GBV. A neat little acronym that places Gender-Based Violence a comfortable arm’s length away. We increasingly hear those three letters spoken but they hide the ugly truth about this particular form of violence without saying its name.

That ends today.

Gender-Based Violence is a harmful act directed at someone because of their biological sex or gender identity. In South Africa, that gender is overwhelmingly female, and uncomfortably young. Of the 53 293 reported cases of sexual offences from the 2019/2020 police crime statistics, 31 100 were against women and 22 070 were against children.

“Every year for 16 Days of Activism, we, as a society, highlight Gender-Based Violence and renew calls to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. But, in the 23 years since South Africa joined the 16 Days of Activism campaign, what has really changed? Life is cheap, freedom is denied and women are disempowered. To stop Gender-Based Violence we need to stop hiding behind an acronym and stop accepting this as the norm. Let’s have real, honest and uncomfortable conversations that move us to take action,” says Cristianne Wendler, Head of Programs at Shout-It-Now, a South African non-profit company that empowers youth to own their sexuality.

This innovative social enterprise currently provides free, mobile community-based HIV prevention services, Gender-Based Violence services, sexual and reproductive health services, and life skills programmes to communities in Gauteng and the North West.

Too many grandmothers, sisters, daughters and wives survive violent acts every single day. The vast majority fear the repercussions and won’t come forward to report the crimes. With those in positions of authority and tasked with protecting the vulnerable also being accused of being perpetrators and turning a blind eye to this scourge, even “safe spaces” aren’t safe. Many of these survivors already have their voices taken away, so it’s up to all of us to call Gender-Based Violence out by its name and break the silence.

Violence is entrenched in societies 

“Avoiding the GBV acronym won’t prevent the violence but it might just get us talking about the real issues and how we find solutions. Gender-Based Violence is deeply disempowering because it violates a person’s rights. It’s often regarded as physical or sexual violence, but it can also be psychological, emotional and/or economic. This violence, in all its forms, is so entrenched in our societies that it’s become the norm,” says Wendler. “And that’s not acceptable.”

Bruised bodies cause us to uncomfortably avert our gaze, but not all forms of violence leave physical scars. Unwanted advances, preventing access to education, taking away earnings, stalking, controlling healthcare, deliberate humiliation – all of these abuses are forms of Gender-Based Violence, because they remove a person’s choice, thereby disempowering that person.

Globally, Gender-Based Violence is a major contributing factor to HIV infection, with 714 adolescent girls and young women becoming HIV positive every day in 2021, according to UNAIDS. This is frequently because of an inability to choose safe sex or refuse unwanted sex, due to the fear of violence. This is compounded by cultural, social and economic vulnerabilities, such as when a young woman is not entitled to her own money but still has to provide food for her family or put her siblings through school; sometimes her only choice is sex with a partner who can address these needs. This disempowerment creates a vicious cycle which drives HIV infections.

“Adolescent girls and young women are disproportionately affected by Gender-Based Violence and HIV, and this is why they are our primary focus. Our Shout-It-Now model puts our clients at the centre of our care and support efforts. We assess each client’s needs and then design a comprehensive, integrated service that supports them through their different life stages. By providing our clients with healthcare, psychological support, life skills and other essential services, we empower them to make informed decisions and lead healthy, independent lives,” says Wendler.

It’s yours, girl!

The latest offering from Shout-It-Now for adolescent girls and young women is a new programme called “Eyakho Mo’ghel”. This member-only community is open to young women between the ages of 15 – 24, within five districts across Gauteng and the North West. Through this community, young women are provided with the tools, resources, information and support they need to make healthy life choices. Eyakho Mo’ghel means “it’s yours, girl” and was created to empower young women, by encouraging, rewarding and celebrating healthy behaviour.

In order to qualify for Eyakho Mo’ghel, clients must access at least one of Shout-It-Now’s sexual reproductive health services, such as HIV testing, PrEP (the HIV prevention pill) or contraception, as well as be enrolled in one of the life skills programmes. Once these services have been accessed, they can then enjoy all of the Eyakho Mo’ghel benefits. The most notable of which is the new data-free iSHOUT! app, which provides young women with current information on a range of health and life topics, a service locator to find trusted service providers, the ability to track points and rewards, and more.

“Our young clients are tech-savvy and they wanted to access Eyakho Mo’ghel easily from their phones, so it made sense to create an app, which puts our services in the palm of their hands,” says Mxolisi Mnguni, a social worker at Shout-It-Now. “We know that so many girls and young women aren’t safe at school, in a taxi or even in their own homes, which is why we give them a space where they feel safe and supported, and feel that they belong.”

When young women join Eyakho Mo’ghel, they have access to information, services and a marketplace. When they invest in their health by using Shout-It-Now’s support services, they earn points that can be spent on a range of daily lifestyle items including everything from lip balm to umbrellas, speakers and power banks. The points system encourages and rewards healthy behaviour, thereby establishing responsible habits and empowering young women to manage their own decisions. Eyakho Mo’ghel launches to young women on the 1st of December 2021, coinciding with World AIDS Day.

For more information, contact Shout-It-Now by phone or WhatsApp on 087 135 8989 or visit https://shoutitnow.org/. To support Shout-It-Now by making a financial contribution, visit https://shoutitnow.org/donate/.

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