A Safer South Africa for Women and Children

A Safer South Africa for Women and Children – Be inspired

In a nutshell

The programme strengthened violence prevention mechanisms, and created a protective environment for women, girls and boys. The aim was to promote violence prevention in South African communities, and to actively engage citizens in this effort.

What we do

Violence against women and children (VAWC) in South Africa is among the highest in the world. Intimate partner violence including sexual offenses is particularly high. Whilst we know that the majority of the cases do not get reported. The perpetrators are mostly known members of the community.

Some of the key drivers of VAWC in South Africa are dominant characteristics of masculinity that emphasize gender hierarchy, widespread exposure of children to violence and lack of positive role models, poverty as well as social norms that support and legitimise the use of violence.

While South Africa is internationally recognized for rights-based legislative framework for achieving gender equality, multi-sectoral measures to operationalize legislation are still required. At the same time, state capacity is uneven and implementation is lacking.

The programme A Safer South Africa for Women and Children: Improved Security and Justice for Women, Girls and Boys was designed to create a protective environment that strengthens national prevention mechanisms to reduce violence against women, girls and boys. The objective was to achieve this through a primary focus on prevention and secondary focus on improving access to existing response services by communities.

"The key challenge this programme intended to address was the gap between solid policies and the reality that many women and children still face in the country today", UNFPA Representative Dr. Esther Muia points out. "We therefore focussed on creating a model to sustain a preventive institutional and social environment."

The programme was designed and delivered as a government-lead, joint initiative by UNFPA and UNICEF in partnership with Save the Children Fund SA. It was implemented in close collaboration with the Department of Social Development, the former Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities and current Department of Women and the Department of Basic Education at national level. In the Eastern Cape, the coordination and implementation of the community based interventions presented in this publication have been led by the Department of Social Development, Provincial Population Unit. In the Free State, this has been facilitated by the Office of the Premier. The programme's main funder is the United Kingdom's Department for International Development.

Technical support was provided to the lead government departments and to key civil society organisations with a proven track record on GBV. These implementing partners included loveLife, the National Institute for Community Development and Management (NICDAM), Sonke Gender Justice, Children’s Radio Foundation and the Small Project Foundation amongst others.

How we do it

The programme worked at national level (co-ordination and evidence-based advocacy), provincial level (school-based and social mobilisation) and community level (awareness raising, behaviour change and empowerment) level towards four key outputs:

  1. Strengthened national state institutions to prevent VAWC
    Nationally through engagement of policymakers to close gaps in the policy and legal frameworks; support was provided to increase evidence for advocacy and planning; improve  national coordination and leadership against violence against women and children; and development of a national communication strategy.
  2. Strengthened prevention and protection measures in and out of schools
    Nationwide in all nine provinces, through scaling up of child-friendly schools; increased accountability of schools for violence prevention; and communication and social mobilisation involving teachers, learners, parents/communities
  3. Mobilised social change around violence against women and children
    Through community-based interventions focused in at least two provinces. Community-based interventions focused on awareness raising and community empowerment. The provincial-level interventions focused on Eastern Cape and the Free State, the provinces with some of the poorest indicators in relation to human development; and
  4. Strengthened surveillance, monitoring and evaluation systems for evidence-based prevention of violence against women and children.
    Nationally through the analysis of data; the completion of studies on violence against women, children and people with disabilities to increase understanding of the factors driving their vulnerability to violence, risk, and exploitation; and the establishment of an information management system to inform the Government’s programming in this area.

Thus the programme is implemented at three interrelated levels;

  • National policy (co-ordination and evidence-based advocacy),
  • Across all provinces (school based and social mobilisation)
  • Community–based in two target provinces (awareness raising, behaviour change and community empowerment).

What we have achieved

Key findings of an independent evaluation (available on SaferSpaces) include:

  • The programme helped improve government’s institutional management and inter-governmental coordination, and the creation of an enabling environment for preventing VAWC. It is important to have (a) multi-sectoral action with consistent political commitment and leadership to ensure effectiveness and sustainability of successful interventions; and (b) a central coordinating structure in place with direct reporting to ministerial level.
  • Learners who have been part of the training interventions show positive changes in knowledge, attitudes and practices around VAWC. In the Free State these learners have become agents of change in their schools and communities and in both provinces they have offered support to learners in cases of victimisation.
  • There is an increase in the reporting of VAWC-related crimes, as well as improved community cohesion and collaboration, particularly around VAWC prevention. Over 250 community dialogues were carried out and 207 local action plans were developed. Specific interventions were focussing on men and boys, reaching over 6,500 men and boys.
  • Two-hundred traditional leaders were capacitated in knowledge and awareness on their role in preventing VAWC. Community Safety Plans were developed for the Traditional Councils.
  • A number of studies were completed that provide evidence on the root causes of VAWC as well recommendations to strengthen prevention and response mechanisms.

What we have learned

In planning and implementing the programme, a number of challenges were encountered:

  • Changing institutional arrangements for national coordination of GBV issues
  • Unreliable data and a lack of GBV surveillance systems
  • Insufficient government capacity on evidence-based planning
  • Weak national accountability systems for improved quality service delivery
  • Gap between policy and practice
  • Inadequate coordination and cooperation among different players  

Important lessons learnt include:

  • There is a need for government-led coordination of a multi-sectoral approach on VAWC prevention and response.
  • It is critical to strengthen the role of civil society in policy implementation. There is a potential of network building between key institutions to increase impact.
  • Where possible, existing local-level structures should be tasked with the oversight and coordination of VAWC prevention and community mobilisation activities to ensure well-coordinated and sustainable action. CBOs and district-level government authorities could be tasked with the setting up and/or strengthening of such structures. 
  • A community mapping of all relevant service providers should be conducted prior to mobilisation intervention roll-out to ensure that strategic and relevant stakeholders are identified and partnerships for support and referral set in place. This will also contribute towards programme sustainability.