By Tina Charisma
Gender-based violence (GBV) has long been a significant issue in South Africa, with President Cyril Ramaphosa referring to it as the “second pandemic” the country is facing in 2020, alongside COVID-19.
In recent years, as a result of the high-profile abductions and murders of several women, nationwide demonstrations have been held raising awareness on the issue.
And sponsorship from organisations such as Vodacom signal steps towards corporate institutions taking on the responsibility to tackle gender-based violence by forging strong partnerships between government, civil society, and business, linking social and economic value to addressing societal challenges.
Vodacom is also the organisation behind the Global Citizen Prize: South Africa’s Hero Award — an award that is also honored in the UK, Nigeria, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and Germany.
The South Africa’s Hero Award 2020 went to the Women Inspired Solutions for Empowerment (WISE) Collective, in recognition of their work tackling gender-based violence and empowering women and girls.
As well as Vodacom’s work in support of the South Africa’s Hero Award, the Vodacom Foundation also has gender equality and women’s empowerment very much on its agenda.
The Foundation’s gender-based violence programmes focus on prevention, response, victim support, and empowerment. They have partnered with the Department of Social Development (DSD) working in shelters for victims and survivors of gender-based violence; while the Foundation also runs a multi-faceted gender-based violence programme.
In March 2014, Vodacom and the DSD worked together to launch the National Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) located in Brooklyn, Pretoria. The partnership provides cutting edge technology to aid in the fight against gender violence in South Africa. The Centre operates nationally — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — as well as hosting a call centre facility that employs highly qualified social workers who are responsible for taking calls and referrals.
The Vodacom Foundation additionally runs a victim support programme, launched in 2017, to help provide digital literacy to the people affected by gender-based violence in government shelters across the country. The objective of their digital literacy programme is to empower the people in the shelters to break the cycle of gender-based violence. So far, Vodacom has trained over 1,300 people in these shelters.
Ahead of the Global Citizen Prize award ceremony, airing and streaming around the world from Dec. 19, Global Citizen spoke with Taki Netshitenzhe, the Director of External Affairs, to hear more about their work.
Global Citizen: This year, Vodacom has placed a strong campaign focus on having men speak to other men about gender-based violence, such as male Vodacom executives and male sports stars starring in campaign videos. Why is it important to have male voices in these campaigns, and why did you use executives and sports to help amplify the message?
Taki Netshitenzhe: In recent times, we have seen an increase in cases of women and children dying at the hands of men in the country, so it is about time we shifted the conversation on gender violence to men, so they can be part of the solution. In this context, our #BeTheLight campaign is focused on South African men, appealing to them to be change agents consequently playing an active role in the elimination of gender violence from our society.
Could you explain more about #BeTheLight, what this hashtag means and why you decided to use it?
The #BeTheLight campaign is an appeal to South African men to become change agents and play an active role in ridding our society of gender violence.
Gender-based violence requires men to stand up, call out, and address the violent and aggressive behaviour that many women face every day. For this to happen, men need to be the champions in the fight against women abuse and femicide, while shining a light on those perpetrators who continue to abuse women and children without fear or consequence.
Accordingly, as part of our social contract with stakeholders, we started dialogues with men, and “learn and lunch” sessions, which bring subject matter experts to openly talk about this scourge that knows no social class, colour, rank, or borders.
It was recently announced that Vodacom has created a gender-based violence fund. How is the fund being managed and how will it assist survivors of GBV?
The Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Joosub, opened the fund with a contribution of R5 million to contribute to the support and empowerment of victims and survivors of gender-based violence.
As most of the victims of gender-based violence come from a low socio-economic background, the fund bolsters the Vodacom Foundation’s victim and empowerment programme, where we provide computer training in the government shelters to break the cycle of gender-based violence.
South Africa is a country that has huge language and culture differences. As Vodacom is innovative in communication, how has Vodacom taken these differences into account when sharing the anti-GBV message across the nation?
As a company with deep local roots, we embrace diversity and always ensure that our campaigns reflect South Africa’s diverse languages.
As an example, the Bright Sky South Africa app launched in November 2020, is available in three languages — isiZulu, SeSotho, and English — and more languages will be added as the app evolves. The social workers in the gender-based violence command centre provide counseling in all the eleven official languages; and the command centre’s video conferencing facility is managed by social workers with sign language skills to assist the callers from the Deaf community.
Empowering women socially and economically is important to achieving gender equality, how does Vodacom’s Women’s Network empower women and what’s the future for this network?
The Women’s Network is an internal forum that looks at addressing issues that affect women employees in the workplace.
It is a forum that creates a safe space for women to raise issues that needs to be addressed internally; it is also a platform and forum that celebrates the achievements of women in the company.
As we know, the majority of victims of gender-based violence are women, so, with the “learn and lunch” sessions that the Vodacom Foundation introduced this year, we are now bringing gender experts to this network to share perspectives on gender-based violence; and by the way, we do not exclude men because we believe in sustainable partnerships and diversity.
Further, the company last year introduced a domestic violence policy to assist the victims of domestic violence, having realised that domestic violence impacts not just the victims and their families, but also impacts workplace performance.
To this end, with the assistance of the Vodacom Foundation partners, HR is running training sessions for supervisors to know how to respond to cases of domestic abuse and gender-based violence.
To join the movement to tackle gender-based violence in South Africa, you can take action with Global Citizen here.
Join Global Citizen on December 19, 2020, to celebrate the leaders among us who have stepped up against a backdrop of unprecedented global challenges to take action for the world we want — a world that is fair, just, and equal.
The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will also feature inspirational stories of human strength and unforgettable performances that will bring together artists, activists, and global leaders to remind each of us that, together, we will come out of this year stronger. Find out more about the Global Citizen Prize here.