"Exploring the Quagmire of Violence Against Women: Family, State and Society in Southern Africa"
The Southern Africa region has a long history of high rates of violence against women and girls, which are generally considered among the highest rates in the world. While there are many forms of gender-based violence, this paper will explore domestic violence and sexual assault against women and girls specifically in Zimbabwe and South Africa from the period of late colonialism to the present. Although the maintenance of power is a major cause of men’s violence against women, in Southern Africa, the situation is more complex. In the region, domestic violence and sexual assault have deeply rooted structural explanations linked to the long history of colonialism, apartheid and white minority rule, political transition, economic crises and adjustment, changes in expected gender roles in the family and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. For example, the current phase of globalization wrought major changes in employment opportunities for poor women and men, which threatened the long-history of men’s advantaged position in the labor market and in the home. Although the increased options for women were most often in the low-income microenterprise sector, they subsequently experienced increasing violence in the home at the hands of their male partners. In the past 25 years, Zimbabwe and South Africa attempted to address violence against women and girls through the development of laws as well as the creation of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). Reforms in the criminal justice systems, especially in police officers’ responses to women who experienced violence, were also encouraged. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has also developed legislation to address this violence. Despite these efforts, South Africa and Zimbabwe have not been able to significantly decrease violence against women and girls. This paper will comprehensively explore this situation, informed by over two decades of research in the region, and provide recommendations for the way forward.