Many South Africans celebrated the start of 2022 eager to put the difficulties of the last year behind them, hoping for better fortunes and even daring to dream of an end to the Covid-19 pandemic straining our economy and people. However, the dark truth is that, for many people living in fear of gender-based violence (GBV) and domestic violence, the new year does not necessarily bring about the fresh start many would like.
No matter when Covid-19 and SA’s official State of Disaster ends, the true state of disaster that plagues us will undoubtedly continue, says MOSAIC, a community-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) working to prevent and reduce abuse and domestic violence through providing holistic, integrated services when incidents occur, as well as support throughout the healing and rebuilding process after a traumatic event.
“Domestic violence and GBV is the real state of disaster in South Africa, and one that will plague us every day of this coming year. The latest crime stats show us that sexual offences rose by 4.7%, second only to murder which rose by a devastating 20.7%. Neither of these should be on the increase, and from a GBV perspective, they are also not necessarily mutually exclusive,” explains Advocate Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan, Executive Director of MOSAIC.
“Our organisation reached almost 22,000 people in 2020/21, and we know this is the tip of the iceberg. We support all campaigns to end GBV but hope that everyone remembers that this is a 365, 24/7 effort that everyone can work to end. Whether you’re personally affected by GBV or domestic violence, each and every one of us can play a role in SA’s fight against this scourge this new year,” she says.
Here are five things you can do immediately to help address these pervasive issues as part of your new year’s resolutions.
1. Learn the signs of abuse and be on the lookout for them
Signs of abuse can be obvious (bruises, cuts and other injuries), subtle (fearful demeanour), or even completely invisible to the naked eye. Abuse is also not always physical. Verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, economic or spiritual abuse are widely documented, but not always widely spoken about.
Read up on the different signs of abuse so that you can recognise if you yourself are potentially heading into such a situation, but also so that you can recognise it in friends, colleagues, family members and others around you. By recognising the signs, you can work to create a safe space for the person to (hopefully) confide in you.
2. Listen to – and believe – survivors
Time and time again, MOSAIC’s work with GBV survivors has shown us personally that one of the biggest barriers to leaving a domestically violent situation is a fear that the survivor won’t be believed. Today, in a world where the public narrative is largely to raise awareness of and condemn GBV, it’s hard (from an outsider’s perspective) to think this is a legitimate fear.
Unfortunately, this fear can sometimes be a reality. Many abusers can be charming and persuasive – to the outside world. And sometimes outsiders can be in denial about the fact that someone they know may be in an abusive situation, which can lead to a kneejerk reaction of disbelieving survivors when they do confide in them. Or, worse still, ‘victim blaming’ by focusing on what the survivor could’ve done differently to avoid the situation.
The best thing to do, as someone who is being confided in, is to listen, re-assure, and believe a survivor.
3. Understand consent, and educate those around you
This sounds complicated but there is a simple way to establish consent between people: by both parties specifically giving it. Rather than assuming the other person feels the same way, or listening out for a ‘no’, it is important that each person seek out ‘yes’. It doesn’t do to say “boys will be boys” or “she was asking for it” – because unless she actively, verbally, explicitly asks for something, consent is not present.
Read more about understanding consent here.
4. Guard against rape culture, and call it out when you see it around you
According to UN Women, rape culture is “the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalised and justified, fuelled by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality.”
To dismantle this pervasive culture, we need to work to cut off the elements that fuel it. This means that we need to work actively to reduce gender inequalities in South African society, and change negative, harmful attitudes towards gender and sexuality. Harmful attitudes include ideas like “the man is the boss of the house” or that women shouldn’t express their sexuality, and are often what leads abusers to believe they are superior or that someone is ‘defying’ them.
By changing these mindsets, we believe we will go a long way to combatting GBV. Speaking up when you hear someone expressing these harmful attitudes or unfounded beliefs will show your commitment to a more just society, and perhaps give the recipient a little food for thought.
5. Fund organisations dedicated to helping GBV survivors
Organisations that are committed to fighting GBV are often non-profits, which survive on donations and funding grants from a variety of sources. Because they are specifically not focused on making a profit, their budgets are often tight, and funding is not guaranteed in perpetuity. If your budget allows it, commit funds to a local organisation, Like MOSAIC, that is working night and day to fight GBV in SA. And non-profits often show that a little can go a long way – so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a lot to give because even the smallest amount can help.
That said, if you’re in an influential role, it is also worth considering what resources you have access to in your role that can be directed towards this fight. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come free.