College of Humanities

Research into GBV Suffering of Women of Foreign Descent in Durba

‘I wanted to enable their voices to be heard and felt the best way to achieve that was to listen to their life-stories’, so says Dr Venencia Nyambuya who graduated with a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies.

Her research focused on documented and undocumented women of foreign descent challenging gender-based violence (GBV) in Durban amid xenophobia.

According to Nyambuya, violence and the abuse of women present an alarming challenge to development policy-makers because of the destabilisation and undermining of the human rights agenda.

‘In South Africa, GBV pervades the political, economic and social structures of society and is driven by strongly patriarchal social norms and complex intersectional power inequalities including those of gender, race, class and sexuality,’ she said.

While several studies on GBV have been conducted in South Africa, Nyambuya argues that little has been done on the lived experiences of female migrant victims who are facing the twin dangers of being an African foreigner as well as a woman.

‘Foreign African women have not only been subjected to abuse and violence but are not given a platform to voice their experiences in public; rather the discussions are left in the four walls of counselling rooms should they

get there,’she said. ‘Most of the women who formed part of my study are illegal immigrants who fear being in the public eye because of their immigration status. Being foreign nationals exacerbates their exposure to xenophobia and GBV.’

Nyambuya considers her study ‘important especially in this epoch where we have witnessed gross human rights perpetrated against vulnerable groups, women and children in South Africa’.

During her fieldwork, she often took on the role of a counsellor, encouraging some of the women to start small businesses such as doing hairdressing or becoming a street vendor to earn money to put food on the table. ‘When the abuse happened in their homes, some would call me seeking advice.

Despite offering counsel, they would often go back to their abuser as if nothing had happened and it becomes a vicious cycle. Most women when advised to attend counselling sessions were too shy to go and that was a huge challenge for me. I had to encourage them in subtle ways. Some eventually sought professional help.’

Nyambuya thanked her family, friends and supervisor for their support during her studies. ‘This achievement also recognises your immense contribution and I am able to say it is ours and I am proud that we did it.’

Advising other students, she said: ‘This journey is one that you should walk at your own pace. Shortcuts are not always the best cuts. Take your time and produce a thesis you will be proud of.’

Nyambuya plans to pursue postdoctoral studies.