JOHANNESBURG – Appalling acts of Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) inflicted on women, children and members of the LGBTQI+ community are reversing the strides made in gender equality since the dawning of our democracy and threatens the foundation of our fledging democracy. There is consensus among experts that to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence, it will require strong collaboration between government and the private sector.
Today, in the spirit of collaboration, the Vodacom Foundation, the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Social Development are announcing a new private public partnership initiative: the launch of a new ecosystem, aimed at using public schools as platforms to tackle GBVF in society.
According to UN Women, an estimated 736 million women across the world — almost one in three — have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life. This statistic does not even include sexual harassment. GBVF has reached worrying levels in South Africa too. One in four women will experience violence by men and are five times more likely to be killed. President Cyril Ramaphosa has described gender-based violence as the “second major pandemic” we face in South Africa today.
The Vodacom-led initiative was first conceptualised in 2019 when the DBE made a plea to Vodacom to provide psycho-social support in schools due to the high prevalence of gender-based violence. According to the UN, school-related gender-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls. Globally, one in three students, aged 11–15, have been bullied by their peers at school at least once in the past month. Girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying and have reported being made fun of because of their physical appearances, more frequently than boys.
The social workers who received training from Stellenbosch University are doing group and individual intervention sessions with learners, teachers, School Governing Bodies (SGBs), youth and women formations. These are focused on specific modules that cover GBV, bullying, self-esteem and violence. Those who have gone through the programme have a responsibility to share knowledge with family, friends and other community members. Thus, over time every learner carries the light and inspire many to become forces of positive change.
Takalani Netshitenzhe, External Affairs Director for Vodacom South Africa says: “Vodacom collaborates with government and civil society in finding innovative solutions to some of the pressing socio-economic challenges afflicting society today. As a pioneer in the field of GBV, it was important that as we accelerate our GBV ecosystem that we looked at deploying a solution that would incorporate the schooling system. Schools are an extension of the community; in fact, they are the cornerstone of communities. It is a space where learners, educators, parents and community members in general converge. It is a space where learners should feel safe but very often don’t. It is a space where learners and educators spend the majority of their time so it makes sense to target it as a platform that can be used to educate and influence change. Collaboration with social partners is also an opportunity for us to learn more about all forms of gender-based violence from gender experts and how to effectively provide support.”
Minister Of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu says: “There is no way that we can tackle the scourge of GBV alone as government. Government needs business and civic bodies as partners to effectively deal with gender violence in society because working together we can always do better. As a department, we commend the good work that Vodacom is doing in the GBV space, and we would like to appeal to other organisations to partner with us in the fight against the gender violence.”
The programme commenced in April 2021 in Gauteng, KZN and Mpumalanga provinces where 10 social workers were placed. Presently, the social workers are working in 17 schools covering roughly 14 000 learners. An additional 10 social workers will start in the coming months and will be placed in Limpopo, Free State and Northern Cape provinces. Vodacom Foundation plans to add ten social workers every financial year to do this work.
“In our view, in order to drive a systematic change in society, we thought it best to use institutions of learning, targeting young learners whilst they are still in their formative years to influence them positively. Our long-term view is to nurture young-minds, so they become change agents and play an active role in ridding our society of gender violence,” Netshitenzhe concluded.