Scattered across the country of South Africa, amongst a landscape of rich and vivid beauty, outside of diverse busy cities, are smaller, poorer cities, known as townships. Townships began as a means of racial segregation during Apartheid; these were places for black people and people of color to live and they remain racially segregated settlements, where people often live in extreme poverty. It is here that the intersections of poverty and gender collide. Gender-based violence is so prevalent that Diepsloot, one of the biggest townships in the country, witnesses murders of women in the streets. This happens within a country where femicide is five times higher than the global average. Within the lush landscape of South Africa, an ugly side lurks.
How Does Poverty in Townships Influence Gender-Based Violence?
Many studies conclude that poverty and gender-based violence are in a close relationship: a lack of economic stability means there are fewer opportunities to escape a dangerous situation and fewer resources to seek help. Similarly, the violence women and girls experience can feed into their poverty: traumas or even physical injuries endured can lead to a lack of work prospects. Yet, because of the history of townships as spaces of racial segregation, the gender-based violence within them is not just a matter of class or gender. It is also a matter of race. Naledi Joyi, writing for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), argues that violence in townships against Black women’s bodies is unyielding and multifaceted. Social indicators of class, gender and race intertwine to make it harder for Black women living in poverty to have access to appropriate resources for help.
The Local: Green Door
Authorities need to tackle gender-based violence in South Africa in its poorest communities and they are making progress. According to CSVR, police response and medical assistance to violence against women and girls in townships are inadequate. However, local programs developed within township communities can offer help to women in vulnerable situations.Diepsloot, located on the peripheries of Johannesburg, is one of the densest townships in South Africa and is the home of Green Door, a local shelter for women and children. Originally beginning as a response to the high levels of violence against women and girls in the township, Green Door is a small building that offers victims temporary shelter, support, resources and legal advice. It is the only place of its kind in Diepsloot and a “lifeline” to many.
The National: Women for Change
Women for Change is a national nonprofit grassroots organization that aims to eradicate gender-based violence in South Africa. Since 2016, it has been advocating for women’s rights in the face of a government that fails to acknowledge the severity of the problem. Women for Change aims to eradicate gender-based violence and femicide within a country that reports 146 sexual offenses daily, with an estimated 95% of assaults unreported, according to its website. The organization utilizes its large social media presence to globalize the information and raise awareness in the world of the plight of many South African women and girls. Though Women for Change does not work strictly with women in townships, its dedication to ending the country’s epidemic of gender-based violence by raising voices means that others will hear the voices of all women and girls in South Africa.
Making the Fight Global
The work that is occurring to tackle gender-based violence in South Africa at large and give voice to the women living in townships is imperative. Organizations, such as Green Door and Women for Change, are paving a path toward a better future for all women. These organizations can ensure that these forgotten cities, where women and girls’ needs are often overlooked, do not hold forgotten women. They too have a voice.
– Eloïse Jones