Opinionista

A new approach to combating GBV and enforcement of protection orders

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Advocate Tarisai Mchuchu-Macmillan is Executive Director of anti–gender-based violence organisation MOSAIC.

Community-based solutions are critical to turning the tide against domestic violence. We need to make sure that victims feel safe in their communities, homes and relationships — and a critical step to doing this is to engage communities in the solution and reduce the siloed work and thinking that contributes to glaring gaps in the system, which always work to perpetrators’ advantage.

An all-too-common scenario that we at anti-GBV organisation MOSAIC see regularly repeated is for women to die with a protection order in their hands, a tragic loss of a life that could have been prevented if the justice system worked as intended.

The Domestic Violence Act (116 of 1998) provides clear and precise instruction to be enacted by state actors to ensure the protection of victims of domestic violence from the people perpetrating the violence against them. Why then do we still hear so many instances of domestic violence victims not being afforded the protection intended, forced to endure abuse from their perpetrators and secondary abuse from those mandated to protect?

Much has been written of the systemic gaps in the provision of services to victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence (GBV). And despite repeated messages of commitment at national and provincial levels, still, at a direct service level, we are faced with the devastating, sometimes fatal, consequences of such gaps.

Much like Covid-19, which has mobilised most of South Africa against it on even the most granular of levels, domestic and gender-based violence are undoubtedly national problems, evident in all spheres of South African society. But do we need wholesale national solutions to domestic and gender-based violence? I would argue, no, not entirely.

All too often, combating gender-based and domestic violence is seen as unsolvable — something that has always existed and will always continue to exist. But this is just not true: there are practical steps we can take to resolve ongoing, systemic issues that have the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of thousands of South African women.

The first practical step we must take is to bridge the divide between domestic violence survivors and frontline practitioners (NGO practitioners) and local level, multi-sector stakeholders, including South African Police Service (SAPS), Department of Justice, Department of Health, Department of Social Development, and others if we have a hope of making strides against GBV in SA. In this way, we need to work together to find a sustainable solution to ensure that, when a protection order is issued anywhere in SA, all the different “parts” of the protection order process line up and work together to ensure it is effective.

This thinking led MOSAIC to develop Project SAFE — a collective of multi-stakeholder partners working together to strengthen the effectiveness of SA’s protection order system, which is obviously a key way in which victims can begin to rebuild a sense of safety in their day-to-day lives. We need to make sure that victims feel SAFE in their communities, homes and relationships — and a critical step to doing this is to engage communities in the solution and reduce the siloed work and thinking that contributes to glaring gaps in the system, which always work to perpetrators’ advantage.

These gaps cannot be plugged effectively at a national level — because they often exist at a local, community level.

Where our SAFE Project is different is that these stakeholders are brought together at a local level, creating multi-stakeholder groups in each community comprising different local representatives to work together on issues specific to an area/community. The multi-stakeholder groups created in each community form SAFE platforms, which will differ as each community is different, particularly when it comes to resources.

The goal is to coordinate these SAFE platforms so that all justice, policing, and relevant community-based organisations collaborate in strengthening and building a coordinated response to domestic violence that gives effect to the “protection” of the domestic violence protection order.

Project SAFE will provide an evidence-based and multi-stakeholder collaboration model at a local level to ensure that the applicable domestic violence legislative protection mechanisms work optimally. These include the protection order process, analysing how protection orders are issued and ensuring that women understand their rights which come into effect once a protection order has been issued.

MOSAIC and partner stakeholders aim to use the locally generated evidence to influence policy and ensure coordinated responses are linked to survivors and tailored to each community’s needs and available resources. MOSAIC’s preliminary baseline findings showed partners and stakeholders in the identified communities agree that a strengthened and holistic response to domestic violence requires a collective and coordinated approach on the local level. For stakeholders, the strengths of the SAFE platforms include coordinated service delivery, effective referral paths, accountability among partners, and co-created solutions that are adapted to local contexts.

This is a new project for MOSAIC and a new approach to tackling domestic violence on a truly local level.

My experience in this sector tells me that community-based solutions will be critical to turning the tide against domestic violence. I hope to report back to you on our findings when we have a full report from our pilot SAFE Platforms in Philippi, Mitchells Plain and Paarl communities — because, as we know: if the problem is localised, we should work locally to eradicate it. DM

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