Gender-based violence (GBV) is deeply entrenched in our society – it takes root early, which is why it is vital to intervene in schools, where children tend to learn norms from peers and social media.
At the Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2023, Vodacom sponsored the theme of ‘ Addressing gender-based violence early’. The session hosted GBV specialists exploring different models of intervention for government, business, and non-profit organisations, as well as considering what lessons can be drawn from existing initiatives.
The keynote speaker was Sazini Mojapelo, CEO of the GBVF Response Fund, who focused on how companies can address GBV. The panel discussion ‘changing mindsets, ending GBV’ included Prof Corne Davis (University of Johannesburg), a representative of Sonke Gender Justice and Bongo Futuse (Vodacom Foundation). Read the insights from the talks, and watch the videos below.
Corporate responsibility in addressing gender-based violence: Sazini Mojapelo
South Africa is in the grip of a gender-based violence (GBV) epidemic. Given that one in three women are victims of GBV, business needs to recognise that its workforce is subject to this epidemic and take more responsibility for addressing the issue, not only in the workplace but in society at large.
This was the call to action from keynote speaker Sazini Mojapelo, a gender equality advocate and CEO of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund, in her address to delegates at the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference.
A costly epidemic
The country’s statistics paint a desperate picture of the violent reality of women’s experience. South Africa’s femicide rate is five times higher than the global average and the country has the highest incidence of rape globally. Mojapelo noted that for every one in three women who experience abuse, one in three men are perpetrators of that abuse. However, these pervasive violations of basic human rights are the least prosecuted crime in our nation.
Mojapelo made the case that, while GBV is usually seen as taking place in the intimate partner space, in South Africa it has also taken hold in the public space driven, in part, by the slow prosecution of perpetrators. The cost of GBV to the South African economy is estimated at as much as R42.4 billion annually.
Companies should collaborate to address GBV
She highlighted the conspicuous absence of business in efforts by civil society and government to address GBV, which culminated in the development of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence & Femicide, published in 2020. The plan rests on six pillars, namely:
- Accountability, coordination and leadership
- Prevention and rebuilding the social cohesion
- Justice, safety and protection
- Response, care, support and healing
- Economic power
- Research and information management
While business has begun to take more interest in the issue since the plan was launched, Mojapelo said an effective response to the problem will require the collective effort of different sectors in society to uphold the rights of women and girls and achieve gender equality.
“To deliver in the fight against GBV it is important that we look at how we can eliminate it in the world of work.” For this to be achieved, the GBV focus in the workplace needs to shift beyond compliance, as an after-the-fact issue that falls under a framework of sexual harassment or whistle blowing, and towards prevention and the creation of a zero-tolerance environment.
Mojapelo encouraged business leaders to adopt tools and frameworks to prevent GBV in the workplace and hold corporate stakeholders to account, addressing gender parity and driving gender equality, with particular focus on diversity and inclusion that incorporates the LGBTQ+ community.
She emphasised the role of business in active citizenship, concluding that “it is not enough for business leaders to stay where we are without doing something about the social ills our country experiences. If we stand together, and we stand united, we can end gender-based violence in South Africa.”
Changing mindsets to end gender-based violence: Plenary discussion
Vodacom Foundation’s Change the World programme has partnered with government, the presidency, legal bodies and civil society to place psychosocial professionals in districts where they work to address gender-based violence (GBV) in schools.
The programme, which responds to the high rates of GBV in South Africa and the implications the issue has, particularly for female learners, was the subject of a panel discussion on the first day of the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference. Panellists included Vodacom Foundation chairperson Takalani Netshitenzhe, Student Health and Wellness Centres Organisation executive director Professor Jackie Stewart and Change the World psychosocial support coordinator Thabile Mazibuko.
The Foundation aimed to establish an education ecosystem that would focus more broadly on learner wellbeing. Netshitenzhe told the audience that the programme coincided with the growing national awareness of the extent of GBV and the knock-on effects that were especially visible in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in the form of GBV, pregnancy and high drop-out rates for school-aged girls.
The programme has deployed 23 psychosocial support experts thus far and will deploy several more this year. These professionals have served over 400 families and 26 000 learners and 42 schools. They deliver class sessions, presentations, awareness campaigns and counselling, with the goal of creating an environment where learners feel cared for and supported.
The programme tries to create an enabling and empowering space for learners to find tangible ways out of poverty and violence. The engagement process steadily builds the necessary individual and interpersonal understanding for learners to begin meaningful conversations about GBV.
Ripples in the pond
Mazibuko, speaking from her on-the-ground experience, said that the programme has had positive knock-on effects for the communities involved. “Change the World has created an environment that makes it easy for learners to report whatever has been happening in their homes.” She added that unfamiliar concepts such as self-development and self-identity have been introduced to wider communities with positive effect, while anti-bullying campaigns have extended their influence into homes and local communities.
Teachers, often overwhelmed and subject to the same traumas as the learners they are responsible for, have benefited from the additional content as well as from the support the programme provides them. Netshitenzhe said that feedback from parents indicated that the programme has been helping families to redirect their social goals.
“If we’re working in a systems approach where the school is part of a larger system, you see ripples in the pond because the learners go home and talk about these things with their families,” Stewart said.
Evidence and findings
Stewart pointed out the value of the evidence basis for the programme’s work. “Evidence is important. Good intentions are not enough, and we need to know that what we’re doing helps because sometimes we think what we’re doing is helping when it is actually doing harm.”
When the Vodacom Foundation undertook an evaluation of the programme during the pandemic, the results led to the programme’s expansion and enrichment.
The evaluation found a serious shortage of social workers at community level, particularly in the areas of greatest need. The programme has extended its contracts with psychosocial professionals in response. Netshitenzhe said that, in addition to assisting learners, the programme is contributing to much needed job creation.
It was found that the provision of psychosocial professionals to address learner wellbeing freed up teachers to focus on pedagogy contributing to better learner performance and educational outcomes. However, the evaluation also identified that some teachers felt competitive with the introduced psychosocial experts, revealing the importance of buy-in for the success of such programmes.
“It is important to galvanise the support of all stakeholders when you introduce a new programme so that people feel that they own the programme rather than them seeing themselves as outsiders,” Netshitenzhe explained. “You need to educate the parents and the communities to understand the impact of GBV in all societal ills and let them be at the forefront of leading this fight against GBV.”
Working together for social change
The panellists spoke to the need for greater collaboration in support of social change.
Stewart said that non-profits need to hold themselves accountable to the communities as well as to funders and called for involved parties to work together rather than in silos. Netshitenzhe echoed her sentiment, adding that the social space is not a competitive one. “We are really committed to social economic development but we believe in partnerships. We are fully aware that what we are doing is a drop in the ocean. We want more corporates to join us…we are not afraid to say partner with us and let’s do this together.”