If gender based violence (GBV) was a business, it would be a roaring trade. It’s time to stop talking about solving the problem, and actually start doing something productive, writes Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings.

GBV is not just a problem, it’s a crisis. With close to 10,000 rapes occurring every quarter and 18% of women and girls experiencing physical or sexual violence in the past 12 months, it’s time to change the way we approach GBV in South Africa.

In 2019, 18% of 15 to 49 year-old partnered women and girls had experienced physical or sexual violence in the past 12 months, and other forms of GBV like femicide or bride abduction are also widespread. When you consider that approximately 51,1% (30,5 million) of the population of South Africa is female, the severity of the problem becomes clear: South African women are under siege, despite the fact that the country has some of the most progressive legislation in the world in the form of the Domestic Violence Act (1998).

The problem is that South African institutions are woefully ill-equipped to assist victims of GBV. The establishment of the National Council on Gender Based Violence, the central agency that’s supposed to co-ordinate official responses, has been stalled since 2012.

The National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NSP GBVF), providing a 10-year roadmap that parties working to respond to GBVF have committed themselves to, is still in its infancy. Police and the justice system are severely underfunded, as are shelters and care centres. In April 2023, the Gauteng Department of Social Development announced that funding to shelters and care centres would be slashed by 50%.

Judiciary procedures take ages to come to a verdict, and are unlikely to convict first-time offenders, leaving them free to abuse again. There is a backlog of several years in DNA analyses, and these factors only start coming into play if the violence is actually reported to the authorities.

When the police are provided with support from the private sector, that support is unproductive. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and BMW handed over five cars for the use of departments focusing on GBV in February 2020. Four of those cars went to other social policing units, and the one that remained with a GBV-focused unit was found in a warehouse with only 348 kilometres on the clock.


A drop in the ocean

It’s time to face the harsh reality: GBV is not just a drop in the ocean, it’s a raging tsunami that requires a collective societal change to tackle effectively. Despite all the lip service paid to solving this problem, activism remains sporadic and issue-driven. Campaigns like #TotalShutDown and #EndRapeCulture may make a brief splash, but they do nothing practical to solve the crisis. 702’s Walk the Talk has largely become just that: A lot of talk, with very little action. Even events held around Women’s Day, featuring political, social, and business leaders making speeches about how GBV should be addressed have done little to stem the tide of victims.

It almost seems as if all past initiatives have been wasted. If GBV was a business, it would be doing a roaring trade, with no signs of slowing down.

Despite the willingness of businesses and government organisations to get involved in initiatives designed to combat GBV, very little is being achieved largely because efforts are often duplicated, and there is no coherent strategy. A perfect example is the number of programmes that are vying for for funding and support. Instead of supporting existing NGOs that are making a positive impact, new organisations are being created, leading to further fragmentation and inefficiency. For example, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wanted to make a contribution, the Foundation started a new organisation rather than supporting an existing one that was already making a positive impact.

In addition, too many businesses approach this as a tick-box exercise for Corporate Social Responsibility reporting. It’s a crisis that directly affects their current and future employees, and it’s in their best interest – not to mention their moral obligation – to help fight this scourge. It’s time for action, not just words, to put an end to GBV and protect the safety and dignity of all South Africans.


Making a real and lasting impact

MIP has shown that corporate South Africa has the power to make a tangible impact. Our partnership with TEARS Foundation has not only strengthened their ability to support victims of GBV, but it can serve as a model for all organizations looking to provide assistance to those in need.

TEARS Foundation provides access to crisis intervention, advocacy, counselling, and prevention education to those impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse. Confidential services are provided to all victims at no cost nationwide, with a 24-hour free SMS service for anyone with access to a cellphone. The NPO connects victims to facilities that offer the assistance they need, ranging from counselling and support groups to to medical attention, as well as following up with the police follow-up on behalf of victims who have case numbers and providing assistance to apply for a protection order.

MIP built, deployed, and is maintaining a digital platform for TEARS Foundation that assists the NPO in capturing cases, recording victim and perpetrator details, as well as things like case numbers provided by the police and court order numbers.

This solution could be valuable to other NGOs and organizations focused on child-headed households, allowing them to digitise their records and connect with other databases and social services. The platform also enables case workers to follow up with their clients more effectively.

By digitising documents and tracking data, this platform can help track and trace perpetrators, making it easier for police to do their jobs. The same data can be used to grade the performance of police departments or courts, allowing the government to pinpoint where additional resources are needed.

It’s time for corporate South Africa to take action and support the fight against GBV with strategic investments that make a real difference. Let’s move beyond talk and start implementing solutions that are outcomes-based, so we can protect the safety and dignity of all South Africans.

It’s time to take a stand and demand action from our leaders. It’s time for the public and private sectors to work together to combat GBV in South Africa. Let’s provide the necessary funding and support to police and justice systems, shelters, and care centers. Let’s ensure that first-time offenders are held accountable for their crimes. Let’s put an end to this crisis and protect the safety and dignity of all South Africans.