South Africa has been gripped by a spate of killings of women and young girls. Incidents of gender-based violence have reached such high proportions that not a day goes by without a story of rape and femicides published in local media.
The issue continues to be one of the greatest social ills in the country, threatening to reverse the strides made towards the emancipation of women.
According to South Africa's 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, on average, 1 in 5 women older than 18 has been a victim to physical violence.
“It’s clear that not enough is being done to address this scourge,” said Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer of corporate affairs for Vodacom.
“In our view, to turn the tide, public and private sectors should forge partnerships to find lasting solutions to break this calamity.”
Last year, Vodacom held an awareness walk, called Walk for Good, with the department of social development during the national 16 days of activism against gender-based violence to shine the spotlight on the violence that follows South African girls, women, and gender non-binary people.
The theme for this year’s walk, which was held 28 November, was #HearMeToo.
“It is dedicated to raising awareness and ensuring mass mobilisation of all communities to promote collective responsibility in the fight to help eradicate violence against women and children,” Netshitenzhe said.
The 3 km walk was led by Vodacom’s executive committee and the corporate affairs team, and it will start at the Vodacom head office in Midrand, Johannesburg.
Advocating for gender equality
The Walk for Good also supports Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which relates to gender equality. The goal focuses on the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Vodacom has long been an advocate for gender equality. The company partnered with the department of social development in 2014 to launch its gender-based violence command centre. The centre provides counselling and, with their permission, pinpoints the location of the caller to identify police stations and hospitals around them.
The command centre represents the first technology of its kind in social delivery in South Africa. It operates a national call centre facility that’s open for 24 hours daily.
“The facility employs professional social workers, with some of them responsible for [the] Deaf community using a sign language,” Takalani explained.
Connecting survivors to care
To date, the centre has received more than 300,000 calls and more than 150,000 texts and Please Call messages that subscribers can use to send urgent messages free of charge.
One of them is a Pretorian woman who was raped and physically abused by her then boyfriend. Other than being counselled, she was advised to report the case and referred to People Opposing Women Abuse, which offers on-going support to survivors of gender-based violence. Her rapist was convicted for his crimes.
“The number of calls that agents are field at the centre paints a bleak picture of a sickly society that doesn’t accord women and young girls respect. On the positive side though, we discover each day that the centre is making a meaningful impact in society as many victims recognise it as the solution to their problems,” Netshitenzhe said.
The centre operates an emergency line number on 0800 428 428. It is also supported by the Call-Me-Back facility through *120*7867#. A Skype line called ‘Helpme GBV’ and an SMS-based line for persons with disabilities (SMS ‘help’ to 31531) also exists.
The centre works with the South African Police Service to ensure that calls receive priority and can be escalated to a police station nearest to the victim where necessary.
“I urge South Africans to stand by and stand with survivors, activists, women human rights defenders, and women-led movements in stemming out the tide of women and children abuse in our country,” Netshitenzhe said.