The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is an inter-governmental organization that aims to further socio-economic cooperation and integration as well as political and security cooperation among 15 Southern African states. The regional bloc is headquartered in Gaborone, Botswana. It complements the role of the African Union.
SADC defines Gender Based Violence (GBV) as “all acts perpetuated against women, men, boys and girls on the basis of their sex which cause or could cause them physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or economic harm.”
In fact, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development has six targets which the regional bloc hopes will eliminate Gender Based Violence at every level by 2015. Theses are:
●To enact and enforce legislation that prohibits all forms of gender-based violence
●To ensure that the laws on Gender-Based Violence provide for the comprehensive testing, treatment and care of survivors of sexual assault
●To review and reform criminal laws and procedures applicable to cases of sexual offenses and Gender Based Violence
●To enact and adopt specific legislative provisions to prevent human trafficking and provide holistic services to victims of trafficking with the aim of re-integrating them into society
●To enact legislative provisions, and concurrently adopt and implement policies, strategies and programmes, which define and prohibit sexual harassment in all spheres, and provide deterrent sanctions for perpetrators of sexual harassment
●To adopt integrated approaches, including institutional cross sector structures, with the aim of reducing the levels of Gender Based Violence by 50% in 2015.
While the protocol articulates these noble goals, the reality on the ground is that Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a phenomenon that is worsening in the SADC region.
Recent research reports reveal that in Namibia 50 per cent of all women experience GBV at sometime in their lives, while in South Africa, national statistics indicate that one in three women have been raped, and this consequently represents a startling rape every 26 seconds.
According to statistics in that country, only one in eight rapes are reported to the police, and furthermore, that only 7 per cent of the cases reported to the police result in convictions.
Moreover, in Zimbabwe recently, one self proclaimed apostle and pastor of a church was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a female congregant and participating in sex orgies with female church congregants. This is not an isolated case, as other so called pastors in Zimbabwe have been recently accused (and in some cases convicted) of GBV related cases.
My question is: why is it that GBV is arguably worsening despite the clarity of the goals espoused in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development?
My primary postulation in this regard is that perhaps gender-relations in the region are under-researched, and furthermore, I would like to argue that those who refer to themselves as ‘gender researchers’ and gender sensitive journalists in SADC are fixated with the traditional explanations such as that patriarchy and skewed gender relations are the primary explanations behind GBV.
Yet, these individuals neither offer critical narratives in terms of the complexities of GBV, nor solutions thereof.
For instance, it is rarely reported that there has been an increase in female on male aggression. The recent scourge of ‘sperm harvesters’ highlights that GBV is not simply an issue of patriarchy.
In June, reports emerged that A South African man was ‘sexually abused’ and robbed by three women in in the Zimbabwean city of Mutare. The man was robbed of his shoes, his passport, a Samsung Galaxy 4 cellphone, a satchel with his clothes and US$900 in cash.
I must highlight here that the phrase “sexually abused” is used in this instance because the legal term ‘rape’ is traditionally perceived as a male on female crime.
Furthermore, reports have emerged that there has been an increase in female on female GBV. This occurs in the forms of female prisoners assaulting (sexually and otherwise) other prisoners, females who commit acts of human trafficking against other females, and lesbians who commit acts of GBV against other females.
In Summary, while it is true that male on female aggression is the most common form of GBV, and that much work still needs to be done in order to thwart the scourge, it is also important to acknowledge that GBV is not a limited to male on female aggression and that perhaps the fact that it is on the increase in the SADC region is owing to the other forms in which it occurs.
Let’s hope that the upcoming SADC summit will give us some insights into the issues.