University of Pretoria: Experts discuss femicide in SA during UP-hosted webinar

The Albert Luthuli Leadership Institute at the University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted a webinar to discuss the issue of femicide in South Africa.

Titled ‘Addressing violence against women and girls through leadership, partnership and collaboration: the case of femicide in South Africa’, the discussion featured researchers from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), and a representative from the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.

Professor Rachel Jewkes, Executive Scientist for Research Strategy in the Office of the SAMCR, began the discussion by highlighting the prevalence of gender-based violence and femicide. “Gender-based violence is a global problem, not just a South African problem. One in five women have experienced intimate partner violence in the past year. Over 41% of female sex workers in South Africa have been raped in the past 12 months.”

“When it comes to defining femicide, it is important to make the distinction between intimate partner femicide and non-intimate partner femicide,” said Dr Nwabisa Shai, Specialist Researcher at the Gender and Health Research Unit at the SAMRC and an honorary senior lecturer at the School of Public Health at the University of Witwatersrand. “Intimate partner femicide is perpetrated by current or previous intimate partners, whether they are of the same or opposite gender, and where intimate relationships include marriage. Non-intimate partner femicide, on the other hand, is defined as the killing perpetrated by a person other than an intimate partner, including a stranger, family member, relative or any other acquaintance.”

Prof Naeemah Abrahams, Interim Director of the SAMRC’s Gender and Health Research Unit, made reference to the role the media plays in reporting femicide. “Very often the media influences how we perceive femicide, who the victims of femicide are and who the perpetrators are. The media is also a primary source of information for most South Africans. Studies show that in 2011 only certain victims were reported in the media. In most cases, mainly elderly white women received coverage and women who were newsworthy, such as Reeva Steenkamp [who was murdered by Oscar Pistorius]. Additionally, non-intimate femicides were more likely to be reported. So the media often misrepresents reality.”

Esther Maluleke, Chief Director of the national Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, was also a speaker. “Perpetrators get away with these crimes because the system is weak and does not have capacity to deal with this. The failure to plan appropriately is also one of the biggest weaknesses of the system.”

“Families and communities are where a lot of the social norms that influence the existence and perpetration of violence occurs,” Dr Shai said. “They play a critical role, as they are entities or groups where certain interactions around violence occur. We should try to change social norms that are oppressive of women and that uphold male privilege at the expense of women and children, and persons with disabilities.”

As to what can be done to help survivors, Prof Jewkes said that it is crucial that national and local responses to gender-based violence be implemented. “These responses are inseparably linked with prevention. Additionally, counselling and support services, including shelters, must be accessible and provided for by women’s organisations in every community.”