South Africa is in the grip of a gender-based violence (GBV) epidemic. Given that one in three women are victims of GBV, business needs to recognise that its workforce is subject to this epidemic and take more responsibility for addressing the issue, not only in the workplace but in society at large.
This was the call to action from keynote speaker Sazini Mojapelo, a gender equality advocate and CEO of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund, in her address to delegates at the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference.
A costly epidemic
The country’s statistics paint a desperate picture of the violent reality of women’s experience. South Africa’s femicide rate is five times higher than the global average and the country has the highest incidence of rape globally. Mojapelo noted that for every one in three women who experience abuse, one in three men are perpetrators of that abuse. However, these pervasive violations of basic human rights are the least prosecuted crime in our nation.
Mojapelo made the case that, while GBV is usually seen as taking place in the intimate partner space, in South Africa it has also taken hold in the public space driven, in part, by the slow prosecution of perpetrators. The cost of GBV to the South African economy is estimated at as much as R42.4 billion annually.
Companies should collaborate to address GBV
She highlighted the conspicuous absence of business in efforts by civil society and government to address GBV, which culminated in the development of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence & Femicide, published in 2020. The plan rests on six pillars, namely:
Accountability, coordination and leadership
Prevention and rebuilding the social cohesion
Justice, safety and protection
Response, care, support and healing
Research and information management
While business has begun to take more interest in the issue since the plan was launched, Mojapelo said an effective response to the problem will require the collective effort of different sectors in society to uphold the rights of women and girls and achieve gender equality.
“To deliver in the fight against GBV it is important that we look at how we can eliminate it in the world of work.” For this to be achieved, the GBV focus in the workplace needs to shift beyond compliance, as an after-the-fact issue that falls under a framework of sexual harassment or whistle blowing, and towards prevention and the creation of a zero-tolerance environment.
Mojapelo encouraged business leaders to adopt tools and frameworks to prevent GBV in the workplace and hold corporate stakeholders to account, addressing gender parity and driving gender equality, with particular focus on diversity and inclusion that incorporates the LGBTQ+ community.
She emphasised the role of business in active citizenship, concluding that “it is not enough for business leaders to stay where we are without doing something about the social ills our country experiences. If we stand together, and we stand united, we can end gender-based violence in South Africa.”