The term gender based violence encompasses physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, socio-economic and emotional abuse as well as female genital mutilation, child marriage, early childbearing, trafficking and sexual violence as a weapon of war.
The abuse of women has a long history. Some men in Ancient Greece committed uxoricide (a man attacking or killing a pregnant woman). This male mind-set indicates panic at the loss of control induced by the pregnancy. Similarly any period of change that involves a shift in power relations between intimate partners may activate this mind-set.
In the European Union (2018) the Member States which reported the highest rates of femicide committed by an intimate partner were Malta, Finland and Sweden. The highest rates of femicide committed by a relative were Latvia, Malta and Austria. England, no longer an EU member, has recognised coercive control in GBV.
Controlling behaviours are almost always the first step in the progression and escalation of abuse that ends in violence. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 in English law provides for the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship. This acknowledges the psychological damage caused by manipulation such as gaslighting, where the abuser makes the victim doubt his or her reality, and serves as a pre-emptive strike against GBV.
The United Nations estimates the cost of violence against women globally to be as high as 1-2% of Gross National Product. In some Arab states rapists are acquitted if they marry their victims. In Morocco this law was repealed following the suicide of a victim who was forced to marry her rapist. Jordan and others followed.
Tunisia announced its first historic law against GBV after a survey in 2010 revealed that 50% of women experienced violence in their lifetime.
Sexual violence against adolescents aged 15 years and under is highest in the conflict-ridden areas of Eastern and Southern Africa such as the DRC, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Nigeria’s North East has seen a steep rise in violence targeted at women and children by Boko Haram. Closer to home, at the start of the level 3 lockdown 21 women and children were murdered in two weeks, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to state that there were two pandemics in South Africa, Covid 19 and GBV.
GBV has many causes but the main cause, according to psychology experts, is that it is a relationship retention strategy. An article “Husband’s Esteem Predicts his Mate Retention Tactics” by Holden et al suggests there are two ways in which men’s mate retention strategies manifest, benefit-provisioning mate retention and cost-inflicting mate retention.
- benefit-provisioning mate retention: giving attention, gifts, love, care and financial support
- cost-inflicting mate retention: making it costly or dangerous for a partner to leave the relationship by manipulation, intimidation, threats and violence
The mate retention strategy men choose depends on mate value, the higher the perceived mate value of the partner the more positive it tends to be. However, the man’s perception of his own mate value plays a crucial role.
Men who see themselves as of lower mate value may have to perform more mate retention strategies than men of higher mate value. Secondly, men of lower mate value may more often lack the necessary resources (money, time) to perform sufficient benefit-provisioning to retain their partners. Men in this circumstance may therefore perceive no other alternative than to practice cost-inflicting mate retention strategies.
For example, the competition of older men with more resources (sugar daddies) makes it difficult for a young male with no resources to find a suitable partner. Patriarchy, entrenched with poverty and unemployment, lower education, alcoholism and cultural norms that establish the inequality and powerlessness of women contribute to an already fraught situation in South Africa.
Sugar daddies may therefore contribute to the high rate of young woman killed. Young women may seek younger partners in addition to the older male, causing a love triangle and putting themselves at risk.
Our government’s failure to implement policies and legislation to counter GBV contributes to the problem, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation claimed. On 28 January 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act 12 of 2021, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Act 13 of 2021 and the Domestic Violence Amendment Act 14 of 2021.
It’s a welcome start but how do we change entrenched mind-sets? To quote President Ramaphosa there is “no less than a war being waged against the women and children of our country.”