survival mode

A lack of financial resources and income make women stay in abusive relationships. Dr Lentsu Nchabeleng explores whether the economic inclusion of women can decrease the rate of violence against women in South Africa

THE contribution of women to a society’s transition is undeniable. Although, the issue of women’s empowerment and gender equality is at the top of the agenda for many countries around the world, black women in South Africa have faced additional struggles due to apartheid.

The World Bank reported the total labour force of females in South Africa stood at 45.38% in 2019. The female labour force as a percentage highlights the extent to which women are active in the work force.

This low percentage is not surprising as the systemic oppression of women in South Africa particularly black women have contributed immensely to the high rates of unemployment, gender inequality, poverty and violence against women.

Like many developing countries, gender-based discrimination and inequalities are rampant and as a result low empowerment of women and high gender gaps continue to impede women’s development.

It is well documented that lack of financial resources and income make women stay in abusive relationships. Most often, financial limitations are connected to caring for children or inability to keep a job due to abuser’s control or injuries from the abuse.

Financial manipulation is very common in abusive relationships and this makes it hard for victims of sexual and gender-based violence to leave the relationship however without money, access to resources or shelter it seem impossible to escape the horror.

This level of dependence creates a feeling of helplessness particularly for women who live with their abusive partner. This exposes the reality that poverty is mainly pronounced among women not only as a consequence of lack of income, but due to the deprivation of capabilities and as a result of ongoing gender biases in societies and governments. It is very important to recognise that patriarchy and misogyny plays a huge role in gendered poverty, where females are viewed as unequal. This recognition serves to illustrate the escalating role that gender discrimination

has in determining poverty. I extend this analysis by imposing that feminisation of poverty increases the inequality of living standards for women inevitably widening the gap in poverty between women and man.

Thus, it is important for governments to address cultural systems as they influence labour markets wage differences between men and women. It is arguable that once the gendered poverty is addressed, women can be financially liberated.

However, we should be careful not to tout women’s economic empowerment as a magic bullet that can prevent and respond to violence against women in a patriarchal society. The “traditional” role of a woman in society has created limitations for so many women who participate in paid work because men perceive women’s role in the labour market as an infringement of their role as the breadwinner.

Consequently, they may seek to retrieve power to compensate for their perceived displacement by retaliating with violence. Although, the focus of women’s economic empowerment is important, there is a huge need to address social and cultural norms that underlie and perpetuate violence against women.

From a South African perspective, it is apparent that women’s economic empowerment alone won’t resolve the scourge of violence against women. Violence against women includes rape and sexual abuse; forced trafficking; intimate partner violence; female genital mutilation; maternal death; femicide; dowry deaths; honour killings; female infanticide; sexual harassment and forced and early marriage.

The alarming rate of violence against women in South Africa is a social and health quagmire that requires thoughtful solutions to respond effectively to the crisis. The 64 th commemoration of the National Women’s March was themed “Generation Equality: Realising women’s rights for an equal future”.

The 2020 women’s month objective was to advance efforts to eradicate gender discrimination and advance the rights of women and girls in economic, cultural, social and political spheres of life. In his keynote address, President Cyril Ramaphosa reinstated the importance of prioritizing women’s economic empowerment to eradicate violence against women. He highlighted the need to advance efforts to develop national consensus around programs of gender policy and to advance the gender agenda in the period of 2020-2025.

However, with the current reputation of the African National Congress (ANC) it becomes close to impossible to have confidence that any efforts will yield positive outcomes. We have been brain-fed the story of women empowerment but the reality of many women doesn’t match the story. We need to debunk the mythology of women exceptionalism in society and workspaces in order to adequately address violence against women in this country.

As a starting point, there is a need for more nuanced research on gender ideologies and its link to the prevailing intimate partner violence. We also need to focus on violence on women from non-intimate partners in order to understand whether traditional gender roles elevate levels of violence or “backlash” from men within or outside their homes. There is a need for a clearer understanding of how violence manifests in the different areas of women’s lives, especially women in resource limited settings with limited or no income.

*Dr Lentsu Nchabeleng academic qualifications :PhD (2018, Durban University of Technology); MA (2020, University of KwaZulu-Natal-Natal); MTech (2013, Durban University of Technology); BA Cons (2016, University of KwaZulu-Natal-Natal); BTech (2009, Cape Peninsula University of Technology); Diploma (2008, Durban University of Technology)