The Southern African Development Community (SADC) recognises the prevention and reduction of Gender Based Violence (GBV) as a catalyst for attaining an environment conducive for peace and security, Ms Kealeboga Dambuza, Programme Officer for GBV in the SADC Gender Unit, has said.
In a presentation at the virtual Regional Dialogue on GBV in refugee and other humanitarian settings held on 25th November 2021, Ms Dambuza said SADC's commitment to fight GBV is expressed through the Protocol on Gender and Development (revised 2016). The Protocol, adopted in 2008 and revised in 2016, identifies GBV as an area of concern and proposes several approaches to addressing this epidemic.
The Regional Dialogue coincided with the launch of the commemoration of 16 Days Activism against GBV whose theme this year is "Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!".
The Protocol calls for state parties to enact and enforce legislation prohibiting all forms of GBV, including sexual harassment and human trafficking; and develop strategies to prevent and eliminate all harmful social and cultural practices.
State parties must ensure that laws on GBV provide for treatment and care of survivors of GBV, and adopt integrated approaches, including institutional cross sector structures, with the aim of eliminating GBV.
The Protocol indicates that state parties shall, during times of armed and other forms of conflict, take such steps as are necessary to prevent and eliminate incidences of human rights abuses, especially of women and children, and ensure that the perpetrators of such abuses are brought to justice before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Ms. Dambuza said SADC's commitment to fight GBV is also expressed through the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030 which identifies gender as a cross-cutting issue.
The RISDP 2020-2030 identifies safeguarding the rights of refugees and conflict migrants, and enhancing conflict prevention, resolution, and management.
In addition, she said, the SADC GBV Strategy and its Framework of Action 2018-2030 was approved by the SADC Ministers responsible for Gender Equality and Women's Affairs 2018.
The Strategy is aligned to relevant regional, continental and international gender and GBV instruments, and was developed to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of Articles 20 to 25 (on GBV) of the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
The goal of the SADC GBV Strategy is to provide a common platform and guidance at regional and Member State levels for an effective holistic and coordinated approach to addressing GBV in the SADC Region.
The Strategy has five main objectives namely to promote prevention and early identification of GBV by addressing associated social, cultural, traditional, religious, political and economic factors; strengthen delivery of effective and accessible protection, care and support services to GBV survivors; strengthen regional and national capacity to respond to GBV; improve information and knowledge management, including best practices and innovation; and ensure effective coordination, networking and partnerships for the response to GBV at national and regional levels.
Ms. Dambuza said the SADC GBV Strategy recognises that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those affected by armed conflict, including as refugees and displaced persons. Vulnerability of women and girls in these situations is heightened, particularly to sexual violence and rape which are used as a weapon of war in most cases. They continue to endure the traumatic consequences of violence even long after the conflicts.
The Strategy identifies the positive role of the security sector in maintaining or re-establishing safety and security during and post conflict, and in ending impunity that too often leaves perpetrators unaccountable for their crimes during conflict and in post conflict situations.
It calls for capacities of different security organs to be enhanced in dealing with violence against women and girls in conflict and post conflict situations through training and awareness raising on prevention and support to GBV survivors.
The SADC Secretariat conducted a study of the situation and status of GBV and related response in the Region for the period 2010-2017/18.
The results show that while GBV is a common phenomenon in SADC, its prevalence rates vary significantly across Member States. Physical violence ranges between 6% to 34.4%; sexual violence ranges between 4% to 25.5% and emotional violence ranges between 15.9% to 36.5%.
All 15 Member States that participated in the Study have legislation to address GBV, including violation of children, trafficking in persons, unequal treatment of males and females, and sexual harassment. With the exception of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), all Member States have laws on human trafficking.
All Member States, except Lesotho, have national action plans for the prevention and response to GBV. Four Member States, namely Angola, DRC, Namibia and Mozambique, have specific national action plans on women, peace and security (UN Security Council Resolution 1325).
While the uptake of GBV services is improving, the rate of successful prosecution of cases in SADC Member States is quite low, with prosecution of cases at about 33.8% of reported cases in the Region (about 7 in 20 cases).
Challenges include absence of specialised GBV courts and lack of capacity by courts to effectively deal with GBV cases. Places of safety for GBV victims are in acute shortage and most of these facilities are owned and run by civil society organisations and do not have a wide reach.
Despite evidence of increasing public conversations on GBV in the Region resulting from GBV campaigns and improved media engagement and reporting on GBV, there is inadequate assessment of the effectiveness of these awareness raising and education campaigns.
The challenges to effective GBV response include inadequate knowledge of GBV at all levels, especially at community level; weak coordination mechanisms among GBV service providers and stakeholders; lack of consistent and sustained GBV prevention programmes; and limited funding for GBV prevention interventions.
There is also high reliance by governments on development partners for both human and financial support, which compromises ownership and sustainability of GBV programmes; and limited knowledge of available legislation on GBV, and where known, there is inadequate interpretation and application of the law.