Addressing GBV Starts at Home
By Imelda Diouf – The Covid-19 magnifier has certainly presented, in no uncertain terms, the violent facts of South Africa.
The gruesome details, the horrifying images, the dates and the names of women, children and the unborn child are now part of the lockdown hall of shame.
And despite knowledge of femicide, rape, domestic violence, assault and gender-based violence statistics, each news flash still shocks us into disbelief.
We are shamed and saddened. On bended knees we apologise to the women of our country, pray aloud, preach and exhort from every platform at our disposal. Dialogues, dedicated funds and strategies follow.
Specialised training for law enforcement officers and victim empowerment programmes are tweaked, rebranded and relaunched. We march for justice.
We promise to fight the scourge and educate men. We pray for peace.
In our search for justice and peace we recommend, as stated in the new Pastoral Plan of the Catholic Church of Southern Africa, that “stopping all gender-based violence and confronting injustice in our homes requires a focus on changing the way people feel and what they do”. This is the behaviour change or transformation of society for which we search.
Behaviour change, however, is the difficult part: dealing with injustice and criminality within families.
Violence carried out in our homes is based on perpetrators and victims sharing the same physical, financial and emotional spaces.
Break the cycles of violence
The removal of a perpetrator or victim is usually only a temporary measure, a short-term action.
All too often cycles of trauma, abuse and neglect are multigenerational. Children observe patterns of behaviour that are then normalised and repeated. And so the cycle of abuse continues in families.
The bonds of love build, and the ties of dysfunction break. In the public space the name of love is easier to state than the name of dysfunction, especially when we have to point the finger inwards.
There are many points of entry to solving the problem of gender based violence—laws, arrests, compliance, incarceration, counselling, education, safe homes—and these are all important actions.
Yet the long-term goal is to ensure that victims are safe in homes and communities. The long-term goal is to ensure that perpetrators are part of functioning families.
Perpetrators are part of our homes and part of our communities. After all, they are our fathers, husbands, uncles, brothers, sons and boyfriends!
Government and non-governmental services provided to victims and perpetrators need to be managed on the same continuum of support, rather than silo approaches and short-term actions.
And a focus on changing the way people feel and what they do, is the process of building resilience and transforming families from within.
Be prepared to name the dysfunctionality within families and community structures. Get rid of fighting talk. Start with rebuilding talk. We must be willing to transform families and homes if we have any chance of ending gender-based violence.