Working to eradicate gender-based violence (GBV) is a complex and long-term endeavour. We need collaborative efforts across sectors and governance institutions to understand the history of violence in South Africa and how its gendered nature is exacerbated by the devastating effects of patriarchy. The National Business Initiative’s focus on gender equity looks at this and facilitates platforms for business to meaningfully engage on this critical issue. Bridgette Mdangayi and Khanyisa Nomoyi, both of the NBI, explore the nature of GBV and how the private sector should address it.
South Africa has experienced the devastating effects of numerous pandemics, with GBV one of the worst. In 2020, the face of GBV emerged strongly as one of the most urgent social crises in need of collaborative action. While this is not a new pandemic for South Africa, it has been ruthlessly exacerbated by Covid-19. Reports show a significant spike in GBV incidents as of April 2020 and the crisis thus required an urgent approach and thoughtful responses.1
In his Covid-19 update to the nation on 17 June 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the brutality against women and children across the country, highlighting GBV as a pandemic just as dangerous as Covid-19.
The quest to find innovative ways to address this grievous issue is central to a more equal, inclusive, and cohesive society. Given that businesses operate in society, companies are not immune to the social ills that continue to plague our country, so they should certainly be part of the broader solution. A KPMG study titled ‘Too costly to ignore – the economic impact of gender-based violence in South Africa’ estimated that GBV costs the country over R28 billion a year, amounting to 1% of the gross domestic product.2 These costs are based on a collation of loss of incomes, opportunities, taxes, health, justice, and social service costs.
Aside from business revenue losses, the ripple effect of GBV is felt by various social institutions. Health and justice departments do not have the capacity to handle the influx of cases logged in the system. Additionally, a significant amount of labour and time needs to be dedicated to awareness and education on the intricacies of GBV. This groundwork is more often left to underfunded and under- supported non-profit organisations (NPOs) that bear the burden of responding to immediate community needs and crafting plans for long-term support. Due to businesses’ footprint, the private sector plays an important role in supporting these interventions.
Interventions cannot be class-tailored under the widely held misconception that violence affects people in lower-income communities. The pervasive nature of GBV has showed that survivors cut across the gender, race, and class spectrums. This means that, through education platforms, it is important to address how men are directly implicated in upholding patriarchy, and the intricacies of how this oppressive system makes it easier for them to navigate different parts of society. Addressing the gendered power dynamics that exist in our society and demanding transparency draws us closer to accountability mechanisms that bring perpetrators to light.
Key drivers of GBV
GBV, and intimate partner violence in particular, is more prevalent in societies where there is a culture of violence, and where male superiority is treated as the norm. This can manifest in men feeling entitled to women and gender diverse persons, a strict reinforcement of gender roles and hierarchy (and punishment of transgressions), women having low social value and power, and associating masculinity with the control of women and gender diverse persons.
These factors interact with other drivers, such as social norms which may be cultural or religious, lack of women’s economic ownership, lack of social support, socioeconomic inequality, and substance abuse, which is sometimes overlooked. In many cultures, men’s violence against women is considered acceptable within certain settings or situations. This social acceptability of violence makes it particularly challenging to address GBV effectively.
In South Africa, GBV saturates the political, economic, and social structures of society and is driven by strongly held patriarchal social norms, and complex and intersectional power inequalities, including those of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Understanding intersectionality also means expanding care and support for communities who are affected by GBV. The LGBTQIAP+ community3 is often not addressed in these discussions, despite evidence and research that demonstrates the need.4
What companies can do to address GBV
At a business level, responses to GBV should be grounded as a human rights issue, revealing how survivors can be vulnerable to financial crises, high absenteeism, and further inabilities to achieve upward professional mobility.
In the South African context where the justice system and mental and medical support services have been strained for years in response to GBV, companies find themselves having to extend support under challenging circumstances. We can use the lessons learnt from this pandemic to ensure we are prepared for future disasters.
It is critical for companies to take a stand against GBV. The collective efforts required to eliminate GBV are a shared responsibility for undoing violence that has specifically marginalised women and the LGBTQIAP+ community. In doing so, it is important for care to be given to these marginalised groups, to take collective action towards justice, and ensure accountability from perpetrators. It is important that we facilitate discussions with and between business, civil society, and government, with a rooted and conscientious focus on eradicating GBV and the provision of support and care for survivors.
Business leaders need to declare ‘zero tolerance’ for GBV in all its forms and affirm their support for employees and society. Given the scale of violence in South Africa, the voices of leaders in anti-GBV work are crucial as an endorsement of ongoing support for interventions, and should by extension create social responsibility between business operations and society at large. Leadership that is committed to this area is also active in spaces of governmental national strategies, policy development, and implementation.
The private sector, which employs and engages with various aspects of society, has a responsibility to display bold leadership in the support of ending GBV.
Companies should ensure that their policies on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace are adjusted to incorporate harm reduction practices that prioritise the support and care afforded to those who speak up and remove the accused from the workplace – through suspension, leave and so on. The framing and implementation of policies is paramount in creating a culture that protects employees from possible harm.
Grievance structures that are sensitive to the complexity of GBV and power dynamics in the workplace should aim to prioritise the wellbeing of staff – and, by extension, their families – in instances where cases are reported. At a broader level, companies have a responsibility to continuously engage with staff and update their policies on matters of GBV and how the work environment can serve as a space that rejects harmful gender roles and patriarchal notions of professional performance. Transformative policies also need to look at recovery – how a company is able to provide support once an incident is reported is necessary to reintegration. Companies should also review company structures to accommodate staff at various levels, that is, transport provision for shift work and additional security for female workers who may work at unsafe hours.
Closing the gender pay gap is an economically strategic way for companies to provide support for survivors and their families, given the income disparities that have been documented to keep women trapped in abusive circumstances, and the financial security required once they are able to leave the abusive environment. Research on GBV reveals that all classes experience violence. However, survivors who earn a low income are more vulnerable to poverty and are therefore unlikely to receive the care they need.
Companies can also fund civil society organisations and NPOs focused on addressing GBV in communities and society at large. Such funding should be based on long-term partnerships, given the complex and extensive nature of GBV.
Eradicating such a massive social issue requires multi-focused interventions through the support of experts and community practitioners across sectors. Business responses need to be coordinated efforts with key stakeholders to ensure stability and sustainability.
By directing funds towards these social structures, the private sector is contributing towards an immediate and urgent response. South Africa has an expansive network of NPOs and shelters that facilitate legal assistance, healthcare needs, social support and community restorative justice. It is also imperative that the framing of these partnerships is as a collective response to the crisis.
There is a gap in research on tracking the responses of the private sector to GBV eradication. Even though the sector notably contributed to the establishment of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund launched in 2021, there is still insufficient information on ongoing initiatives and coordinated efforts from across the sector. This research is vital in measuring impact and adding to existing bodies of knowledge on the importance of collaborative responses to GBV. The private sector must therefore continuously engage in knowledge-sharing platforms where efforts, funding and resources are directed efficiently.
A multi-stakeholder approach
The NBI’s Gender-Based Violence Working Group – and more broadly the pathway – engages with South African companies to not only support their responses to eradicating GBV, but also to challenge them to extend the scope of their initiatives. Through this work, the NBI intends to co-create and develop a set of tools and guides that will support companies to develop meaningful and robust responses. This is a critical time for corporates to take a clear, public, and deliberate stance of zero tolerance on GBV, both in the workplace and in society.
Businesses should leverage their power by engaging in multi-sectoral initiatives that seek to avert and eradicate GBV. This includes joining the NBI in its collective approach to combating GBV by engaging and supporting the GBVF National Strategic Plan for the greater call to action, from the NBI to corporate South Africa.
There are no easy answers to eradicating GBV. With the Covid-19 pandemic, we bore witness to the linkages between a health- related crisis and the flare-up of a long- standing social issue of violence. We have seen countless efforts from various parts of society in raising awareness, educating and funding responses towards the scourge.
At this time, it is important to strengthen interventions. Violence in South Africa is historical and has infiltrated every aspect of socioeconomic life. The crisis of GBV mirrors a patriarchal order that seeks to suppress and prevent marginalised groups from freely participating in the public space, workplaces, economic ownership and personal safety, which are deserved by all.
Anglo American South Africa
In response to the scourge of gender-based violence in societies worldwide, Anglo American launched the Living with Dignity framework at the end of 2019. In doing so, the company recognised the crucial role that business
can play in reversing the high levels of violence that often characterise the communities in which it operates, and which find their way into its business. The objective of Living with Dignity is to prevent and respond to violence,
in particular, violence against women and children, in the various spheres of an employee and their families’ lives. In this way, Anglo plays its part in creating safer workplaces, homes, schools and communities
Much of the work done in 2020 was in response to the increase in domestic violence that was seen around the world owing to Covid-19 and its associated social and economic stressors. During that period, Anglo worked to improve access to information on how to seek medical, psychosocial and/or legal support; worked through community-based healthcare workers to identify and respond to cases of domestic violence; and donated much-needed financial and other resources to shelters around its operations across the country.
Anglo is in the process of integrating work around gender norms, violence prevention and GBV into existing initiatives in the Thriving Communities portfolio of its Sustainable Mining Plan. This stretches across its focus in health, education and socioeconomic development.
Internally, the company is in the process of revising policies and structures around responses to sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation. With the launch of the new domestic violence policy in March 2021, the company has significantly extended its support to employees and families, while also using the opportunity to continue the drive to communicate clearly around a zero-tolerance stance on harassment and victimisation.
- Amnesty International (2021). Southern Africa: Homes become dangerous place for women and girls during COVID-19 lockdown. Accessible at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/02/southern-africa-homes-become-dangerous-place-for-women- and-girls-during-covid19-lockdown/
- KPMG Human & Social Services (2014). Too costly to ignore – the economic impact of gender-based violence in South Africa. Accessible at: https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/za/pdf/2017/01/za-Too-costly-to-ignore.pdf
- Definition: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual, Pansexual+ community.
- Heinrich Boll Stiftung (2021). 21 April 2021 Joint Statement: Spate of Hate Crime Murders – LGBTIQ+ People Say More Needs to be Done. Accessible at: https://za.boell.org/en/2021/04/22/21-april-2021-joint-statement-spate-hate-crime-murders-lgbtiq-people-say- more-needs-be