Gender-based violence

Thuthuzela Care Centres


Gender-based violence

© UNICEF photo by G Pirozzi
"Protect us, don't abuse us!"

Studies have shown that among adolescents, HIV infection rates are on average five times higher among girls than among boys. This is largely due to girls’ biological and social vulnerability.

Women’s vulnerability to HIV infection is particularly heightened by their economic dependence on men, lack of access to education, poverty, sexual exploitation, coercion and rape, as well as by their engagement in informal and commercial sex work. Women face additional and more acute discrimination when they are identified as being HIV positive. Because they are often first to test positive through pre-natal testing, they are branded as the “spreaders” of the virus. Once their HIV-positive status is revealed or disclosed, women face being physically abused, losing access to important economic resources, and face the threat of being chased from their homes.

The extent of the problem

South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV infection. It is estimated that 4.2 million South Africans are infected with the virus. The annual survey of women attending public health antenatal clinics showed that 24.5% were positive by the end of 2000. There is considerable variation in provincial figures ranging from 36.2% prevalence in KwaZulu Natal to 8.7% in the Western Cape.   Women who are in abusive relationships are particularly at risk of exposure to HIV infection due to the threat of further violence, abandonment or loss of economic support if they attempt to negotiate safer sex or refuse sex.

According to Statistics South Africa (1998), rape victims in the country were more likely to be young women aged between 16 and 25 years. Relatives of victims or intimates committed 34, 6% of all rapes, casual acquaintances 26,1% while 24,4% of all victims did not know their attackers. 64% of rapes occurred either at or near home. More than half (56, 1%) of the lone-offender attacks involved the use of a weapon.  56, 2% of the rape victims said they had reported the offence to a law enforcement agency. The most common reasons for not reporting the crime to the police were that the victims feared reprisals (33, 3%), or that the victims felt that the police would not be able to solve the crime (9, 6%), or else embarrassment (9, 2%).


In December 1999, the new South African Domestic Violence Act came into effect. The new Act has opted for a broader definition of both “abuse” and “domestic relations” which include all cohabiting adults, whether sexually involved or family members such as parents of a child, or the children of elderly or infirm parents.  The list defining “abuse” is open-ended, including economic abuse, stalking, harassment, damage to property and unauthorized entry to residence. Elderly people, for instance, are now able to obtain protection against physical and financial abuse from children, whether they are living together or not. However, the Act cannot be enforced without the State committing sufficient resources, such as the provision of shelters for abused women. In addition, an enormous shortage of resources such as trained staff, and transport threatens the enforcement of the Act.

How UNICEF adds value

Facilitated by UNICEF, the Violence against Women and Children and HIV and AIDS project contributes towards reducing the incidence of HIV and AIDS by raising awareness on the linkages between violence against women and children and HIV and AIDS in South Africa.  Communities in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and in the Free State Provinces are involved in this project and analyse, assess and propose actions to improve their own situation regarding violence against women and children (human rights-based approach).

UNICEF also supports participatory research to inform policies and programmes to help improve services to women and their families who are vicitims of violence.


Research Studies:  The findings emanating from UNICEF commissioned research have been incorporated in the law reform processes, for example, in the definition of rape.  Gender based violence and HIV and AIDS features within the highest political and governmental agenda in South Africa.   

Development of the Thuthuzela Model Centres: A multi-faceted approach through prevention, early detection, and response capacity incorporating both informal and formal systems of justice seems to be the way forward informed by research, experiences among implementing state systems and non-governmental organisations. 

The Girls’ Education Movement/Safe Schools Initiatives: in KZN, Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces have proven crucial and critical to prevent, violence against women and children, HIV and sexual risky behaviours through participatory life skills development and AIDS education.  All developmental practitioners agree on the need to strengthen capacity of learners and teachers to transform the schools into centres of community learning, social change and sustainable development.  8 pilot sites have been established while 200 safe schools are expected to be outreached and achieved through the safe schools model in all three provinces.





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Report on violence against women and HIV and AIDS prevention

Read this report on including Post-Exposure Prohylaxis to prevent HIV and AIDS into post-sexual assault health services in South Africa: cost and cost effectiveness of user preferred approaches to provision. 

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