Sindisiwe Nyoni and Njabulo Skhosana are SASA Together! Community Activists in Matobo ward 15. Using the soft skill they acquired at an induction training in February 2019, they facilitate both physical and virtual discussions and trainings on gender equality, SASA Together approach, behaviour change and conflict resolution at community level. This has seen a sharp decrease in Gender based violence in Matobo.
Due to COVID-19, WhatsApp discussion are the order of the day. Community Activists have become conduits of information.
It is December 2020 and things are not looking good for almost everyone in the world. The scourges of COVID-19 are ravaging rapidly and there is a scare of the looming Cyclone Chalane, but the HOCIC SASA Together! team continues with their routine monitoring visits in Matobo. This is where Sindisiwe and Njabulo reflect on their 2020 journey.
Risks of gender-based violence continue to intensify in scale and scope while the population is exposed to degenerating food insecurity, compounded by economic hardship and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sindisiwe tells us that she monitors 1 Group made up of community members and 50 Adolescent Girls and Young Women in ward 15 whilst Njabulo is responsible for 3 groups namely STOP VAWG, GENDER EQUALITY and HOSPOT. Sindisiwe attests to the significant reduction in both domestic and gender-based violence since the introduction of SASA Together! in her ward. She narrates counts of ordeals where she has collaborated with law enforcement, Child Protection Committee, HOCIC SASA Together! Staff to resolve cases of gender-based violence, in all cases, a positive outcome being recorded.
COVID-19 restrictions and stresses exacerbated gender-based violence in many settings, Matobo was not spared. The national GBV Hotline (Musasa) has recorded a total of 6,200 GBV calls from the beginning of the lockdown on 30 March until 27 November (1,312 in April, 915 in May 2020, 776 in June, 753 in July, 766 in August, 629 in September, 546 in October, and 503 from 1 to 27 November), with an overall average increase of over 60 per cent compared to the pre-lockdown trends. About 94 per cent of the calls are from women. Psychological violence remains the most frequent form (55 per cent of total cases) followed by physical violence (22 per cent of total cases), economic violence (15 per cent) and sexual violence (8 per cent). About 90 per cent of cases are intimate partner violence.
Sindisiwe alerts that in 2020 she has referred 2 cases of GBV to law enforcement where perpetrators have been apprehended and victims counselled. Fortunately for ward 15 where a vibrant coterie of Community Activists exists, numerous incidences were avoided, with those occurring being reported and responded to timely, all thanks to the presence of effectively trained Activists.
However, There is a visible fade on her face when she tells of a 1 case where the victim dropped charges and instead suggested that Police beat the victim and free him because he is the breadwinner. Good enough, the Police Officers handled the case professionally until the issue reached the courts. It is such cases that Community Activities meet regularly that suggest that cases of violence are far from over when men are favored by scales of economics over women. This depletes all bargaining power women can have in intimate relationships.
I remember 1 of the cases I referred this year where the victim dropped all charges yet the whole village knows she is the husband’s punching bag (sic) and suggested that Police beat and release him instead because he is the head of the house, lest they starve, said Sindisiwe
It is because of these grassroots- centred and timely responses that ward 15 was able to curtail possibly alarming rates of GBV induced by COVID-19.
While men dominate the list of perpetrators, Njabulo Skhosana shares another dimension which he has learnt from the Men’s forum- STOP VAWG. He says this is a safe space for men who share what they call embarrassing marital problems such as the physical and emotional abuse they go through. The group affords men the opportunity to learn about causes and consequences of violence and steps taken in the event of being abused. Njabulo shares how men are bogged down by tradition that shames men who report abuse or share experiences.
Men are ashamed to report the abuse they go through. Infact, in ward 15 there are numerous cases of men abused by their wives, but they are ashamed to report to the police or share these experiences when women are around. Our group is a safe space where we advise men to report, offer support and understand why men are abusive, said Njabulo.
According to Njabulo, it is because of the fear of shame when reporting that most men end up retaliating to the violence which leads to a cycle of brutal domestic violence which affects children aswell. He asserts that without proper guidance, abused men retaliate violently.
I have learnt that without guidance, men tend to take matters into their own hands which creates a brutal society and a violent homestead. We have resolved to be our brothers’ keepers by giving each other advise on reporting cases of violence and resolving conflict amicably, Njabulo added.
Sindisiwe and Njabulo are happy that the presence of Community Activists has seen a sharp decrease in cases of Gender Based Violence in their ward. Njabulo says that their presence as agents of social behaviour change serves as a deterrent.