16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM OP-ED
Leaving no one behind — comprehensive approach needed to end GBV and femicide in SA
Gender commitments to end GBVF must be translated into budgetary commitments by applying a gendered perspective to planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation processes.
This year’s commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism was held under the theme, ‘Accelerating actions to end gender-based violence & femicide (GBVF): leaving no one behind’. This theme was apt considering that for too long in South Africa, womxn have been left behind, mainly as a result of GBVF in our society.
Tackling the root causes of GBVF — the gendered burden of the triple challenge of inequality, poverty and unemployment in South Africa — is a key leverage point in leaving no one behind. Investing in public sector interventions in a manner that foregrounds protecting womxn and girls in the country from these socio-economic burdens and recognising their disproportionate care work burden is critical to ridding our society of the ills of GBVF once and for all.
The primary cause of gender-based violence is gender inequality
The widespread prevalence of GBVF is one of the most pronounced expressions of gender inequality in our country. GBVF manifests in many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial and structural abuses. While violence that emanates from unequal power relationships and gender norms can affect us all; victims of GBVF are most frequently womxn and the perpetrators commonly men who are intimate partners, family, strangers and even institutions. This violence has far-reaching consequences, from the direct threat to Constitutional rights and freedoms to being a key driver of other social ills, including the HIV epidemic.
Efforts to mitigate gender-based violence in South Africa have primarily relied on the implementation of programes such as the Victim Empowerment Programme. These initiatives play a crucial role and it is imperative to fortify and broaden the infrastructure for reporting instances of gender-based violence, ensuring universal accessibility, especially in rural areas.
However, the current focus largely neglects a critical factor — the systemic driver of gender-based violence, which is deeply rooted in gender inequality. Gender inequality, alongside norms that assign womxn an inferior position in society, establishes the underlying context for violence against womxn.
Read more in Daily Maverick: We need more than just incarceration to stem the tide of gender-based violence
Gender inequality manifests as and is perpetuated by a complex interplay of factors, including unemployment, poverty, and the burden of caregiving responsibilities. In South Africa, the feminisation of poverty is evident, with a higher proportion of womxn residing in households below the poverty line, showcasing their economic vulnerability.
This disparity has widened over the past decade, which is concerning for eliminating GBVF considering that UNWomen have linked poverty to the increasing frequency of violence towards womxn and girls. Recognising that poverty limits the options these womxn and girls have to leave violent relationships due to their lack of income and resources.
Moreover, unemployment, particularly among young black womxn, further deepens the gender divide, with womxn constituting the “face of poverty”. The labour force participation rate for womxn lags behind men, standing at 54.3%, reflecting a significant portion of womxn not actively engaged in the workforce. The widening gender wage gap, with womxn earning 78 cents for every ZAR1 earned by men in 2021, exacerbates economic inequality, especially in lower income brackets.
Moreover, womxn’s disproportionate share of unpaid caregiving work, dedicating about 13.3% of their time compared to 7.6% for men, poses challenges to their labour force participation and well-being.
The above factors often perpetuate womxn’s financial dependence on men which generates and intensifies the unequal power relations that lead to GBVF. The prevalence of violence against womxn and girls underscores the urgency of dismantling these structural disparities through targeted policy measures in areas such as health, education, housing, transport, and social development. Recognising these interconnected factors is pivotal in creating a more equitable and just society in which all womxn can thrive without fear.
South Africa’s fiscal framework entrenches gender inequality
Recognising that the sources and causes of gender-based violence are multifaceted and complex, it is crucial to adopt a comprehensive gendered approach to address this issue. One powerful mechanism that is not leveraged effectively is how we allocate public resources. Government revenue and expenditure decisions have differential impacts on men and womxn. As a result, gender commitments to end GBVF must be translated into budgetary commitments by applying a gendered perspective to planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation processes.
Unfortunately, South Africa’s budget policy has been critiqued for its failure to wield its power to redress gender inequality in the country. Particularly, the proposed budget cuts under fiscal consolidation — austerity — overlook the entrenchment of gender inequality.
In 2022, Oxfam International published a report titled “The Assault of Austerity” emphasising that austerity is not just a gendered policy but a pervasive “gendered process of everydayness” that infiltrates all aspects of women’s lives. This form of economic violence encompasses policies that neglect women’s needs, diminish already insufficient services they depend on, and devalue their safety and well-being. In other words, austerity deepens other existing forms of oppression and violence against women by removing vital safeguards such as financial independence and frontline services for those experiencing domestic abuse.
The recent Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) revealed that austerity is alive and well in South Africa. Programmes that have gender equity implications experienced significant reductions to the resources available to the care economy that support under-served communities in the face of a weakening economic outlook. These include a R1-billion cut to HIV/Ads (a 4% cut) in a context where unequal social and gender norms have resulted in a disproportionate risk and prevalence of HIV/Aids that is gendered.
Even before the MTBPS, the 2023/24 main Budget had cut health care funding by 4.9% and basic education funding by 2.4% after accounting for 4.9% Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation. CPI has since been revised to 5.6%, which only translates to further erosion in investments in health care and basic education.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Gender-Based Violence Command Centre is operational — but just barely
Such budget cuts extend beyond mere financial figures, disproportionately burdening womxn who constitute over 60% of public service employees. The freeze on posts and the concept of ‘managing headcount’ directly undermines womxn’s employment and well-being. As access to essential services diminishes, it is womxn who are compelled to fill the gaps, taking on unpaid responsibilities such as caring for sick relatives who would ideally be in hospitals or under professional care. The austerity measures, relying on communities without providing necessary support, pose a significant risk to the quality and accessibility of care in South Africa.
The MTBPS’s reduction of R42.5-million to the Department of Womxn, Children and People with Disabilities is concerning as it targets the ‘Mainstreaming Womxn’s Rights and Advocacy’, ‘Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Coordination’ and ‘Mainstreaming Youth and Persons with Disabilities Rights and Advocacy’. These interventions have reduced resources but have to do more to tackle the scourge of GBVF in the country.
As part of the Budget Justice Coalition, we have published a factsheet to illustrate this, calling for an exploration of alternative fiscal approaches to austerity to foreground the rights of the womxn and girls of our country — a primary prevention method for GBVF. We highlight the necessity of a human rights-centred budget that prioritises public investment in both physical and social infrastructure.
Moreover, rejecting the notion that care is solely the responsibility of families, especially womxn, South Africa must embrace a gender-responsive budget that emphasises the state’s role in providing and ensuring access to high-quality public health care, eldercare, childcare, disability services and womxn’s centres. By recognising and alleviating this struggle that the womxn of our country face, we can achieve the primary prevention of GBVF.
Read more in Daily Maverick: We need 365 days of GBV awareness, not a mere Sixteeen
In light of this intricate web of factors contributing to gender-based violence and femicide, a comprehensive and multifaceted gendered approach is imperative. Addressing the root causes involves dismantling the structural inequalities embedded in societal norms and challenging the ideologies that perpetuate violence within the household.
It requires coordinated efforts across legal, social, and economic domains to foster lasting change and create a society where gender-based violence is neither tolerated nor normalised. It also calls for implementing gender-responsive budgeting planning monitoring and evaluation to better enable the government to identify where public monies need to be invested in helping womxn and girls.
May reflection on the 16 Days of Activism serve as an opportunity to recognise fiscal policy’s role in accelerating actions to eliminate GBVF in our society to truly leave no one behind. DM
Matshidiso Lencoasa a budget researcher at Section27 and serves as the lead for the Feminist Economics Working Group of the Budget Justice Coalition.
Juhi Kasan is a feminist economics researcher at the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) specialising in work on the care economy.
Thokozile Madonko is a researcher managing the Public Economy Project of the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at Wits University, and an activist, poet and climate campaigner.