This post is by Karin Björnberg as part of the Culture and Human Rights series (Part II).
Violence against women is epidemic in South Africa.
Every day newspapers run stories on “jackrolling” – a South African term for leisure gang rape, seen as a sport by some young men in the townships, “corrective rape” to “cure” lesbians of their homosexuality and “virginity testing” of young Zulu girls. These violent acts are unfortunately only a handful of the crimes committed against women on a daily basis in South Africa. They are “extreme” violence said to be part of a certain culture: townships, homophobic, or tribal while regular rape and domestic violence are considered “normal” violence and therefore receive less attention in media and in public. In South Africa, it is estimated a woman is killed by her male partner every six hours, the highest rate of death by domestic violence in the world. These statistics demonstrate that violence against women has become “normalised” in South Africa. It has become regarded as something that is given, that women just have to endure, and is therefore given little attention.
South Africa has one of the world’s most progressive Constitutions in the world and a strong legislation that protect women´s rights. It is the third country with most female parliamentarians, after Rwanda and Sweden. Yet, the Constitutional provisions for women have made little progress in paper to practice. Although women have more rights, and are in a higher degree represented in different institutions, violence against women is very common. This is a result of the patriarchal culture and society that reigns in South Africa.
Gender based violence is closely linked to poverty and socioeconomic inequalities. Factors such unemployment, alcohol and substance abuse, the threat of HIV and AIDS and peer pressure contributes to the problem of violence against women. All of which are high in South Africa. In combination, women are more vulnerable because they have to live in areas that are poorly lit and badly policed.
The term culture is a very broad and diffused concept. So much so that it is difficult to say what it actually implies. There are many “cultures,” and “sub-cultures” in South Africa. Yet, all oppress, discriminate and abuse women to varying degrees. However, this does not have to be the case. “Culture” is not static and can be used to promote women´s rights rather than withhold them. Through fighting poverty, inequality, making communities safer and addressing the “crisis of masculinity” by severely sanctioning violence against women South Africa can create a new culture, a culture that protects women from violence.
Karin Björnberg is originally from Sweden but has been living in South Africa since 2008. There she is completing her MA in International Studies; International Political Economy and Conflict Dynamic at the University of Stellenbosch. Her Master’s thesis called”Rethinking Human Security: Taking into Consideration Gender Based Violence” is an exploration of the impact of GBV on human insecurity in South Africa.