POWA warns more resources needed to support GBV survivors
1100 cases reported between June 2020 and April 2021, close family members ranked as the most likely perpetrators
Women’s rights NGO, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) have warned that more resources are needed to support survivors and prevent gender-based violence (GBV) related crimes as the Covid-19 pandemic has shrunk the pool of resources available for this cause. “Thrust into a period of great uncertainty and lost connections, heightened risk of isolation, suicidal thoughts and other ailments have crept into the homes of millions of victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other violations,” says POWA Acting Executive Director, Jeanette Sera.
Between June 2020 and April 2021, the South African Police Service (SAPS) reported 1 100 cases of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm (GBH) in which the victim was assaulted by their intimate partner. Of the murders reported during this period, 22 were perpetrated by an intimate partner of the victims and 19 by husbands of victims.
From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, POWA has adjusted its operations in order to reach survivors and provide them with support. “When the police statistics indicated a huge spike in GBV we were alarmed because of the low influx of victims into our GBV shelters. It is then that we realised that needs of survivors had changed and, in many ways, become more urgent because of the isolating effect the pandemic has had on individual households,” says Sera.
Close family members such as brothers of the victims have also ranked high in the most likely perpetrators of domestic violence, with 397 cases of assault GBH committed by a sibling. Although research has repeatedly indicated that GBV related crime is severely underreported, it is clear from these trends that patriarchy is heavily embedded into the collective psyche of South African homes. Increased socio-economic pressures over the pandemic have contributed to the continued proliferation of violence against women and children.
Talking about GBV
We are calling on survivors from across the country to #DonateYourVoice and tell their individual stories of survival, to demystify the faces and voices behind the statistics. POWA, in partnership with JOKO are once again marking the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children by tackling the issue at its heart. Together, survivors who use their voice for change, can break the shame cycle of suffering alone and inspire a nation into action that makes a difference.
“It is sometimes difficult for survivors of abuse to come out and try to break the cycle of violence. I think for the people around such women, we need to hear her, we need to remind her that it’s not her fault and above all, we need to believe her,” says Sera.
POWA and Joko are calling on those affected by GBV in any form to #DonateYourVoice by visiting joko.co.za “Often, when victims don’t speak out it’s because they don’t think they’ll be believed and we as a society are to blame for that mindset, because often, women are not believed.”
The physical and psychological effects of GBV have been well-documented in South Africa, despite this, access to mental healthcare needed by survivors is scant in the public health system, placing a massive burden on organisations in the NGO sector who try to fill this gap.
Disturbing trends seen in GBV reporting during the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the intersection between problems in public healthcare, social welfare and GBV.
“We also call on the government to boost resources towards helping this vulnerable group. As the country moves to recover the economy from the perils of the pandemic, we remind our people that economic recovery can’t be sustained in a broken society,” says Sera.
Celebrating leaps and bounds in GBV legislation
The resounding success of last year’s #EndDomesticSilence campaign promoted the introduction of several amendments to the law which will further the cause of fighting GBV in South Africa.
POWA was one of several organisations who supported and made submissions on the Criminal (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill (2020). The Bill’s proposed amendments aim to extend the ambit of the offence of incest, to introduce sexual intimidation as a new offense and to regulate the inclusion of the particulars of persons on the National Register for Sex Offenders.
The bill also aims to regulate the reporting duty of people who are aware that sexual offences have been committed against children. This legislation will have an extraordinary impact on victims of domestic and gender- based violence by broadening the definition of what constitutes a sexual offence.
For the past two years, POWA has spearheaded campaigns aimed at lending power to women’s voices. In aid of achieving this, R1 from every Joko pack sold goes towards supporting the organisation and its initiatives.
Last year, Joko led a call for South Africans to “End the Silence” on domestic and gender-based violence, this year we amplify that call by asking for survivors to tell their stories. This year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign aims to hold up a mirror to society, to show that behind the statistics are real people, real stories and real pain that deserves to be acknowledged if society is to be moved to better itself.
The campaign will also include well-loved public figures including celebrities who will be donating their voices to amplify the call to end GBV. The more South Africans hear these stories, the closer we will get to achieving a collective consciousness that can unite all of us against this plague of senseless violence.
Thandiwe McCloy holds a Bachelor of Journalism Degree from Rhodes University and a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Development Studies Degree from UNISA.
She has 18 years’ experience working in journalism and communications and has mostly worked within the NGO sector. In addition to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), she has worked at loveLife, a non-profit youth organisation as well as the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy to highlight South Africa’s child illiteracy crisis.
Thandiwe is passionate about using her communications skills to promote social justice. As POWA’s Communications Manager, she appreciates the opportunity the organisation is giving her to address the extremely high rates of gender-based violence in communities across the country.
Jeanette Sera – Biography
Jeanette Sera is currently the Acting Executive Director at People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA).
After qualifying with a BA (Social Work) HONS at UNISA, her career began in 1996 as a junior social worker working in one of the POWA shelters. In 1998 she was promoted to Shelter Manager and worked for POWA until the end of February 2002. In 2003, she took up the position of HIV and AIDS Coordinator with the Department of Social Development where her responsibilities included grant making and development work with projects assisting orphans and child-headed households.
In 2004 she moved to the Department of Health and worked as the HIV and AIDS Social Worker in the ARV clinic. Here she was responsible for psychosocial support for patients which included individual, couple and group counseling, home visits and nutrition support. I also provided counselling for survivors of sexual offences and conducted awareness outreach on issues of HIV and AIDS. In 2008, she returned to POWA to take up the position of Counselling Services Manager. Sera is passionate about working with people at a grassroots level, and specifically working with and improving women’s rights. She believes that people have innate capabilities to help themselves, and as workers our role is to facilitate and enhance those abilities so that people can begin to lead the better quality of life they deserve.