Research on GBV: HSRC & DSI briefing

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

23 February 2021
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

Video: PC on Higher Education, Science and Technology, NA

The Committee met virtually with the Department and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) to receive a briefing on the research survey into gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa. The survey would be carried out over a 30-month period, and would measure emotional, economic, physical and sexual intimate partner violence; non-partner sexual violence; sexual harassment; and other forms of GBV which were not often included in similar studies, such as ukuthwala (bride abduction).

The HRSC said the true extent of GBV was not known, as the available figures were outdated or were not representative of the whole population, but they suggested high levels of violence. Physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence was reported to have been experienced by up to 37.7% of adult women in their lifetime. The rape of women was significantly under-reported. 42 289 rapes were reported to the police in 2019/20 – an increase from 41 583 in 2018/19. Among children, 35.4% of young people experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime, while 56% of femicide victims were murdered by intimate partners.

Members asked questions about whether the research took into consideration the government’s plans to address GBVF; whether the research would look into committees and task teams that had been established in other government departments in order to collaborate; if the funding requirements were adequate; why the age limit for the survey sample was restricted to 18 to 49 years; what the Covid-19 implications were for the timeframes; if it would address GBV in the workplace; and whether the research would also be conducted in remote rural areas.

Meeting report

Acting Chairperson

The Committee Secretary advised that the Chairperson of the Committee, Mr P Mapulane (ANC) would not attend the meeting because he was attending a meeting in the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, representing the Higher Education Committee.

Members elected Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) as Acting Chairperson.

The Acting Chairperson thanked the Members, and indicated that the briefing today was important as it dealt with addressing the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV). Hopefully, the country and the stakeholders would find a way to address this matter.

Research into GBV: Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Mr Daan du Toit, Deputy Director-General: International Cooperation and Resources, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), said that the Department’s mission was to harness science, information, data and technology to inform policy and decision making. This was a good example of how it sought through scientific research analysis to enhance policy and decision-making which would result in favourable outcomes for the society.

The Department was proud of the partnerships that had been established for this study. The key was to share with the Committee the planned research programme. It was a 30-month project, and this was only month three of this journey to engage with the Committee, for it to have an opportunity to have an input at this early stage.

Prof Heidi van Rooyen, Executive Director: Human and Social Development, HSRC, took the Members through the first part of the presentation, and commenced with the definition of gender-based violence. Victims were often women and girls, and marginalised groups -- women with disabilities, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, intersex, asexual and more (LGBTQIA+) communities, and gender non-conforming persons.
She then proceeded to list the forms of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF).

The true extent of GBV was not known, as the available figures were outdated or were not representative of the whole population, but they suggested high levels of violence. Physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence was reported to have been experienced by up to 37.7% of adult women in their lifetime.
The rape of women was significantly under-reported. Some evidence revealed that in 2014/15, sexual offences had a 37% under-reporting rate to the SAPS, whilst assault had a 44.9% under-reporting rate. 25% of women aged between 18 and 49 in Gauteng province had been raped. 42 289 rapes were reported to the police in 2019/20 – an increase from 41 583 in 2018/19.

Among children, 35.4% of young people experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime, while 56% of femicide victims were murdered by intimate partners.

Dr Nompumelelo Zungu, Research Director, HSRC, provided an overview of the survey which would be carried out over the 30-month period. She said the national GBV survey would measure:
Emotional, economic, physical and sexual intimate partner violence;
Non-partner sexual violence;
Sexual harassment;
Other forms of GBV which were not often included in similar studies, such as ukuthwala (bride abduction).

She went on further to present on the strategic objectives; the implementation plan; project initialization; sampling workshops; survey design and sampling; recruitment and the funding progress.

[See presentation for a detailed information]


The Acting Chairperson said that some of her concerns were that very often entities in the public sector tended to operate in silos. One would find that most of the work done was similar to the work that some others were doing. Did the research take into consideration the government’s plans in addressing GBVF, and whether it considered the nine-point plan? Was the research going to look into committees and task teams that had been established in other government departments?

The incidence of GBVF in the small areas of communities, such as places of learning, remained prevalent. There was an learning institution in Umhlanga that had already reported three cases of rape.

She said it would be important, when compiling the research teams, expert panels and advisory committees to take into consideration intersectionality in terms of race, gender and ethnicity.

Was the funding going to be sufficient, because when it came to GBVF issues, funding always remained a challenge?

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked why the research included people from only 18 up to 49 years of age. She suggested that this number should be pushed up to 60 years of age.

When the schedule was being done, was the current Covid-19 situation factored into the schedule? This would affect the timeframes significantly.

How was the GBVF taking place in workplaces going to be accommodated?

She was generally pleased with the fact that the scope of the research was wide and inclusive. However, was the survey also going to be conducted in the different indigenous languages?  

Lastly, was there any public relations campaign for this research in order to bring the awareness to the nation so that the public could be aware and encouraged to participate?

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that he found it deeply concerning that GBVF was a crisis in this country. It was important to dig deeper to unpack this epidemic in its entirety – from the perpetrators’ side to the victim’s side.

He expressed his gratitude to the team, and was pleased about the inclusivity of the team leading up the research.

He was also concerned about the age limitations, and said there were girls who were younger than 18 who experienced GBV. That age group were also GBV victims. He appealed to the team to look into including the younger ages. Growing up in the township, one sees these things happen where girls and boys below the age of 18 were victims of GBVF. Many young boys were encouraged to look up to the perpetrators. This became a mentality, and when these young boys get older, they think that their abusive behaviour was acceptable and indicative of their love for their partners.

Was there a category of perpetrators that would be targeted in the survey? Which areas were considered the epicentres of GBVF?

The Acting Chairperson asked whether this survey was part of the GBVF National Strategic Plan, and if this was additional support that the HSRC would be providing to that plan.

Was there any work that was similar to the work done by the HSRC? Were there any other stakeholders who were welcome to contribute or to collaborate with them?

With regard to foreign donors, could they confirm that the issue of sovereignty of the state would not be compromised?

Taking into account the timeframes of the survey, it seemed they were trying to launch or share with the public the findings in August 2022, notwithstanding that research yields better results with time. However, what could be done in the interim, because this was the kind of challenge that they wished they could fix now in the country. This was the type of matter that South Africans would like the South African Police Service (SAPS) and other relevant stakeholders to be involved in. This matters needed to be addressed as soon as yesterday – she was uncertain whether it would be possible to make findings while the research was ongoing, in order to troubleshoot as they went along.


Mr Du Toit agreed with the Acting Chairperson’s comments about cohesion and working in silos. That was the challenge as they sought to achieve an impact in society. There was no point in embarking on research if that research could not be used to inform policy. The Department was determined that that would not be the case with this important work.

The DSI was working very closely, as part of inter-departmental coordination, with the Department of Women, Youth and People Living with Disabilities. This project was providing the direct input into the work that was being done in the social policy advisory committee in the Presidency and the national action plan. The HSRC was already involved in working together with those stakeholders. This was part of the government and the coordinated South African response to GBVF.

As a Department, the key mission was to manage and coordinate the immense resources in the national system of innovation and technology, working together in a way that was responsive to the needs of the country. The HSRC had always been a team player and had always worked with other institutions in the science policy domain in response to the challenge of GBVF.

They were working with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to develop a data depository, which would be a resource to inform government policy that would yield a range of societal benefits. The study would also ensure that it covers GBVF in the post-school education and training (PSET) system.

The Department had been careful about the terms and conditions of foreign funding. Compromising the sovereignty of the state would not happen. Most of the funding was coming from the European Union (EU), and the methodology used for that funding fell under sector-budget support. This was funding that was transferred from the Department’s budget which it then deployed to the societal benefit, and the reporting to the EU was based only on the high level outcomes which were agreed to.

Prof Van Rooyen responded that there was a sense of urgency over the longevity of research, and if it could be done quicker, it would be done. Most stakeholders were coming together on this, and this was the first time the full extent of the problem would be documented. It would take some time, but the Department also felt the frustration. The support from all those involved would help make a difference in fast-tracking the study.

One of the key mechanisms to keep the HSRC accountable as the study was being conducted, was the full realisation of its responsibility, and the realisation of the need to partner with sector partners consisting of an Advisory Committee, which included civil society, activists, researchers and anybody who could make a contribution towards this project.

Lastly, the HSRC was trying to broaden its understanding of GBV through this study, taking into account a number of variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, minorities, etc. This was the terrain that would be covered throughout the study.

Ms Zungu said that the team remained involved in the GBVF National Strategic Plan (NSP). She had been personally involved during the drafting of the NSP under pillar six, where the implementation that was driven from the Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities. This research would ensure that whatever work was done would feed back into that process.

So far all the funding required was available, and all contracts were in place, but if there were changes proposed, the team might then have to ask for more funding. The Ford Foundation had  indicated that if more money was required, it could be requested.

The issue of the age limits was not an easy decision to make. If they made it lower than 18, it bordered on issues of consent and ethics around working with children, and the sensitivity of working with children within a home.  Members must be mindful that the surveys would be conducted in homes where there was all kinds of danger, and possibly a perpetrator in the house, so these were some of the matters that needed to be thought through very carefully.

The age of 49 was the age recommended for these kinds of surveys, and it was merely a matter of methodology and sampling, because as the age went up, the numbers would decline. However, the team could consult with the methodology and sampling team and see what could be done, but this would have financial implications because it might increase the sampling size.

Covid-19 was going to affect the schedule of the research, and it had been factored in. The team had made sure that in its budgeting it included PPE for the staff. A plan B had also been concocted to try and conduct the study remotely. This had been budgeted for 12 months to ensure that the timeframes that had been set were not compromised.  

As for GBV in the workplace, the plan was to capture experiences from non-partner violence and partner violence.

All languages would be taken into account in interviewing the participants. The team would match the language required with the persons who spoke and understood that language.

The team was also looking into working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide psycho-social support and legal issues; because as one interviewed individuals it might come up that they needed a protection order or counselling. If it happened that immediately, a counsellor would be on hand to attend to the participant and refer them to the second layer.

Working in this space was very traumatic -- not only for those that would be interviewed, but for the staff that would be interviewing. There was a layer for the staff to provide debriefing and referrals if necessary.

Prof Khangelani Zuma, Executive Director: Social Aspects of Public Health, HSRC, said when conducting the pilot, one looks at implementing a study in a way that would mimic what would be done in the national survey. In Gauteng, there had been high levels of GBV cited. The HSRC also had a base in Gauteng, and that made it easier to access the areas without inflating the costs.

Young people idolising bad behaviour from adults in the communities was a challenge. One would see through the study that the team was asking questions that probe and understand the participants who were respondents on how much they understand the impact of their behaviour in relation to GBV.

This research would be different because of its objectives, particularly factors that were associated with GBV. For proper intervention to be developed, one needed to understand the factors associated with GBV -- contributing factors, societal issues, the perpetrators and the recipients. It was at this stage that conceptualisation could take place and appropriate recommendations made to address the challenges.

Ms Zungu assured Members that questions had already been drafted for children 16 years old and younger who might have been victims of sexual violence. Although they may not be interviewed, the adults would be asked whether they had experienced GBV earlier in their lives, at around that age.

Regarding marketing and raising awareness, more would be done on conscientising the communities in the field. This was a sensitive study, so the more perpetrators know about it, it might impact the responsiveness of the communities.

Mr Du Toit said, in conclusion, that the engagement was a strategic priority for the Department, and it would make sure that the work had all the required resources.

Members said they were pleased with the responses from the delegation, and had no further questions to ask.

The Acting Chairperson thanked the delegation and the team.

The meeting was adjourned.


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