Being exposed to gender-based violence (GBV) is a harrowing burden that millions face every day, with 1 in 3 women globally having experienced physical and/or sexual violence. 

In South Africa, where rates of GBV are even higher than the global average, it’s essential to bring to light as many stories and experiences of gender-based violence, and our response to it, as possible — both to highlight the pervasive nature of gender-based violence, and to ultimately bring it to an end. 

GBV is incredibly prevalent in South Africa. The country’s rates of intimate partner violence are five times the global average, and it also has the fourth-highest rate of interpersonal violence-related femicide in the world. Throughout the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa continuously referred to GBV as South Africa’s second pandemic, highlighting just how much of a grip this form of violence has on the country. 

In this fight, we as allies and human rights defenders have come to know who we are defending. We speak their names so that they are not forgotten, and we learn more about their lives and their experiences. With each story of GBV told, and every experience had, a fuel is added to our activism fire that calls on us to step up and defend basic human rights. 

Alongside the stories of those exposed to GBV, we must also not forget to share the stories of those on the front lines of the fight to end GBV. Their work is not easy, as they lace up their boxing gloves ready to fight for and protect women and girls exposed to GBV. 

One key part of South Africa’s front line in this fight is the Gender-Based Violence & Femicide Response Fund. They are not alone of course, as with a fight this large, there needs to be an equally massive army, and the fund recognises that. 

“We are just one cog in a much bigger national response,” a representative of the fund told Global Citizen. “The key going forward will be for all members of this multi-sectoral network of organisations across government and civil society, and individuals, to do far more.” 

The Gender-Based Violence & Response Fund (GBVF) was founded by President Ramaphosa at the height of the pandemic. Although it was founded by the president, it is led by extensive cross-industry research and is primarily funded by the private sector. The GBVF works to monitor and evaluate the state of GBV in South Africa, and uses these resources to effectively combat this second pandemic. They not only work with numbers to illustrate just how extensive GBV is in South Africa, but they also work with survivors and victims to respond to their needs. 

“A survivor or victim can come to us at any time of their lives as long as they feel that their rights are being violated or they are abused,” says Beatrice Chindoti, a social worker at GBVF. “GBV survivors approach our offices for assistance. We offer counselling and accommodation to abused women and their children, as well as skills development to abused women in and out of the shelter so as to promote independence in them and do away with dependency syndrome.” 

Chindoti explains that through the services they provide and the work they do, the GBVF team aims to help those exposed to GBV stand on their own again, while also educating the public about what GBV is and what it looks like in South Africa. 

“Our services allow the women to regain their torn dignity,” says Chindoti. “We also hold awareness campaigns, community dialogues, workshops, and school educational programs in different communities to address issues of GBV. We also advocate for our clients in courts through protest marches against bail applications for perpetrators, court sit-ins, and court preparation.”

What Does It Take to Respond to GBV in South Africa? 

It’s not easy to fight against GBV in South Africa, in a society where 76% of the country’s men have admitted to perpetrating violence against women, and where laws to protect women had to be urgently amended in 2022 so the country can (hopefully) better fight GBV. But what are the realities of fighting on the front lines of the crisis? 

“The most difficult part of our work is that perpetrators are from the same community where we are situated, which is a great risk to our lives,” said Chindoti. 

This is not unique to Chindoti and her team. Global Citizen Prize winner and founder of Home of Hope for Girls, which supports girls who have experienced violence and trafficking in South Africa, Khanyisile Motsa spoke to Global Citizen of similar fears she and her team have faced. Defenders on the front line of the GBV war are faced with risks to their safety due to them having the potential to expose perpetrators. 

“In addition,” continues Chindoti on the struggles her and her team face daily, “despite the services we offer, some women withdraw the cases and protection orders they would have opened against their abusers, mostly because they depend on them financially.”

On a positive note, Chindoti adds: “Because of the passion we have to advocate for victims of GBV, however, we do not tire. The support and involvement which we get from some community members and stakeholders in fighting GBV gives us hope to continue, knowing that we are not alone in this battle.”

The GBVF aims to assist any South African who has experienced GBV. According to their mission statement: “Our goal is a South Africa free from GBV against women, children, and the LGBTQIA+ community in our lifetime.” As such, Chindoti has a message for survivors and Global Citizens alike. 

“To quote author Mandy Hale, ‘Never forget that walking away from something unhealthy is brave, even if you stumble a little on your way out of the door,’” she said.   

“To end GBV, it starts with you and me, then as a collective we can definitely win this battle,” she continued. “Remember two is better than one. Always keep in mind that falling down is an accident but staying down is a choice. Stand up, dust yourself off, take a step, keep going, you can do this. Speak out so that you can find help.”

This article was written in partnership with Harith General Partners, a funding partner of Global Citizen, whose founder and CEO, Tshepo Mahloele, is Africa’s Patron to Global Citizen’s “End Extreme Poverty NOW” campaign.

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