what survivors say and to survivors feeling guilty and blaming themselves for rape.
Let us look at a few common myths and, more importantly, let us confirm the facts.
Myth 1: GBV only includes physical abuse (hitting, punching and pushing)
Fact: Physical abuse is just one form of violence. GBV can also manifest as emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. These forms of abuse can take a variety of forms, such as patterns of degrading or humiliating conduct towards another, including repeated insults, ridicule or name-calling; repeated threats to cause emotional pain; or the repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness or jealousy, such that it causes a serious invasion of privacy, integrity or security.
Economic abuse is another form of violence. It involves:
- preventing a victim from acquiring resources (eg not being allowed to work),
- limiting the amount of resources available to him/her, or
- exploiting the victim's economic resources (eg keeping or hiding the victim's bank card).
Myth 2: Women allow themselves to be abused. They could leave their partners if they really wanted to.
Fact: No one deserves to be abused. Perpetrators use tactics of control and abuse that make it very difficult for women to escape the violence. It is also important to understand that women who experience violence perpetrated by an intimate partner, and seek to leave the relationship in order to ensure their own and their children's safety, face an increased risk of ongoing and even escalating violence. Research has shown that the time when a woman and/or her children leave an abusive relationship is when they are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner. Women are also prevented from leaving violent relationships because of shame and guilt, lack of safe housing, or the stigma of divorce.
Myth 3: Men and women are equally violent to each other.
Fact: The majority of those affected by GBV, particularly intimate partner violence (IPV), are women and girls. Worldwide, almost half (47%) of all female victims of homicide are killed by their intimate partners or family members, compared to less than 6% of male homicide victims.
IPV is the most common form of violence experienced by South African women, and is the leading cause of death among South African women. On average, a woman dies every eight hours at the hands of an intimate partner in South Africa. More women are killed by their current or former intimate male partner in South Africa than in any other country in the world.
Myth 4: Domestic violence is a private family matter, in which the state has no right to intervene. How a man treats his partner is a private matter.
Fact: Violence against women is a human rights violation, regardless of whether it occurs in the family or in the public sphere.
Myth 5: A man cannot rape his wife.
Fact: Rape is defined by an action and not by the identity of the perpetrator or the survivor. Accordingly, any forced sexual intercourse is rape, irrespective of whether the survivor is married to the perpetrator or not. This statement is also grounded in international human rights law definitions, which encompasses all forms of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence against women.
In order to stop the scourge of gender-based violence, we need to break the silence. This should not be the responsibility of the victims alone. All of us need to speak up, speak about and speak to the violence.
Report abuse via the 24-hour UP crisis line on 012 420 2310 or 0800 006 428, or call the UP Careline on 0800 747 747 for support in dealing with trauma and anxiety.
Please visit www.up.ac.za/speakoutup for more information on gender-based violence.