16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Harassment and Femicide: National Launch in Limpopo

COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe

25 November 2023

16 days of activism against gender-based violence is an international campaign that takes place every year.  It begins on the 25th of November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and continues until the 10th of December, which is international Human Rights Day, given that Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a fundamental human rights violation.

GBV can manifest in a variety of ways. This includes femicide (killing of women because of gender) physical violence, such as assault, emotional or psychological violence such as verbal abuse or confinement; sexual abuse, including rape; harmful practices, like child marriage and female genital mutilation; socio economic violence, such as denial of resources; and sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse. Intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence is the most common form of GBV. It refers to any behaviour by a current or previous partner that causes harm – including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.

As the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), we support government’s call for “Accelerating actions to end gender-based violence and femicide: leaving no one behind”. We believe it is important to ensure that all persons and marginalized groups affected by GBV must be central to this campaign. Those at higher risk include children and young women, women workers, vulnerable workers such as domestic workers, farm workers, cleaners and retail workers, and migrant workers.  Vulnerable groups also include women and girls living with disabilities, and people who identify as LGBTQI+.

South Africa has amongst the highest rates of GBV in the world, including rape, femicide and intimate partner violence.  An accurate measure of the actual extent of GBVF is extremely difficult to obtain, given extremely low rates of reporting.  According to the United Nations (UN), fewer than 40% of women who experience violence seek help of any sort.  This is reflective of the lack of support and systems available to address violence and abuse of women, children and LGBTQI+.

The following horrifying statistics of GBVF must be understood as only reflecting cases that were reported to the police:

·       In 2022/23 57 847 women reported cases of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, this accounts for 34% of all grievous bodily harm cases registered. 

·       There were 5 577 cases reported of attempted murder of women, and 3 934 cases of murder in 2022/23.

·       10 516 Rape incidents were reported to the SAPS between July to September 2023.

·       4 726 rape incidents took place at either the home of the rape victim or the home of the perpetrator which are known to the victim, such as a family member, a friend or a neighbour.

·       The rate at which women are killed by intimate partners in South Africa is 5 times the global average[1]

It is positive to note that after significant pressure from civil society and women’s organisations, the DNA backlog (of over 240 000 cases 2 years ago) has been cleared by SAPS.  These backlogs delayed and derailed the prosecution of GBV crimes in our country for a number of years.  This is a shameful example of a systemic lack of resource and focus on addressing Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF).

Some of the factors that drive gender-based violence in our society that we must address include the following:

·       Unequal gender relations and patriarchy – COSATU Gender Policy highlights the drivers of gender-based violence as systemic and institutionalised within the capitalist patriarchal system: Socio-economic conditions and patriarchal attitudes that justify and perpetuate abuse of women, are driving the staggeringly high rates of domestic violence and rape in South Africa.”

·       Poverty – increases vulnerability of women and children to domestic violence and intimate partner violence (IPV) – research shows that child abuse and IPV occur more frequently when families are not able to meet their basic needs due to inconsistent income, and where there is alcohol and substance abuse.

·       The breakdown of public services – state corruption, inefficiency and austerity budgets mean that vulnerable groups are without adequate social support and protection.

·       Conflict and war – drive an increase in conflict-related sexual violence.

·       Displacement of people – due to war, climate disasters and poverty increase the incidence of GBV and sexual exploitation.

The National Strategic Plan on Gender-based Violence and Femicide was adopted in March 2020 after women mobilised in their thousands to end gender-based violence.  The NSP GBVF arises from the 24 demands put forward by women who marched across the country in 2018 in outrage against GBVF under the banner of the #TotalShutdown.

The key actions that need to be taken to end gender-based violence, as contained in the National Strategic Plan are as follows:

·       Harness ALL to respond to the crisis and ensure coordination driven by bold leadership and political commitment to end violence.

·       Demand accountability across the state and societal institutions.

·       Put in place prevention measures to STOP violence before it happens.

·       Provide victim-centered, survivor focused, accessible quality services.

·       Address the structural drivers of GBV, especially poverty, unemployment and hunger.

·       Collect data on the nature and prevalence of GBV to ensure informed responses.

The NSP GBVF aims to increase capacity and to coordinate the national response to the crisis of GBVF.  This requires resources to be budgeted by the state for the fight against GBVF at all levels of government.  We welcome the adoption of legislation to guide the establishment of the National Council on GBVF in order to ensure accountability, authority, transparency and collaboration between government and civil society.

We hope that these legislative advances will be backed up with budget for implementation of the NSP, including training for public sector workers, victim-friendly police stations and courts, accessible health facilities, Thuthuzela care centres (one-stop facilities for victims of rape), domestic violence shelters and legal aid support.

The theme for COSATU’s campaign, which we are launching in Limpopo today, is 16 days of activism against violence and harassment in the world of work. We are calling for the full implementation of ILO Convention 190 on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work. We are also calling for the ratification of C183 on Comprehensive Maternity Protection.

Implement ILO Convention 190 on the elimination of violence & harassment in the world of work!

Violence and harassment in the world of work deprives people of their dignity, is incompatible with decent work, and a threat to equal opportunities and to safe and healthy working environments. 

We remember Pinky Mosiane and Cynthia Setuke, mineworkers who were brutally raped and murdered.  Cynthia had complained about working in an isolated, poorly lit area before her death, and nothing was done. 

We remember the KZN nurse, Jabulisiwe Mthethwa, who was shot dead at the clinic where she worked on Wednesday this week, allegedly by her estranged husband. She was fatally shot while on duty.  Despite the swift response by paramedics, she died on the scene.

We remember Khabonina Mkhonza who was brutally beaten by her employer in August 2020.  She was beaten by a man she raised from childhood.  The perpetrator was released on R500 bail.  Domestic workers are subjected to racism, physical and sexual assault and harassment, and most of these cases are not reported or prosecuted as workers fear losing their jobs.

We must ensure that we put in place measures to prevent gender-based violence in all workplaces.

Globally, trade unions pushed hard for the adoption of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190.  We also pushed hard in our country for our government to ratify Convention 190.  The next step is to ensure that our labour legislation is in line with C190.  Government adopted a Code of Good Practice on Harassment in the Workplace, in consultation with labour, business and community. 

Harassment includes violence, physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, gender-based abuse and racial abuse and includes the physical use of force or power, whether threatened or actual.

The new Code advances in significant ways on the previous Code on sexual harassment.  However, it does not fully implement C190 because it is limited to employees as defined by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and not all workers, including informal workers.

ILO Convention 190 is significant because it recognises that the definition of the workplace in existing laws and regulations is very narrow.  C190 talks about the world of work rather than ‘the workplace’.  The world of work includes public and private workspaces and the informal economy.  C190 covers all workers irrespective of their contractual status – including job seekers, volunteers, interns and apprentices.

C190 also recognises that Violence and harassment can occur during travel to and from work, at social events related to work, or while dealing with customers and third parties outside of the physical workplace.  

The Convention further recognises that there are particularly vulnerable groups of workers, including workers who come into contact with the public, such as hospitality, restaurants, health, transport and education; as well as domestic work, and those working at night or in isolated areas. 

COSATU and its unions have been highlighting the dangers of late trading for workers who end work late and do not have transport to get home safely.  COSATU unions have been campaigning and bargaining for years for paid transport from employers and safe public transport from the state.

It is critical to ensure that our legislation is broadened to protect all workers, types of work and working environments.  We must also ensure that trade unions and employers are required to negotiate workplace policies with procedures for handling cases of violence and sexual harassment and put in place preventative measures.  We must ensure that we protect all workers, including LGBTQIA+ workers who are also harassed and subjected to violence and discrimination.

Calling for the Ratification of C183 on Maternity Protection!

COSATU is further calling for the ratification of ILO C183 on maternity protection to ensure gender equality in access to employment and to protect pregnant and childbearing women and infant’s health.  Ensuring women’s economic security help to ensure that women are able to remove themselves from violent and abusive situations.  Pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable time requiring proper social protection and job security.

COSATU calls for a full package of maternity protection, parental rights and childcare provisions, including:

·       6 months maternity leave and full pay.

·       Maternity benefits must be provided through compulsory social insurance or public funds (or a combination) – workers should not be dependent on employer contributions to receive cash benefits.

·       The recognition of different family forms and LGBTQ+ rights – and that all workers playing parenting/guardian roles should be protected and have access to parental leave.

·       pre- and post-natal leave, parental leave, adoption, stillbirth, miscarriage and termination of pregnancy leave, leave for fathers to be extended to 2 months.

Regarding cash benefits, this is critical to ensure that mothers are able to take maternity leave and are not forced back to work early.  The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) does not cover all workers and furthermore it relies on employers to register employees.  In 2021, only 59% of all employed women could confirm that they contribute to the UIF[2].  In 2019 only 20% of domestic workers reported being registered for the UIF[3].


To end gender-based violence we need to act decisively, and we need to challenge attitudes that rationalise, deny and perpetrate that violence, and deny women’s right to safety.  We have not dealt with this epidemic of violence with sufficient urgency and seriousness. It is critical that we recognise this as a societal responsibility to address and not a women’s problem.

COSATU will ensure that employers fulfil their legal obligations to:

·       Adopt and implement workplace policies on GBV.

·       Take steps to prevent GBV.

·       Provide education and training to workers on GBV.

·       Provide support to workers facing domestic violence.

COSATU calls on all workers to end GBV and sexual harassment by:

Ø  Making sure that you know your rights.

Ø  Speaking out against GBV and helping to end the silence.

Ø  Raising awareness in our communities and workplaces about GBV

Ø  Ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable.

Ø  Campaigning for government to provide protection, shelters and support for survivors of GBV.

Ø  Looking out for signs that workers may be affected by domestic violence and supporting them.

Ø  Getting involved when you see someone being abused or harassed.

Ø  Supporting and believing victims of harassment and violence

Ø  Creating a safe space at work for women, migrant workers and LGBTQI+ to speak out about their experiences of violence and harassment,

Gender based violence affects communities, workplaces, families and schools.  It is important that we remember that gender-based violence and sexual harassment is not just between a victim and perpetrator – it affects everyone.  This means that every single one of us has a role to play to prevent gender-based violence and harassment. 

We can STOP GBVF and harassment if we unite and stand together!