Improving access to justice for survivors of gender and sexual violence in Limpopo

Towards the end of 2010, the challenges faced by victim empowerment programmes across the country were highlighted at the Department of Social Development’s Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) Conference. In part, this protest action was fuelled by the financial difficulties experienced by organisations such as the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP) who have for over a decade promoted the rights of victims of violence.

TVEP and Sonke staff members plan for the year ahead.

In response to the call for assistance by victim empowerment organisations, funding has been made available by Irish Aid for a joint project between Sonke and TVEP. We have a long standing relationship with TVEP and are extremely glad to now be working with this organisation in Limpopo.

The project, called the Access to Justice Project, is an initiative which seeks to create a supportive and enabling environment for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and for people living with HIV and AIDS. The initiative specifically aims to engage men and boys effectively in preventing gender-based violence and HIV in Limpopo.

South African Police Service statistics show that sexual violence in Limpopo is a serious problem, with 68,332 cases of sexual assault being reported during the period of 2009-2010. The reasons for the high levels of sexual violence in our country are complex, and include negative and harmful societal norms and values.

In the rural areas of the Vhembe district under the Thulamela Municipality, women and girl children live with realities of sexual violence throughout their lives and with little support or action from men to stop the abuse. Men continue to fail women and children by not holding each other accountable for the crimes predominantly committed by other men. When women try to give support to the victims of sexual violence who happen to be women and children, those women are further intimidated by men.

Many men are socialised from the early stages of boyhood to accept gender inequality and gender-based violence; they grow up believing that there is nothing wrong when women and children are ill-treated. As in many other communities, strong traditional, cultural and religious principles put women and children in compromising positions where women are expected to be submissive to men and not show assertiveness. Often “culture” is touted as a justification for abuse, even though many traditionalists oppose this and explain that respect for women and children is an inherent part of traditional culture.

Social norms which permit violence, apathy and intimidation result in the traumatisation of thousands of women and children each year, the continued spread of HIV and add to the ineffectiveness of the policing and judicial system to prevent and address rape, domestic violence and child abuse. Low convictions rates and high numbers of acquittals due to lack of evidence and witnesses not willing to testify emphasise the urgent need for communities to stand up to prevent instances of gender-based violence, and to support the victims of this violence.

Access to Justice Project

While women and children in Limpopo, as in many other places in South Africa, continue to live in fear and regularly experience injustice and violation of their basic rights, men in the community continue to live comparatively privileged lives and often only provide support or care for victims of sexual violence when one of their own family members has been violated.

“Why wait until a loved one becomes a victim before standing up? Why not stop rape before it starts?” asks Justice Khumalo, the project co-ordinator from Sonke’s side. “These are the questions that Sonke and TVEP would like to pose through the Access to Justice Project.” The project aims to highlight the important role that men and boys must play in prevention of violence, and in victim support and empowerment. In order to stop sexual violence of women and girls in Limpopo, men cannot be sidelined.

In its quest to involve more men and boys to prevent sexual violence, the Access to Justice Project is rolling out Sonke’s flagship One Man Can (OMC) campaign and the national Brothers for Life campaign.

One Man Can promotes the idea that each one of us has a role to play, that each one of us can create a better, more equitable and more just world. At the same time, the campaign encourages men to work together with other men and with women to take action to build a movement, to demand justice, to claim our rights and to change the world.

Brothers for Life complements One Man Can by creating a strong focus on HIV and the role that men play can play in prevention of the disease and addressing the social and health consequences of HIV and AIDS. Targeting older men, Brothers for Life emphasises the risks associated with having multiple concurrent partnerships, men’s limited involvement in parenting, lack of knowledge of HIV status, low levels of testing and disclosure, and delayed and inadequate health seeking behaviour.

As with Sonke’s other work, this project recognises the importance of engaging numerous stakeholders in the initiative and the value of employing a variety of strategies for reaching members of the target community. While a large part of the project focuses on supporting TVEP and strengthening their capacity and resources, the Access to Justice Project also includes public and community awareness raising campaigns, men’s dialogues, workshops on violence with men and boys, and a range of consultative meetings with government. The project will also engage the media to increase the press coverage of issues relating to gender violence and HIV. These activities will be jointly conducted by Sonke and TVEP.

One Man Can materials, which have long been available in isiXhosa, isiZulu, seSotho and French, will now also be made available in TshiVenda and a concerted effort is being made to ensure that all aspects of the project are context specific and relevant to the specific community.

The Access to Justice project offers Sonke an opportunity to formalise its local advocacy and victim empowerment work, and learn from TVEP, which has years of experience and expertise in this field. Through this partnership, we aim to increase support for victims of crime or trauma, so that individuals can be assisted and individual cases seen through the justice system, but also to promote change at a community and societal level.

For more about TVEP visit