On 1 December, Vodacom Foundation hosted a thought-provoking event, Gender-Based Violence Through a Different Lens, to unpack how GBV impacts marginalised groups including persons with disabilities and individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Passionate gender activist Lebo Mashile, renowned for her award-winning work as a poet, actress, writer, and producer, brought her voice to the session as group moderator. Lebo’s questions around personal experiences and solutions to challenges were posed to panellists Masingita Masunga and Lisa Vetten, who joined her in person at Vodacom World, and to Chebet Chikumbu and Tando Mkosi, who contributed to the live discussion virtually.
Women aren’t the only victims of GBV – South Africa’s children are at risk, as are marginalised groups including people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+ individuals. By shining a light on this sordid issue, Vodacom aims to galvanise communities, big businesses, and government alike to look at more effective ways to equally protect every person at risk of GBV.
This task is not one that South Africa faces alone – GBV is comparable across the whole African continent, noted Chebet, who is driving awareness through her role as Africa Director at Global Citizen. For Chebet, more must be done to get Africa’s leaders on board with a “no tolerance” approach to GBV. Only 42 African countries have adopted the African Union’s Maputo Protocol, she said. To date, 13 countries must still ratify this important protocol, which advocates for the adoption of progressive legislation and policies aimed at accelerating women’s rights.
Such rights would be extended to South Africa’s youth, many of whom were confined with abusers during pandemic lockdowns. Lebo shared terrifying statistics, noting that 934 girls under age 14 gave birth between April 2020 and March this year. In response to this widespread crime of statutory rape, Lebo asked a pointed question: who saw what was happening in these households that we were confined to in lockdown? Vodacom’s #SeeRedFlags campaign is tackling this issue, educating family and community members about the red flags signalling abuse, encouraging them to speak up. Silence is the enemy, as it allows perpetrators to continue the abuse unchecked. For Vodacom, awareness drives action, and part of that action is ensuring access to support and intervention for all GBV survivors. This goal goes hand in hand with accelerating internet coverage and device and data accessibility, which are key focus areas for our brand.
Accessibility was a hot topic of discussion that Masingita, celebrated TV show host and Vodacom Foundation ambassador, led the charge on. As a person living with cerebral palsy, she spoke about how people with disabilities are being erased from important conversations; how these citizens are being excluded from participation due to lack of access. “Disability is not incapability,” she said, explaining that being denied access to work and thus being excluded from economic activity is a huge driver of GBV for this community. With international estimates suggesting people with disabilities are four to 10 times more likely to fall victim to crime than the rest of the population, we must act with more urgency to ensure inclusion. Without equal access to jobs, such individuals are condemned to a life of financial dependence on others, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.
Lisa, a leading researcher with two decades’ experience within the GBV field, added to the topic of inclusion. Society often views GBV in a binary way: a crime committed by men against women, she said. Moving away from traditional gender norms is key to embracing an inclusive outlook on who GBV survivors are – men are also vulnerable, and this type of violence plagues the LGBTQIA+ community. In July, Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister John Jeffery reported that 29 hate crimes, ranging from ‘corrective’ rape to murder, against LGBTQIA+ individuals had been committed since 2020’s lockdowns. These individuals must not be excluded from conversations driving action around GBV, as they are equally affected by it.
Shared issues of inclusivity and accessibility raised by all panellists are top of mind for Vodacom in our fight against GBV. The goal is to ensure all GBV survivors have equal, affordable access to resources and support in times of crisis, which is something our brand has actioned by leveraging mobile technology. Vodacom’s zero-rated Bright Sky SA mobile app empowers users with relevant resources accessible on their phone, without data, in English, isiZulu, and Sesotho – breaking down language accessibility barriers, too. Tando, Managing Executive for Vodacom Group Talent, reiterated that this is one way that Vodacom is actively positioning itself as part of the solution, something we call on all private-sector organisations to address.