Gender-Based Violence is a trending subject in South Africa, with thousands of women and girls falling victim to atrocious acts of violence. The crime has escalated to such an extent, it has come under scrutiny by not only community members but by the government as well.
In fact, during his address to the nation on June 17, President Cyril Ramaphosa said COVID-19 was not the only pandemic South Africa was facing.
“As a man, as a husband and as a father, I am appalled at what is no less than a war being waged against the women and children of our country. At a time when the pandemic has left us all feeling vulnerable and uncertain, violence is being unleashed on women and children with a brutality that defies comprehension.”
Additionally, Police Minister Bheki Cele reiterated the president’s concerns when speaking about this second pandemic, following the government identifying gender-based hotspots in the country.
This list identified 30 areas in South Africa which were problematic, of which Osizweni was among one of the areas identified.
As the South African Government and the SAPS strive to address the issue — the fact remains that despite the best efforts by Government, police and charity-based organisations, women and girls are still being harassed and victimised.
In fact, a global survey by girls’ rights group, Plan International, notes that online violence is just as problematic. The report – titled Free to be online? Girls’ and young women’s experiences of online harassment – shows that one in five girls (19%) have left or significantly reduced their use of a social media platform after being harassed, while another one in ten (12%) have changed the way they express themselves.
Plan International’s chief executive, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, says the research in the report was gathered in conversation with more than 14,000 girls, across multiple countries, with each participant sharing similar stories of harassment and discrimination.
She elaborates, “This discrimination is compounded by other layers of abuse that target their nationalities, racial identities, education levels, disabilities and sexual and gender identities.”
More than half of the respondents (58%) claim to have been harassed or abused online. The report also indicates that attacks are most common on Facebook, where 39% say they have suffered harassment.
The study also shows that 23% of the girls’ and women have also been harassed on Instagram, while 14% have been abused or harassed via WhatsApp. Additionally, 10% of the participants endured abuse via Snapchat, while 9% were victimised via Twitter and a further 6% were harassed and abused via TikTok.
The study also found girls who use social media, from both high and low-income countries, are routinely subjected to explicit messages. This includes pornographic photos, cyberstalking and other distressing forms of abuse.
According to the participants in the study, reporting tools are ineffective in stopping the harassment.
Girls and young women are suffering so much from abuse, that the reports have found that it has damaged their lives offline, with one in five (22%) of those surveyed saying they or a friend have been left fearing for their physical safety —while a staggering 44% say social media companies need to do more to protect them.
Albrectsen stresses, “These attacks may not be physical, but they are often threatening, relentless, and limit girls’ freedom of expression. Driving girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world, and damages their ability to be seen, heard and become leaders.”
Disappointingly, she adds these victims of abuse are being left to deal with online violence on their own, with profound consequences for their confidence and wellbeing.
As women and girls are left to fend for themselves online, she states, “With COVID-19 driving more of our lives online and with internet access around the world improving, it is time for digital platforms to step up and protect their users.”
According to the report, the most common type of attack is abusive and insulting language, reported by 59% of girls who have been harassed, This is followed by purposeful embarrassment (41%), body shaming and threats of sexual violence (both 39%).
In a time where gender-based violence is problematic, threats of sexual violence made against young women and girls’ is a frightening thought.
Furthermore, more than a third (37%) of girls who are from an ethnic minority and have suffered abuse, say they are targeted because of their race or ethnicity, while more than half (56%) of those who identify as LGBTIQ+ say they are harassed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
With social media playing an important role in our daily and business lives, it seems much is still required to address the way in which men and boys view their female counterparts.
What are your views on the report? Why do you believe men feel justified in harassing women and girls online? And what steps do you feel should be taken against perpetrators?
You know what to do, share your views with us in the comment section below.
Author: Quinton Boucher
Edited: Calvin Swemmer