SASA - the drive for the prevention of sexual violence towards women and girls of South Africa
As community members, it is vital to understand and be fully aware of the dangers that come with sexual violence. Through focus group discussions, researchers have concluded that by repositioning the imbalance of power between men and women within relationships, attaining true equality, would lead to less violence against women (Michau, 2008). A Ugandan-based NGO, Raising Voices, have designed an activist kit to help facilitate this change.
Many research studies have established that there is a distinct link between sexual violence and HIV. Acts of sexual violence which could lead to HIV-infection include: forced sex in marriage and dating relationships, rape by strangers, sexual abuse of children, prostitution and forced trafficking, and importantly, denial of the right to use a condom. Women and girls are more often the victims of such violence (SVRI & AfroAIDSInfo, 2012). This violence towards women increases their vulnerability to HIV infection and is mostly a consequence of the imbalance of POWER between men and women within communities (Ackermann & de Klerk, 2002).
What is negative power?
Negative power means that wealthy individuals have power over poor individuals, educated individuals have power over uneducated individuals, one ethnic group has more power than another ethnic group and in many communities - men have power over women (RV, 2009). This is because those being controlled usually believe that their own power is limited, and accept the loss of power. This is based on communities’ social norms. Rape is an example of negative power. “Rape is an act through which men communicate their power to their victim. It can be an act of punishment and an expression of holding power over someone and it can be an act through which the perpetrators affirm to themselves a sense of power which they may not feel in other aspects of their lives” (SVRI & AfroAIDSInfo, 2012, p. 2).
What is positive power?
Positive power is when you feel that you have power within yourself. It is about having your own beliefs, expressing yourself the way you feel, and becoming what you want to be (RV, 2009). In a situation where a woman and man in a relationship need to make a decision, they both have to compromise their power during the decision-making process without exercising control over the other.
According to Ackermann and de Klerk (2002), there are physical and social factors that put women and girls more at risk of contracting HIV.
Physical Factors: It has been recorded that physiologically, men pass on the virus twice as easily as women (RV, 2009). Women are more likely to contract the disease from men during sexual intercourse because women have a greater mucosal surface exposed to the virus, especially in young girls, whose genital tracts are not adequately matured.
Social Factors: In many societies, women are in submissive roles, with men seen as superior to women and of more value than women. Both men and women mostly behave in ways that reinforce this social norm (RV, 2009).
In Rwanda, studies have proven that women who are victims of sexual violence are three times more likely to contract HIV from their abuser than women that are not abused. According to Michau (2008) although many organisations and governments deal with sexual violence and HIV, they separate the two issues.
What is SASA?
The NGO “Raising Voices” developed an activist kit that addresses and challenges the imbalance of power in relationships, and proactively attempts to change the language and context used to describe control, leadership, compromise, sex and power in a relationship and among community members. Raising Voices named this project SASA - which is a Kiswahili word for “NOW”. SASA reinforces the urgency of the social issue of power imbalances between men and women, especially among African women.
The acronym, SASA, represents the four phases of the kit:
Start: Activists encourage community members to start thinking about violence against women, the link with HIV and to inspire women to become empowered to take action.
Awareness: They raise awareness about how communities accept men’s use of power over women, which maintains the HIV epidemic.
Support: By supporting women who are directly affected by the interrelation between HIV and sexual violence, the activists encourage community members to strengthen each other.
Action: Action is then taken by using personal power to prevent sexual violence against women.
Organisations using this toolkit will facilitate change by teaching individuals to build on skills that would help them take action against violence towards women. One of the greatest strengths of the toolkit is that community members lead the efforts themselves, as they are taught to take ownership of their problems. Therefore, community empowerment takes place without the continued intervention of the NGO (UN, 2012)
Below are comments by a few community members on the power balance between women and men in relationships (Michau, 2008):
“It is not possible for both women and men in a relationship to have power. There is one head – of the church, of a government, of a home. It has to be the man…” says a man from Kampala.
On the other hand, a female community member stated that, “I fear my husband. Of course I want power, not over him but for myself…to be able to do things and take care of myself and my family. But I have to pretend I don’t want power, otherwise he won’t like it.”
“I thought it was about giving up power which I, and of course all men, don’t want to do. But now I understand that power isn’t going to run out; mine doesn’t depend on my wife having none…” said an activist.
“I was worried about talking about power with community members; won’t they say I am causing trouble, making women big-headed? Will they understand? There is some resistance, of course, but people are showing up during events and discussions; they want to explore this. They see power as something real affecting their lives. The sessions are not typical NGO stuff, they are hot!,” says a female activist.
“Power makes people uncomfortable. At first I thought this was bad and didn’t want to talk about it. Now I see it as good. How can we change if we are not made uncomfortable to rethink how and who we are in a new way? Now instead of avoiding discomfort, I try to create it,” said a man from Kampala.
“The talk of power has let me see how violence against women isn’t about anger or culture but how it is an abuse of power. I have experienced powerlessness in my own life; it only creates anger and resentment in me, so why not my wife too? I don’t want that in my relationship,” said a male community member from Kampala.
It is important to change the power imbalance that exists between women and men by deconstructing the negative social norms of power dynamics within relationships and replacing them with positive norms that promote positive power. The SASA activist kit showed its ability to achieve this.
- Ackermann, L., de Klerk, G. W. (2002) Social factors that make South African women vulnerable to HIV infection. Health care for Women International, 23, p. 163-172.
- Michau, L. (2008) The SASA! Way to preventing violence against women. Exchange. p. 8-10
- Raising voices (RV). (2009) SASA
- Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI)., AfroAIDSinfo. (2012) Sexual Violence and HIV Fact Sheet [Online] Accessed on the 10 April 2013.
- United Nations Annual Report. (2012) Preventing violence against women and girls, p. 9 [Online] Accessed on the 5th March 2013
Author: Jodilee Erasmus (B.Soc Sci)
Reviewed by: Hendra van Zyl (MPH) and Michelle Moorhouse (MBBCh, DA)
Date: May 2013
Erasmus, J. (2013) SASA - the drive for the prevention of sexual violence towards women and girls of South Africa, AfroAIDSinfo. Issue 13 no. 5, Public (Open access).
2 May, 2013