University of Johannesburg: Frontline workers are an essential part of the fight against Gender-Based Violence

For the final instalment of the three-part webinar series on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Library, Healthcare workers and First Responders, the discussion centred on the challenges of GBV on the frontline.

The webinar, which took place on Monday August 30, 2021, was a joint venture between The GendV Project (Cambridge University and UJ), the GHJRU, and the Masiphephe Network.

The discussion addressed how underplayed the vital role of the health sector is when it comes to dealing with GBV as frontline workers, before the courts or the police.

“South Africa has typically tried to address the problem of gendered forms of violence in two ways: with a focus on the courts and police, and programmes intended to change men’s behaviour. These have had some effect. Our challenge, more than 25 years after democratisation, is to think ahead, beyond and in addition to these strategies. On that basis, the webinars looked at the importance of understanding the importance of local-level interventions to address the unique circumstances of communities – rather than simply applying one-size-fits-all interventions – and emphasised the importance of local government in these programmes,” explained Lisa Vetten, Research and Project Consultant for UJ’s Faculty of Humanities.

She added that collaboration with both university researchers and community workers generate important forms of knowledge that need to be shared with each other in ways that support the work of each.

Wesley Craig, an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) lecturer at the College of Emergency Care for the Western Cape Government said it was important to include EMS in the initial response to GBV. In domestic violence cases, Craig said there was no appropriate system for assessing, prioritising or directing individuals for specific care.

“There are a lot of issues and limitations with the current system as it is not designed at all for domestic violence or GBV. Due to the broadness of GBV we know that in some ways you can contextualise the cycle of abuse which could be everything from verbal to psychological trauma, from minor to severe critical patients. There is no easy way to tag or to label domestic violence which makes it difficult to have interventions when you don’t know what the problem is.”

He added that the cycle of domestic violence only got worse over time and that EMS should be able to help victims by exposing them to information- regarding their rights, the powers the police have in their situation, the legal opportunities available to them and the support systems available.

Programmes Manager at Mosaic, Nandipha Ganya said through their programmes at the various Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCC) they aimed to empower survivors.

Mosaic works to prevent and reduce abuse and domestic violence by providing holistic, integrated services for the healing and empowerment of women through support services, access to justice and training.

“Different communities have different problems. It can be quite challenging for us to be prescribed problems that don’t fit the context of that particular community. A TCC programme in an urban area should not be the same in a more rural area because the problems and resources are not the same.”

Abigail Hatcher, honorary associate professor at the School of Public Health at Wits University, has been doing work around antenatal care and how to integrate Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) services and screening into routine primary healthcare for pregnant and postpartum women. She said health workers at primary healthcare level had a strong interest in addressing GBV in their service because it is something they see all the time. She added that GBV training was essential to help women open up.

Chiv Gordon, Head of Undergraduate Obstetrics and Gynaecology Education at the University of Cape Town, said there was a silence about IPV at a lot of institutions.

She said while GBV was a legal and social problem, it was also a medical problem as victims sought assistance from medical professionals as their first point of call. She emphasised that people needed to be trained on how to suspect red flags and what advice to give to patients.

“We have to train undergraduate healthcare workers in IPV and train the many generations who haven’t had the training. This is not just about physical injuries or sexual assault, there is a lot of unseen IPV that people need to be trained to look for. We can’t only keep our focus on emergency rooms or casualty units or EMS. We need to train everybody in risk assessment for intimate femicide.”

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