A comprehensive approach to preventing gender-based violence in Eswatini

December 1st, 2021 | Blogs


As a father, son, nephew, and friend, the stories that Saul Chirume hears of beatings, rapes, death, and disability as a result of gender-based violence (GBV) remind him of the dangers that women and girls face every day, everywhere. Saul takes GBV personally, and as a case management technical advisor for our Bantwana Initiative in Eswatini, does everything he can to ensure that women and girls are safe in public, at school, and in their homes.

In Eswatini, Saul explains, deeply rooted gender norms are a primary cause of violence against women, girls, men, and boys. The ideas of masculinity that boys are taught from a young age perpetuate violence as a means of discipline and control. For girls, marriage and housekeeping are prioritized over education and economic empowerment. Inequality deepens when women must depend on intimate partners for their livelihoods and makes them more susceptible to violence in the home. 

Getting and retaining girls in school and providing opportunities for economic independence builds the interpersonal, vocational, and life skills needed to not have to choose between safety and sustenance. But sending girls to school will not make any difference on its own. In Saul’s experience, women and girls experience a lifetime pandemic of violence. The only way to disrupt this dangerous cycle is by changing the gender norms that inform it. 

The Bantwana Initiative is reaching more than 200 schools with the Life-Skills Education program that teaches violence prevention. This is crucial for reaching boys and young men early with messages of equality and healthy masculinity. It is they who bear the responsibility of ending GBV by rejecting harmful gender norms, promoting girls’ and women’s rights, and standing with women as they stand against GBV. 

In addition to school interventions, Bantwana helps social workers, who are at the frontline responding to GBV, prevent ingrained personal beliefs from sabotaging their professional responsibilities. Bantwana trains them in case management and gives them skills and tools to provide trauma-informed care and help GBV survivors find services without revictimizing or blaming them. Bantwana is also supporting the deputy prime minister’s office to build people’s capacity to respond when GBV cases are identified. 

Building capacity for response is non-negotiable when considering the mantra (and name) of the program: Leave No One Behind. When Saul worked as a social worker, he was exposed to the complex community dynamics of GBV, which was so prevalent it could not be separated from other social, economic, and environmental factors. Addressing one meant addressing them all. 

Our rights-based approach to GBV is central to making sure no one gets left behind, especially during emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted livelihoods, forced people in abusive relationships to stay home, and reduced capacity to report and respond to GBV. Many children, especially adolescent girls and young women, who are out of school will not return when schools reopen. Remote education and programming attempt to reach communities, but those without access to the right technology are excluded. Moving forward, empowering women and continuing to develop inclusive interventions will allow programs to respond and women to sustain themselves during emergencies. “We need to find ways to break through, not break down. When emergencies come, let them find us at a point where there is equality,” Saul says.

Saul notes that GBV is a pandemic that was around long before COVID-19 and that will persist long after. GBV also affects and is affected by HIV, especially in Eswatini, the country with the highest HIV rates in the world. Saul explains that HIV and GBV share a root cause: harmful gender norms and inequality. He emphasizes that there is no magic cure or shortcut for eliminating GBV, but through collaboration, long-term transformational efforts, policy work, and an inclusive, rights-based approach, we can make people safer from gender-based violence of all kinds. 

The cost of GBV transcends human experience. Its consequences on the well-being of individuals, families, and society are too great to ignore. “With all of this, it makes sense to address gender-based violence, not tomorrow, but now,” states Saul.

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