The protection of women’s rights begins with childhood
To solve the crisis of violence against women we need to look to boys’ experience of childhood in South Africa.
Behaviour disorders that lead to violence in later life are already present at the age of 10. This is not to say that all boys who experience abuse become violent. But if we want to heal our communities we must turn our attention to cycles of abuse that begin at a very early age.
GroundUp reported on Wednesday that in Diepsloot, a township north of Johannesburg, sexual and gender-based violence is a pervasive issue.
In a 2014 survey, 76% of those questioned said they or someone close to them had been a victim of violence in the home or from an intimate partner. Domestic violence was the most prevalent problem, followed by rape and other forms of sexual violence (37%).
In a separate study from 2016 in Diepsloot, more than half of the men questioned said that they had either raped or beaten a woman during the past year.
The same study found a strong correlation between men’s own exposure to violence and their use of violence: “Men experiencing child abuse were five times as likely to use recent violence against women… The majority of men interviewed experienced at least one type of physical or sexual childhood abuse. More than one third had been raped or molested as a child.”
It is therefore crucial that the persistent nature of violence is recognised. If we want to improve safety of women, we must begin with the protection and safety of all children from harm as a matter of priority.
Poor mental, physical health linked to childhood violence
The 2017 Optimus Study on the prevalence of sexual abuse among children in South Africa found similar prevalences of lifetime experience of sexual abuse for girls and boys. The data shows that boys need as much protection as girls (though their needs are different) – but this is only slowly being recognised. Violence in families, whether against children or witnessed by children, has serious developmental consequences and may result in the intergenerational transmission of violent behaviour.