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Research of nearly two decades reveals that intimate partner femicide is declining in South Africa

Femicide decliningCape Town | Research by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) suggests that there is a decline in intimate partner femicide rate while non intimate partner femicide has remained unchanged since 2009 in South Africa – however, the country remains ranked among those with the highest rates of femicide in the world. 

Results from the Third National Femicide Study, a study of female murder in 2017, were released at a webinar earlier today – coinciding with the commemoration of International Women’s Day. Funded by the Ford Foundation, the Study primarily sought to address the key question: Is there any evidence that the national efforts to combat GBV in South Africa are having any impact on the problem of femicide?

Undertaken by the SAMRC’s Gender and Health Research Unit, the study examined medical and police investigation data from a random sample of 81 urban and rural settings across the country in 2017 and compared results with the 1999 and 2009 studies. The 2017 results showed that 2407 women aged 14 and above were murdered in South Africa of which 1029 were murdered by an intimate partner. The study found that the rate of intimate partner femicide declined from 8.8/100 000 population in 1999 to 4.8/100 000 population. Professor Naeemah Abrahams, Director of the SAMRC’s Gender and Health Research Unit, who led the study as Principal Investigator (PI) described these findings as evidence of change and an indication that the country is starting to reap the benefits of many years of activism from women and community-based organisations and from Government’s policy and practice. However, “we still have an enormous problem of femicide in our country with three women being killed per day by an intimate partner.”

The 2017 study also showed an increase in missing information related to the police investigation, highlighting that the missing dockets increased from 1.6% in 2009 to 9.1% in 2017. Another key finding of the study was that there was an increase in cases where the perpetrators were not identified during the investigation. “These findings are indicative of a decline in the quality of police investigations of femicide cases. It is critical that femicide receives the attention it needs, so that perpetrators who murder women are held accountable and punished for this crime against women”, emphasized Prof Abrahams.

During the launch, the SAMRC also shared the National Femicide Prevention Strategy which was commissioned by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development as part of government’s response to curb the scourge of femicide and gender-based violence (GBV) and is still gaining final approval. “If implemented, this strategy will address the key concerns raised in the study which include strengthening our institutional capacity, such as police services, to prevent and respond to femicide in our country,” added Prof Abrahams.  

Addressing the webinar, SAMRC President and CEO, Professor Glenda Gray said although the fight is far from over, this is an important and exciting finding. She added that it further shows that we can turn the tide of GBV and femicide in the country, research conducted over three decades by the SAMRC can be used to understand and prevent GBV and femicide. “For almost 30 years the SAMRC, through its Gender and Health Research Unit, has been responsive to GBV and femicide, leading research, as well as developing and testing of interventions to prevent and respond to the scourge,” said Prof Gray, also highlighting that the organisation was instrumental in the development of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on GBV and Femicide and that a group of scientists from the SAMRC contributed to different aspects of the NSP particularly the theory of change and co-drafting some of its sections as well as, developing the budget for the emergency response action plan of 2019/2020.


View or download the Full Brief: Third National Femicide Study

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