Thousands of protesters converged on the Cape Town International Convention Centre during the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in early September to express their grief and outrage and demand an end to violence against women.
It’s a sad reality that it took such tragedy to bring gender-based violence to the nation’s attention. Coincidentally, the issue of prevention and mitigation of violence against women was explicitly included on the WEF on Africa agenda for the first time. And the protests, which could be heard from inside the Forum, added a sense of urgency as discussions were held with business and government leaders to explore their contribution to this wicked problem.
Head of Africa at WEF, Elsie Kanza, said that the WEF on Africa is built around two ideas – inclusion and growth: “But it will be impossible to achieve for as long as we live in a society where half of the population are treated as a lesser form of humanity to the other half. I am talking about the half I belong to, women.”
As an activist who has spent years battling to raise awareness, drive action and find innovative ways for business, civil society and government to prioritise this devastating scourge, I was encouraged to see that action was finally being taken at this level. The Forum launched an integrated action plan to tackle gender-based violence which rests on three core priorities. First, developing a free technological emergency response system for women under attack across South Africa’s nine provinces. Second, establishing a fund to support the fight against gender-based violence. Third, supporting women entrepreneurs as a means of promoting economic empowerment, which forms part of the Africa Growth Platform, a platform that creates enabling environments for business growth in Africa, which was launched at the Summit. The plan will be initiated by African Monitor working with multiple stakeholders and backed by the government of South Africa and UN Women.
These significant outcomes show how a platform such as the WEF is useful in making voices heard globally that can further drive investment, support sustainability and accelerate and amplify progress to address society’s challenges at scale. To keep the momentum, there are three key take-aways from the WEF on Africa that I believe should be applied to the work being done in in this area going forward.
Most interventions and funding focus on response rather than on preventative interventions and efforts to address the underlying causes. Despite the high incidence and negative consequences associated with GBV, very little is known about interventions that prevent GBV at a significant scale. GBV is possibly linked to every other key priority in our society and in order to progress, it needs to become a priority in its own right. More focus and investment into preventative efforts is required, to allow for the development of sustainable and scalable solutions to put an end to GBV. Despite the work being done, often at grassroots level and at a small scale, to prevent and mitigate gender-based violence, it is often fragmented and overall the sector lacks support, capacity building, innovation, collaboration and investment. This limits our ability to innovate and develop sustainable solutions to address this complex problem at scale.
We need to think at a systems level and crucially, we need to look at how new approaches, emerging technologies, business innovation, innovative finance and partnerships can be leveraged to advance women’s rights and prevent GBV at scale.
Examples of potential preventative initiatives include developing accelerator programmes for GBV solutions, powerful messaging and creative awareness-raising programmes as well as innovative financing mechanisms and business models. A recent innovative preventative initiative that has great potential, is the #ComeIn movement, started by Cape Town eatery, The Raptor Room, which has prompted many restaurants to open their doors to women who might be feeling unsafe.
Some of the work being done at the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business focuses on using finance as a strategy to address gender inequalities, such as gender lens investing. The Social Makeover, a social enterprise that fights for the rights and advancement of women and girls, uses innovative systems and pathways to prevent domestic violence.
It is this kind of bigger picture thinking which will allow the sector to have a much larger, and measurable, impact.
It is important to note that there is no one-point solution to address gender-based violence and it requires multiple forms and levels of intervention. At national level, we need better laws to protect women, but as always implementation will be key. In 2018, the escalating number of GBV cases in SA prompted a call to action which was led by the #TotalShutdown. As a result, the National Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities began working on a gender-based violence policy, but we cannot rely solely on NGOs and social entrepreneurs to address these societal challenges. We need innovative ways to sustain policy directives and to help drive change, and this requires collective action. Certainly, giving the topic the visibility and attention it deserves, is a first step to ensure high-level commitment from government leaders. It is significant that President Cyril Ramaphosa missed a session he was scheduled to address at the WEF on Africa and instead went out to speak to the crowd. But this needs to be sustained. Government is the biggest institution for change and needs to work alongside business and civil society. The issue should be on the agenda 365 days a year – as a society we should not wait until yet another woman is murdered before we make legislative changes.
Men need to be an integral part of the conversation – we cannot win this fight if only women are talking about the issue. The best opportunity we have now is to educate as many individuals as we can. As mentioned by Amina Mohamed, UN secretary-general ‘We must find creative ways to initiate the conversation around how to bring up our children to respect both genders.’ We are not looking for a war between men and women, we are looking for a new partnership based on respect.
To truly engage in meaningful dialogue, women’s voices need to be present in every space and structure where women’s voices are not already at the frontline, from the home to the boardroom, from policy-making to implementation. The matter of violence against women has such deep implications for our society – determining whether or not we will be resilient and productive. Tackling the issue of gender-based violence is essential if we are to achieve our overall aims of inclusivity and growth and significantly contribute to the mental psyche of our country.
Farhana Parker is a social entrepreneur and Bertha Scholar on the UCT GSB MPhil in Inclusive Innovation programme actively researching ‘Innovative pathways to prevent domestic violence in mothers’. She has worked in communities in South Africa for more than a decade as a social worker, executive support, at the Ministry of Social Development, and as the founder of The Social Makeover. She is a Global Shaper for the World Economic Forum and one the 2019 Mail & Guardian 200 most influential young South Africans. She is also a recent winner of Inspiring50.