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By Chisom Jenniffer Okoye

Journalist


How South Africa rose up against GBV in 2019

Preventative measures should be the focus instead of dishing out ever harsher sentences to offenders.


Gender-based violence took centre stage in several public debates this year and experts say giving lengthier sentences may not be the only answer – preventative measures are just as important.

Horrific stories throughout the year sparked outrage and several protest marches in SA.

This year, the country saw many women who fell victim to gender-based violence becoming the face of the struggle, including a female boxer from the Eastern Cape, Leighandre Jegels.

She was killed by her estranged police officer boyfriend. Another was University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was tragically killed by a man who worked at a post office where she went to inquire about a parcel she was expecting.

After Mrwetyana’s story broke it spurred people to call on government to take action; the law of lengthened sentencing was mooted; just last month her killer was made an example of by being handed three life sentences.

While the move was praised, accompanied by calls for the extension of the annual 16 days of activism against gender-based violence to 365 days, experts say that just handing down long sentences would not be the solution to the problem.

Gender activist Lisa Vetten said that since the early 2000s, the country had seen the lengthening of sentences. The issue was whether it had an impact.

“The repeated flaw in thinking is that long sentences will stop gender-based violence. We have seen an increase of the use of life sentences and people get excited, but we do not focus on the likelihood of arrests and convictions where there has not been a dramatic increase.”

Professor Amanda Gouws, a politics and gender expert from Stellenbosch University, said: “I do not think longer sentences will be the only solution to the problem. We need both punitive and preventative measures.”

Preventative measures involved the education of boys on gender relations.

“I think there is more serious attention given to the issue now, for the first time”.

She said 2019 had been the year of consciousness around the issue and that government (particularly in the Western Cape) was now working towards preventative measures.

– jenniffero@citizen.co.za

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