“In 2005 we started our Cyberdialogues where people could talk about gender based violence. We used the Government, Communication and Information System (GCIS) multi-purpose centres which provide internet access to rural communities. As it evolved we became involved with the 365 Days campaign through projects like the I-Stories that allows women who have experienced violence to heal through telling their stories. We also have an Opinion and Commentary service which provides articles for use by the media.”
But, says Kubi, the problem is how to keep the campaign going for the other 11 months of the year. “For instance, in Women’s Month we get all excited and then we forget all about it. The 16 Days is an important campaign but we need to sustain it so the media doesn’t forget about it after the 10th of December.”
She is less concerned about the perception that the 16 Days campaign has been co-opted by government and big business: “I don’t have a problem with other stakeholders getting involved – what is important is coordination, messaging and sustaining the campaign throughout the year.”
She says that while there have been “territorial battles” about the 16 Days, she doesn’t find engaging in them really useful. “If there are criticisms that these events are breakfasts hosted for wealthy women in Sandton, then maybe it is our job to educate them to do something more strategic?”
Kubi believes there is a need to look more at involving the voices of women who are experiencing violence and find out what they do and don’t want from the campaign.
“Often the people most directly affected aren’t part of the campaign.”
She feels there is still a place for marches and that sort of activism, but that “we need to move on other fronts. One of the most effective ways is to work with local governments as we did with our Cyber Dialogues. We also did a safety audit with women from various wards around the city and they spoke about the need for adequate street lighting, cutting of long grass in the veld and providing security at cemeteries.” The link with local economic development is also crucial, says Kubi. “If women are economically independent, it makes it easier for them to leave and abusive situation.”
One of the major challenges in assessing the effectiveness of these campaigns, says Kubi is that there is no reliable data on the levels of violence against women. Genderlinks will soon embark on a study into the prevalence of gender based violence as well as attitudes towards it. “For the first time we will have a sense of the levels not just of rape, but of domestic violence and economic violence too. Then we will know where to direct more resources.”
She believes the study will show that “levels of gender based violence will be comparable to the HIV pandemic. We need a baseline study, because without it it is difficult to be clear what we are talking about. At present the only figures we have are for sexual violence.” Once the study in South Africa is completed, Genderlinks has plans to roll it out to Botswana and Mauritius as well.
Despite the challenges and the ongoing violence against women, Kubi is clear that these campaigns are not just useful but essential: “I think these campaigns have put gender based violence on the agenda and the issue has gained currency. Our challenge is to keep it on the agenda.”