– Above: A participant at the 5 July anti-GBV vigil in Stellenbosch looks at the posters in front of the town hall. Photo: Francois Lombaard.

Warda Arnolds

As we look back on Women’s Month, a brief glance at the headlines reflects that our struggle with gender-based violence (GBV) is far from over. The news headlines revealed that men continued raping, murdering, abusing, and harming women – showing no exception to the violence inflicted on women during the month that celebrates them.

The World Health Organization estimates that an average of 35% of women will experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime, globally. In South Africa, this percentage is estimated at 45.6%, with women experiencing intimate partner violence – a form of GBV – at an estimated 26% across their lifetime. This pervasive nature of GBV affects us all in direct and indirect ways. GBV has also shown to have a cascading effect on the survivor, the family, the community, and on society as a whole.

What is gender-based violence (GBV)
Gender-based violence refers to “the general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between […] genders, within the context of a specific society”. Men are also direct victims of GBV, although the data shows that women are overwhelmingly victimized and men overwhelmingly the perpetrators of GBV.

Effects of gender-based violence
The effects of GBV is widespread, and direct and indirect consequences affects all in our society. On an individual level, survivors may endure physical, mental, sexual, social, and economic problems because of GBV. Health concerns stemming from GBV may manifest in poor overall health, physical injury or disability, various forms of pain, and sexual and reproductive problems. The psychological and emotional effects on survivors of GBV can include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, sleeping problems, interpersonal relationship problems, substance abuse, and low self-esteem. Survivors’ immediate loved ones, often children, may also bear short- and long-term consequences. Studies have shown that the psychological effects of children witnessing domestic violence can lead to maladaptive coping, which in turn can prompt and perpetuate intergenerational patterns of abuse, violence, and difficulty establishing healthy relationships.

Women who are not directly affected by GBV may also be indirectly affected through fears of being a victim of GBV. Families and communities may be affected through the death of loved ones who were victims of GBV or needing to support survivors emotionally, financially, and socially. A study by KPMG found that the economic impact of GBV was estimated between R28.4 billion and R42.2 billion for the year 2012/2013, accounting for 0.9% – 1.3% of the South African GDP, annually. Other factors such as the impact on the health system, justice and correctional systems, etc. are also important consequences of GBV.

Problematic Masculinity
One of the underlying causes of GBV is harmful gender norms. These gender norms are also believed to not only negatively impact women, but men too. This effect was discussed by Dr Malose Langa (PhD), author of Becoming Men, at a recent webinar, co-hosted by The Psychological Society of South Africa (Psyssa), UNISA, and the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation, titled “Why Men’s Violence in South Africa is Not Changing Swiftly Enough, and What To Do About It”. He explained that a certain type of masculinity that conforms to the “boyhood code” – which favours “toughness, strength, and emotionlessness” – harms both women and men.
Our concept of masculinity is formed through a mixture of our upbringing, experiences, and our interactions with social and cultural norms. It can be seen as a certain type of programming that is installed since a young age.

This problematic form of masculinity teaches men to suppress and repress their “humanness” in order to live up to the societal and cultural ideal of manliness. An example of how boys may be programmed to conform to a certain type of masculinity is how boys are taught to deal with their emotions – “boys don’t cry”. The expectation that boys should not cry, if perpetuated and socially and culturally accepted, informs the behaviour of boys not to cry or speak up when they are feeling sad, hurt, despondent, and fearful. To a young mind it may be interpreted as boys should not have these feelings. Langa said that “…this boyhood code…is characterized by shame and humiliation,” – e.g. taunting or the fear of being taunted by other men or boys when the boyhood code is not followed, facilitates compliance to the code. This can ultimately preclude boys from learning the skills to deal with these emotions in a healthy and constructive way.

What can we do?
The plight of GBV seems daunting and vast. Due to the intersectional nature of GBV, factors such as race, class, gender identity, sexuality, and disability and so forth, adds to the complexity of addressing GBV. Changes in the way we understand GBV, when considering these factors, challenges us to see how we are having, and could have, an impact on changing the status quo. Change starts with each one of us, in our homes and in the spaces that we occupy in our daily lives.

Seek help if you are a victim of GBV: Contact the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre on 0800 428 428 or by sending a “Please Call Me” to *120*7867#. Members from the deaf community can use the Skype helpline by adding ‘Helpme GBV’ to their Skype contacts. And persons with disabilities can SMS ‘help’ to 31531 for assistance.

Raise awareness of gender-based violence and the harmful effect of problematic masculinities.

If you are/were a victim of GBV, or are a perpetrator of GBV, seek professional assistance to treat emotional and psychological traumas, distress, and hurts, or other emotional concerns. Social and emotional support from organizations, such as the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, the trauma centre, or the Department of Social Development can be accessed. Click here to access the Western Cape government’s Directory of Services for Victims of Crime and Violence.

Nurture healthier forms of masculinity that teach boys and men to accept their humanness, to express vulnerability and disappointment, without shame or humiliation, and to process their feelings in a constructive way. Empower and encourage others to speak out against gender inequality, violence and abuse. Engage leaders in your communities and associations to address and manage practices that perpetuates harmful and problematic forms of masculinity.