Young women and domestic violence in rural South Africa – new article in YOUTH & POLICY
Linda Mshweshwe explores how South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act of 1998 is failing young women in rural communities who are subject to cultural norms that reinforce abuse.
It is of great concern that more than two decades since the implementation South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act (1998) many rural populations remain unaware about women’s rights. Young girls continue to be subjected to cultural practices that expose them to violent marriages.
The custom of Lobola and its implications for young women
In the rural communities of South Africa, girls as young as twelve enter into forced marriages with older men (see Mwambene and Sloth-Nielsen, 2011). The perceived financial gains from Lobola (the bride price) encourages parents to marry off their daughters at an early age, undermining their human rights (Sibanda, 2011). Lobola is a cultural practice whereby the groom’s family pay money or transfer livestock to the bride’s family in order to gain permission for the marriage (Mazibuko, 2016). Lobola serves to compensate the bride’s family for the expenses of raising the girl (Chireshe and Chireshe, 2010). Furthermore, it acknowledges the transfer of a bride’s reproductive capacity to her husband’s family (Rudwick and Posel, 2015).
Overall, South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act (1998) has not done well in addressing the rural cultural norms that place young women at risk of domestic violence. Practices like Lobola continue to expose teenage girls to domestic violence through arranged and forced marriages with older men. Lack of awareness of women’s rights and ignorance about domestic violence is the central problem in rural communities. Currently, there are no interventions aimed at changing the community and cultural norms that reinforce abuse. The implications that the practice of Lobola has for young women in rural areas needs to be addressed through social service interventions. These could include targeted community campaigns against gender-based violence and educational interventions aimed at challenging and changing cultural norms.