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24 November 2017 22:05 (South Africa)
South Africa

Statistics SA: One in five SA women experience physical violence, young women hard-hit by HIV/Aids

  • Marianne Merten
    Marianne-Merten.jpg
    Marianne Merten
  • South Africa
Photo: Violence against women, we can stop it! Photo: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari

On average, one in five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence, but the picture of gender-based attacks varies according to marital status and wealth. Four in 10 divorced or separated women reported physical violence, as has one in three women in the poorest households. It’s a complex picture that emerges in Statistics SA’s 2016 Demographic and Health Survey released on Monday. And it is one that not only challenges societal attitudes of patriarchy and chauvinism, but also the effectiveness of government programmes and interventions. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula urged women not to stay in abusive relationships, in the wake of the discovery of Karabo Mokoena’s body days after she was reported missing – and after she opened an assault case against her boyfriend to police.

If a man is abusing you, stay away. Stay away from them because you will get a better one in the future. To stay with people who abuse you, at the end of the day we end up with the brutality like that and it is very painful. To see the beauty of that woman that has passed away [Mokoena], it only tarnishes the integrity of real men,” IOL quotes Mbalula as saying at Friday’s ministerial imbizo in Soshanguve, Pretoria. The ministerial comments were sharply criticised on social media amid the #MenAreTrash campaign.

Gender rights lobby groups have long been critical of the police’s attitude to domestic violence, including domestic violence interdicts. While the statistics of how many women die at the hands of their intimate partners are not clear, two years ago the SAPS’ annual report reflected an increase in murders of women. The latest SAPS annual report for the 2015/16 financial year no longer reflects that level of detail, but it clearly shows that police have failed to reach their target of detecting one in three crimes against women, including murder, sexual offences and assault. Police detected 73.54% of all crimes against women, or 146,216 of 198,815 such cases, or about 1.88% less than its set target of 75.42%.

Issues also arise over services for women wanting to leave abusive relationships – for example, a Cape Town women’s shelter has faced consistent financial hardship amid declining government subsidies – and the reality, reflected in various Statistics SA reports and non-governmental organisations’ research, that black women carry the disproportionate burden of poverty and unemployment.

While individual cases of violence against women do not necessarily fall easily into a general outlook – there is no protection from physical and sexual violence just because a woman has independent means, is educated and can rely on support networks – a strong correlation of race, class and wealth nevertheless emerges in the Statistics SA 2016 Demographic and Health Survey. And the survey results on HIV/Aids prevalence among South African women aged 15 to 24 further highlight these dynamics, including the impact of sugar daddies and blessers.

The 2016 Demographic and Health Survey is based on data collected from respondents in 11,083 households representative of South Africa’s 55-million population (13,000 homes had been identified, but those found unoccupied were discounted) between June 27 and November 4, 2016.

Describing gender rights as human rights, and as a national priority since the late 1990s, the survey nevertheless leaves women’s experience of physical and sexual violence last – after indicators on HIV, obesity, (mal)nutrition and use of tobacco, alcohol and codeine-containing medication.

The survey shows that 17% of younger women aged 18 to 24 had experienced violence from a partner in the 12 months before the survey – 2.1% described this as often, and 8% as sometimes – compared to 16.7% among women 65 years old and older.

Separated and divorced women were more likely to experience violence (40%), followed by those living together (31.1%). While there was no statistically significant difference between urban and rural areas, the survey noted, women in the poorest households (24.4%) were more likely to experience physical violence compared to the top earning homes (13%). “Experience of partner violence varies by province, ranging from a low of 14% in KwaZulu-Natal to high of 32% in the Eastern Cape,” according to the survey.

And 6% of women older than 18 experienced sexual violence by a partner, with 2% reporting this happened in the 12 months before the survey. While 5.2% of young women aged 18 to 24 experienced sexual violence, this rose to 7% among women aged 25 to 34 and 7.1% for women aged 55 to 64.

Again, women who are separated from their partners or are divorced experience the highest levels of sexual violence (16.4%), followed by women living together with partners (10%). Intimate partner sexual violence was most common among women in the North West (5%) and, at 1%, least common in the Western Cape and Limpopo, the survey showed.

These numbers are significant given the lack of detail in police statistics and on domestic violence cases and interdicts. While the survey does not interrogate issues of physical and sexual violence beyond the numbers, it provides the tools to policy-makers to respond effectively to what the statistics show.

As with physical and sexual violence, this also applies to sexual behaviour patterns among women aged 15 to 24. While the Statistics SA survey is silent on its numbers, it comes against other research, and anecdotes, about transactional sex, blessers and sugar daddies.

According to the survey, 4.2% of young women aged 15 to 24 reported having more than two sexual partners in the year before the survey, and 52.1% reported having had sex with someone they do not live with and who is also not a spouse. Condom use stood at 61.4%.

In contrast, among young men in the same age group, 20.7% reported having had sex with two or more partners, of whom 62.4% were neither spouses nor living with them. Condom use stood at 72.9%. Just over half the men aged 30 to 39, or 53.6%, reported sex with someone not their spouse or living with them, while one in three men aged 40 to 49, or 33.1%, reported the same. Condom use stood at 55.5% and 51.4% respectively.

Levels of teenage pregnancy – a national average of 71 live births per 1,000 – have remained constant since 1998. This disproved the myth that young women fell pregnant to claim social grants. However, the survey showed teenage pregnancies to be more likely in non-urban areas, 86 per 1,000 live births, compared to 62 per 1,000 live births in urban areas. And while pregnancy among 19-year-olds had dropped to 28% from 35% since the last survey in 2003, 4% of 15-year-olds in South Africa were mothers. And the survey shows one-third of births to teenaged women are to girls who have not yet completed primary school.

Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said there remained a concern about levels of planned parenthood. However, he maintained that the statistics on teenage pregnancy showed “nothing can be attributed to social grants. We want to dismiss that as fake fact”. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi echoed this.

According to the health minister, young women in the 15-to-24 age group were eight times more likely to be HIV positive than their male counterparts. It was this age group that bucked the trend of declining HIV-infection, and successes in slashing the levels of babies born infected to 6,000 from 70,000 a decade ago. Biomedical interventions like a Nevirapine regimen for pregnant women, and antiretroviral treatment, had succeeded, but not strategies for prevention. “Where South Africa is failing is behavioural interventions,” said Motsoaledi.

Last year he announced his department’s R3-billion, three-year awareness and intervention campaign with a focus on the prevention of HIV-infection, teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence, ensuring girls stayed in school, and dependency on blessers.

On Monday it remained unclear what progress had been made over the past 12 months beyond being dubbed “She Conquers”, the name proposed by a group of Free State girls in a national competition to replace the previous government-speak, stilted, whole government, whole society motto.

However, Motsoaledi said “She Conquers” would focus on the 27 districts, including all eight metros where HIV prevalence levels are 80%. In each of these districts, there would be detailed profiling of young women aged 15 to 24, be they in school or further education, to tailor individual interventions.

The Statistics SA survey showed those aged between 15 and 24 had significantly lower levels of HIV testing, compared to older South Africans, and that in the 15 to 24 age group, 32% of young women had never been tested for HIV, while 42% of young men had not.

In contrast, the average for the 15 to 49 age group showed 82% of women had tested, 59% in the 12 months before the survey, and a significantly lower 69% of men had gone for tests, 45% of them in the year before the survey.

The gender difference, perhaps reflecting significantly different attitudes, on HIV-testing emerged even though similar percentages of women and men – 92% and 93% respectively – knew where to get tested.

And such gender-related differences are also reflected elsewhere in the survey: more men indicated use of condoms than women. Among women who had two or more sexual partners in the past year, 58% reported condom use in their last encounter, while 65% of men did so. Curiously, 5% of women reported having two or more partners in the year preceding the survey, but 17% of men said the same.

The mean number of lifetime partners among all women who have ever had sexual intercourse is 3.9 … The mean number of lifetime partners among all men age 15-49 who have ever had sexual intercourse is 14.7,” according to the survey.

The numbers are there, underscoring individual accounts and experiences that may not hit the headlines. What policy-makers make of them, not only in public statements but in effective interventions, remains to be seen. DM

Photo: Violence against women, we can stop it! Photo: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari

  • Marianne Merten
    Marianne-Merten.jpg
    Marianne Merten
  • South Africa

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