What works to prevent gender-based violence in South Africa?

  • 11 Dec 2015

What works to prevent gender-based violence in South Africa? – Blog

In South Africa, there are many organisations working effectively towards preventing gender-based violence. <em>(Photo by Dean Hutton)</em>

In South Africa, there are many organisations working effectively towards preventing gender-based violence. (Photo by Dean Hutton)

Every year the 10th of December marks both International Human Rights Day and the end of the international campaign of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children. Running for just over two weeks, the annual #16DaysCampaign provides an umbrella for civil societies and governments across the world to raise awareness of how violence against women and children (VAWC) can and must be prevented.

 “More than 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual partner violence or non-partner sexual violence."

WHO (2013) Global and regional estimates of violence against women

While the campaign itself is effective for both advocacy and awareness raising purposes, there is a general consensus that in order to address and prevent VAWC it needs a concerted effort that goes way beyond the sixteen days.

Recognizing this need, in South Africa, government and civil society have committed to take forward the awareness and vision of the 16 Days Campaign and expand it to a year-round #365Days of Activism Campaign.

Gender-based violence wide-spread in South Africa

In South Africa, gender-based violence – which encompasses any kind of violence (physical, sexual, emotional and psychological) against women and children – is widely spread and an issue of serious concern. Up to 40% South African women have experienced sexual and/or physical interpersonal violence in their lifetime.

According to a 2012 research study, 77% percent of women in Limpopo, 51% of women in Gauteng, 45% of women in the Western Cape and 36% of women in KwaZulu-Natal have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, both within and outside intimate relationships. At the same time, 76% of men in Gauteng and 41% of men in KwaZulu-Natal admit to having committed violence against women.

Gender-based violence in South Africa has various drivers, including, for example, rigid notions of masculinity that condone violent behaviour towards women and children, the socio-economic situation of many women that makes them dependent on their male partners or a patriarchal, conservative understanding of gender roles.

What can be done to prevent GBV?

Across South Africa there are many organisations working towards preventing the root causes of gender-based violence. The global What Works to Prevent Violence programme, which is funded by the British Department for International Development (DFID) and coordinated by the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), currently supports research on a number of South African interventions in this regard. The programme aims to provide evidence on what makes these interventions successful and how they can be replicated, adapted and scaled up.

At a recent seminar in November at the MRC's head office in Pretoria, practitioners and researchers presented some of the programmes that are part of the What Works research programme.

Skhokho Supporting Success

Skhokho Supporting Success is a multi-faceted school-based programme that aims to prevent intimate partner violence among young teenagers between the ages of 13 and 14 years. The intervention was made possible thanks to a partnership between the MRC and the Department of Basic Education.

The programme consists of different components that engage

  • high school learners in classroom sessions and after-school workshops;
  • high school teachers and staff through skills building workshops; and
  • caregivers (e.g. parents) of young teenagers through weekend workshops.

The programme's aim is to strengthen the various participants' relationship skills through gender transformative interventions, e.g. positive discipline strategies, supportive styles of interaction and non-violent ways of conflict resolution. The programme further aims to improve stress management, mental health as well as value-based decision-making. The classroom sessions are offered as part of Grade 8 life orientation classes, while the other workshops have external facilitators.

Evaluations of the programme show a positive impact on mothers who report being less stressed and teenagers state better cooperation with their parents. Furthermore girls who participated in the programme reported a reduction in instances of intimate partner violence.

Stepping Stones/Creating Futures

The Stepping Stones/Creating Futures programme aims to promote sexual health, reduce intimate partner violence and improve psychological well-being of young people living in urban areas, particularly informal settlements, in South Africa. The programme is led by Project Empower.

The intervention is conducted by peer facilitators who organise training sessions in single-sex groups, targeting 18-24 year old men and women. In these sessions participants develop livelihoods strategies and are involved in discussions, role plays, dramas and games that encourage participants to reflect on social norms around gender and the use of violence. Discussions around the different types of violence affecting the participants personally and their communities at large assist participants to reflect on the impact social norms have on gender-based violence.

Evaluations of the programme show a significant reduction in women's experience of intimate partner violence as well as an improvement in gender attitudes of both male and female participants.

Sonke CHANGE Trial

Together with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the South African NGO Sonke Gender Justice is testing to see if one of their established community mobilisation programmes can be applied in the rapidly-growing settlement of Diepsloot in Johannesburg – with the aim of reducing gender-based violence in the area.

The Sonke CHANGE Trial is based on Sonke's existing multi-level intervention "One Man Can" which engages men in confronting harmful aspects of masculinity and helps men become partners in addressing violence and HIV – with the ultimate goal of achieving gender equality.

The project aims to address risk factors for violence against women and girls at individual, relationship, community and societal level. It recognises that masculinities may influence men's likelihood of resorting to violence through various pathways such as alcohol use, partner communication or mental health. Thus the project strives to reduce men's adherence to such masculinity norms.

The project will run until March 2018 and will be rigorously evaluated throughout its duration. Findings will be shared via both community and stakeholder meetings as well as through publications.

Find out more

First results from the What Works research can be expected throughout the coming months. For more information, visit: