Despite another challenging year for social science researchers in South Africa, the Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) continued its violence prevention and response interventions as part of the “Masiphephe” network. Masiphephe, meaning “Let’s be safe” in Nguni, works towards reducing vulnerability to gender-based violence (GBV) and strengthening local governance responses to GBV.
Community based stakeholders from government, civil society, community media and the private sector collaborate to strengthen the capacity of local structures to coordinate services, advocate for improved services, and to manage community-level responses to GBV through local GBV Forums. This approach was especially critical under lockdown and when criminal justice, social development and health systems were stretched to the limit. Led by the Centre for Communication Impact (CCI), with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Project is implemented in partnership with the GHJRU –the research and policy advocacy strategic partner of Masiphephe – as well as community-based organisations in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal. These include Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training (ADAPT) in Alexandra, Sonke Gender Justice in Diepkloof, Project Support Southern Africa (PSASA) in Emalahleni and Mbombela, the Gugu Dlamini Foundation (GDF) in Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu, the Ethembeni Crisis Centre (Ethembeni) in eThekwini, among others. COVID-19 lockdown illustrated the extreme vulnerability of these communities to GBV.
In addition to ongoing engagement with the reform of the Domestic Violence Act in 2021, the GHJRU engaged in strategic interventions to respond to violence against women and children in these communities. Monitoring of policing and court processes and evidence-led advocacy to ensure access to justice was ongoing. Of particular urgency was the need to build capacity and to provide assistance with the reporting, case management and monitoring, and referral of cases brought to the attention of local organisations and the GBV Community Forums. In response to the lack of access to health, psycho-social support and justice services, the GHJRU developed comprehensive training materials and conducted training of Masiphephe Network partners.
To address the absence of services, the GHJRU also developed an accessible monitoring tool to monitor the actions of statutory service providers with regard to domestic violence, sexual offences and child abuse and maltreatment.
Community partners were trained and supported throughout the year on the use of the GHJRU statutory service monitoring tool as well as on legal frameworks regulating the reporting of child abuse and maltreatment (CAM), legal mechanisms for reporting sexual offences committed against adults, the protection order process in terms of the ‘Domestic Violence Act’ and the ‘Protection from Harassment Act’ as well as complaint mechanisms available where identified state actors fail in executing their duties in the CAM, sexual offences, and protection order processes.
Also during this period, in partnership with the GendV Project (University of Johannesburg and Cambridge University), the GHJRU organised three important national webinars on topics such as “When behaviour change is not enough: geographies of violence”, “How do we create safer environments?”, and “Not by Accident: Health Care Workers and First Responders Discuss GBV on the Frontline”, which featured a range of panellists from across South Africa who are working on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic and GBV, community-based, clinical and legal settings. The corollary impact of the pandemic on the incidence of gender-based violence has yet to reveal itself, but the GHJRU continues to assist organisations throughout the country in building evidence to improve services to victims violence, in a wide range of community, public health and justice settings.
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