Gender-based violence in South Africa

Background, updates and a case study on gender-based violence in South Africa.

Gender-based violence – physical, psychological, sexual, economic, socio-cultural – is a conspicuous and widespread violation of human rights in South Africa. This violence pervades the political, economic and social structures of society and is driven by strongly patriarchal social norms and complex and intersectional power inequalities, including gender, race, class and sexuality. The relationship between gender inequality and gender-based violence therefore is well-established - gender inequality legitimates violence and is also further established by the use of such violence. The possibility for intervening in this relationship, however, presents a far more complex challenge.

Scope of the issue

Men, women and people that transit genders in South Africa are impacted by violence in multiple and intersecting ways.  South Africa's rate of rape, as a particular form of gender-based violence has been found to be one of the highest in the world (UNODC South Africa 2002). In a cross-sectional study in three South African districts in the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal, researchers found that 27.6% of all men had raped a woman or girl, of all the men who were interviewed, almost half (42.4%) had been physically violent to an intimate partner (Jewkes, Sikweyiya, Morrell and Dunkle, 2011). A comparative study of rates of female homicide and intimate partner violence between 1999 and 2009 showed that although rates of female homicide per 100,000 had decreased from 24.7 to 12.9, this figure is still five times the global average, and rates of intimate partner femicide had not significantly decreased; researchers highlighted the urgency of these figures for policy-driven prevention (Abrahams, Jewkes, Martin, Mathews, Vetten and Lombard, 2013).

Furthermore, longitudinal research in the Eastern Cape, for example, showed a causal link between relationship power inequity and intimate partner violence and an increased risk of HIV infection among young South African women (Jewkes, Dunkle, Nduna and Shai, 2010). Research in Gauteng province showed the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence against children where girls between 12 – 17 years made up one in four of victims reporting rape crimes (25.2%) and girls aged between 0 – 11 years one in seven (14.6%) (Vetten, Jewkes, Sigsworth, Christofides, Loots, and Dunseith, 2008). Sexual violence against men and boys is also an important issue; research with adult men found that 9.6% reported having experienced male-on-male sexual violence and 3% reported committing sexual violence against other men (Dunkle, Jewkes, Murdock, Sikweyiya, & Morrell, 2013).

Violence as a reinforcement of dominant norms of manhood and patriarchal social power has significant implications for all South Africans, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. The violent punishment of people who transgress heteronormative gender roles and identities is of critical concern in South Africa. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) persons this translates into the very real experience of homophobic violence including homicide and rape as a form of persecution (Lewin, Williams and Thomas, 2013; Wells and Polders, 2006).

Men and boys are affected as survivors and perpetrators of gender-based violence in relation to women and other men, and as parents, children and political actors.  The South African case study recognises that structural violence is fueled by inequalities that transect race, class, gender, sexuality and age and calls into focus the importance of engaging with policy processes, alongside political actions at a community level.  It is with this complexity in mind that this case study seeks to explore the role of men and boys in interventions to address sexual and gender-based violence. 

Literature review on key concepts, themes and policy areasJune – August 2014
Database of key actors working in this fieldJune – September 2014
Analysis of data and writing of ‘learning study’August – December 2014
Digital storytelling process beginsJuly 2014
Key Informant InterviewsJuly – August 2014
Collective story analysis of digital storiesSeptember 2014
Stakeholder dialogue workshopSeptember 2014
Publication of evidence report and case study reportFebruary 2015

South Africa programme reports

Turning the Tide: The Role of Collective Action for Addressing Structural and Gender-based Violence in South Africa. Mills, E., Shahrokh, T., Wheeler, J., Black, G., Cornelius, R. and van den Heever, L. (2015)

The case study discussed in this Evidence Report explores the value and limitations of collective action in challenging the community, political, social and economic institutions that reinforce harmful masculinities and gender norms related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Evidence report | Accompanying brief

Coming Together to End Gender Violence: Report of Deliberative Engagements with Stakeholders on the Issue of Collective Action to Address Sexual and Gender-based Violence, and the Role of Men and Boys, October 2014, Cape Town, South Africa. Cornelius, R; Shahrokh, T; Mills, E (2015)

This report is based on a case study which, by placing a particular emphasis on alliance-based approaches in working towards social and gender justice, sought to explore how collective action contributes to addressing the structural inequalities and discriminatory social norms that perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and the role of men and boys in enabling transformative change.

Evidence report

Latest updates

A new IDS policy briefing summarises the key findings of a global research programme on effective organised activism against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). It highlights the importance of addressing the underlying structural causes of violence showing that men are becoming more visible as partners in tackling SGBV, holding themselves and others accountable for maintaining harmful gender norms that perpetuate violence.

In two video interviews Rukia Cornelius of Sonke Gender Justice, South Africa and Philip Erick Otieno of Men for Gender Equality Now, Kenya talk about the challenges and opportunities when engaging men and boys in ending sexual and gender-based violence, as well as how experiences in their own lives have inspired them.

Ntokozo Yingwana explores the importance of a collective strategy for impact, inspired by a recent global learning workshop on engaging men and boys in sexual and gender-based violence initiatives. The workshop brought together partners from Egypt, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda.

Case study of effectiveness

This case study will be conducted through a partnership between the Institute of Development Studies, the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF) and Sonke Gender Justice to explore how collective action contributes to addressing the discriminatory social norms that perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence, and the role of men and boys in enabling transformative change.

The case study will place a particular emphasis on collectivity and alliance-based approaches in working towards social and gender justice. Through the research process, connections will be made between personal stories and the shared narratives of social action. In relation to this, the study will look at community responses to sexual and gender-based violence and explore whether or not local democratic activism and community action can help to re-build interpersonal relationships and social networks. Using a digital storytelling (DST) approach to enable reflection at both the personal and collective level, participants will learn from their own experiences of working towards change. 

More background on gender-based violence in South Africa, the case study of effectiveness and the case study partners. [MS Word document]


PDF icon sa_gbv_case_study_slfsonke_0.pdf
Brief Overview of South Africa GBV Case Study (pdf)

Find out more about the Cape Town case study