The Duchess of Sussex today faced the troubling issue of gender-based violence in South Africa saying the country is at a “crisis state”.
Meghan, 38, had been keen to speak to girls and campaigners in Johannesburg about the issue, as she has done in Cape Town.
Women have protested in their thousands against the growing levels of violence against women in the country where rape is being used as a weapon.
During a meeting at the organisation Action Aid, which campaigns for social justice, particularly on women’s issues, Meghan took part in a round table discussion.
She was joined by Professor Rachel Jewekes, Executive Scientist for Research Strategy at the South African Medical Council, Bafana Khumalo, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Sonke Gender Justice and Elizabeth Steenkamp, programme manager at Teddy Bear Clinic.
Professor Jewekes talked to the duchess about how important it was to address the issue of gender-based violence across all age groups at schools, as well as different types such a peer violence, as well as dating and sexual violence.
The professor also explained how much of their work focused on building healthy relationships and encouraging communication around those relationships – particularly bringing parents into the equation.
Nodding intently, Meghan said: “Process, yes.”
She continued: “We need a shift in that paradigm. You can’t do that without the some of the cultural context. To your point, it is at a crisis state here and the age range that it is happening at is really staggering.”
Bafana Khumalo talked to the duchess about patriarchy and the levels of violence against women by men and how there was an acceptance in South Africa that they could do this without impunity.
“We must challenge men and hold them accountable for their actions,” he said. “And boys,” Meghan interjected.
Nondumiso Nsibande, Country Director of ActionAid South Africa, talked about the need to have more community consciousness over issues of gender equality and how many girls they work with simply don’t feel safe at school.
“The trouble is as a young girl if you are not feeling safe at school and not feeling safe at home, where does that leave you? And that really is systemic. That is a huge issue,” Meghan replied. “You will feel very displaced.”
She added: “And when they tell somebody, someone does something. That’s the other issue right? It’s so key being able to feel that they can communicate what’s happening when something goes wrong, whatever it is is.
“Talking to locals throughout some of our time here this past week, whether that be the church or that’s in your community…. but within that community everyone is saying ‘well that’s just what is done, that’s just how it is’, and you’re shamed into not coming forward. It’s so normalised.
“You’re shamed into not talking about it, even though you are the victim. “