Posters and protests against gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa are society’s desperate cry for help on national platforms – but talking about it on a one-to-one basis could help address this other pandemic.
That’s according to Jacob Tema, the GBV social worker at Rays of Hope, a non-profit organisation that offers several upliftment programmes to the Alexandra community including, more recently, support for GBV victims and GBV community education.
“In our work over the last 30 years, Rays of Hope has seen that everyone in the community has a role to play in addressing and responding to issues like GBV,” Tema says. “We play an active role in this by sharing information, because once people are empowered with information about their rights, and what support is available to them, they can take action to change their circumstances.”
Rays of Hope recently hosted a candlelit vigil against gender-based violence in Alexandra, and was supported with a series of speakers, musicians, and traditional bodies, who each had a specific message for those attending.
“So many people understand what GBV is, but this event showed how everyone has talents that they can use to stop it, while addressing traditions and taboos that have either worsened it, or prevented many from taking action to stop it,” Tema says.
“Everyone has the ability is share information – to talk to victims about what options they have, and to support them emotionally through the process. That doesn’t cost money, but it’s made possible by people equipped with knowledge, and the courage to take a stand.”
Rays of Hope has found that public events create the platform for private conversations. Powerful information sharing sessions led by social workers, law enforcement representatives, and spiritual and traditional leaders give people the confidence to speak out – for themselves and for their neighbours.
Tema acknowledges that women in poverty struggle to leave abusive relationships, as their aggressors are frequently their only source of financial stability and leaving them would also have significant consequences for any children involved.
“Victims need to know that they have rights under the Department of Justice’s Victims’ Charter, and that they can apply to the courts for a protection order against the person who is hurting them,” Tema explains. “A protection order means that the authorities are made aware that someone is abusing a victim, and that there will be consequences for repeat offenses. However, it also sends a message from the victim that he or she does not want the perpetrator to be incarcerated – that they are hoping for a change for the better.”
This is where counselling and support from social workers can help address the underlying issues behind gender-based violence, with both parties involved benefiting from the support and practical skills offered by these professionals.
“When these counselling or mediation processes do not work, there are a number of shelters and other organisations that can help adult victims, and their children, to leave abusive situations and build a life for themselves,” Tema says. “The very first step in that brave journey is knowing what can be done and who to ask for help. Our community events share that information – including that we are here to provide guidance and support – whether it’s to a neighbour who can see the signs that her friend is a victim and wants to know how to help, or whether it’s a victim who needs to leave to save their life.”