Spotlight: Collaborating with business to bring violence prevention to the workplace

The ISS and partners deliver innovative workplace programmes to help businesses respond to South Africa’s violence crisis.

Research shows that violence in the family leads to violence outside the home, and that domestic conflict has a profound impact on workplace productivity, absenteeism and career progression.

Parenting skills programmes help to reduce violence but are mostly delivered in communities during the workday, making attendance difficult for people with jobs.

The evidence-informed Free to Grow programme was developed for the workplace by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in collaboration with the South African Parenting Programme Implementers Network (SAPPIN). It aims to prevent violence against women and children, with other benefits including improved performance, greater job satisfaction and less conflict at work.

‘Putting violence prevention into the workplace has a positive impact on employees and employers,’ says Thandi van Heyningen, a senior researcher in the ISS Justice and Violence Prevention Programme. ‘It reduces barriers to attendance, and creates a safe place for people experiencing violence at home to access support and resources.’

The pioneering ISS workplace programmes help business to respond to a crisis of violence in South Africa. Police figures show that nearly 10 women and three children were murdered every day between April and June 2023. In homes and families, this violence is predominantly perpetrated by men and within intimate partner relationships. Children who experience violence are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of violence themselves, an intergenerational cycle that is difficult to disrupt.

Between 2021 and 2023 Free to Grow was piloted at Tikketai, an agricultural processing business in the Western Cape which requested the intervention to address high rates of family and community violence.

The programme is delivered by facilitators from the Seven Passes Initiative NGO, a SAPPIN member. It is group-based and interactive, with 12 sessions covering interpersonal and life skills, personal development, gender transformation and positive parenting.

Participant numbers increased each time the programme was delivered, with some employees attending twice. Most are single mothers who struggle to balance the demands of work with family responsibilities.

The programme demonstrated the significant role that business can play in breaking patterns of violence.

‘Putting violence prevention into the workplace has a positive impact on employees and employers’

‘We have benefited from the expertise and experience that enabled violence prevention and parenting skills to be delivered at Tikketai,’ said Tikketai chief executive Burger Gericke. ‘The programme has really helped our employees and the business. There is now less conflict on the production line, improved relationships between staff members, reduced absenteeism, and increased productivity.’

Participants reported improved relationships with their family and children, reduced stress and better mental health as they learned to manage conflict and regulate their emotions.

‘This helped me to be a better father for my children and to communicate effectively instead of getting angry and aggressive,’ said a man who attended the programme. ‘It improved relationships in our home, and I am very thankful for that.’

The ISS also collaborated with global mining giant Anglo American to address high levels of violence in and around its operations. The company recognises that mining itself can contribute to high levels of violence, with migrant labour impacting the dynamics of local communities.  

‘We also recognise the role of a business like Anglo American in tackling the causes of violence,’ says Marcel Korth, Anglo American principal for gender-based violence. ‘We were looking for a trusted team with experience in violence prevention, and which could use research and evidence to design a sustainable long-term intervention that could be carefully and sensitively adapted to different contexts.’

The ISS, SAPPIN and Reos Partners developed a gender transformative curriculum for Anglo American, based on consultations at one of its mines and in collaboration with the company’s community stakeholders.

The curriculum aims to help Anglo American partners to recognise gender-based violence, understand its dynamics and be sensitive in their response. It is versatile and can be adapted to focus on parenting, gender norms, conflict resolution and other elements of violence prevention.

A pool of community-based facilitators will be trained to facilitate delivery of the new programme in 2024.

For more information, contact: 

Thandi van Heyningen, ISS: [email protected]

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