THE BLOG
12/02/2015 09:50 GMT | Updated 14/04/2015 06:59 BST

Femicide in South Africa: Reeva Steenkamp Was the Victim of Toxic Gender Inequality

Reeva Steenkamp was gunned down two years ago on Valentine's Day, in a killing both horribly violent and domestic. Her killer, boyfriend Oscar Pistorius, is in a Pretoria prison cell facing a five-year sentence, but secure in the knowledge that he may only serve ten months of it. Pistorius wasn't found guilty of femicide, but instead of culpable homicide - because he claimed he fired the four lethal shots through the locked bathroom door at an imaginary intruder.

Femicide, the killing of women by their intimate partners, is a common crime in South Africa and claims a victim every eight hours. During the period in which Pistorius was sentenced, approximately 27 women were killed as a result of domestic abuse in the country. The rate of femicide is five times higher than the global average, a result of the aggressive masculinity that colours the socio-political landscape of South Africa. The problem is worsening, yet more often than not, South African police and medical data-collection systems that document homicide cases fail to report the victim-perpetrator relationship, let alone the gender-related motivations for murder.

Changes are being made in the UK to address femicide. This week, a database was launched online entitled Femicide Census: Profile of Women Killed by Men; a project designed to force a recognition of the scale of male violence against women. But the problem remains that when a woman is killed by a man in Britain, it is described by the police as an "isolated incident". When 150 women are murdered in 12 months, these are not isolated incidents.

The same rings true for South Africa. Statistically speaking, Steenkamp was one of three women murdered by an intimate partner on Valentine's Day. There are, of course, different reasons for each murder, but they are fundamentally connected by the toxic gender discrimination that continues to undermine the country. Violence in South Africa is rife, a result of the parcel of mass social inequality left over from the Apartheid.

The day after Steenkamp was killed, she was due to attend a "Black Friday" protest to demonstrate against South Africa's annual 500,000 rapes. It was organised in the aftermath of the gang rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl who, shortly before she died, managed to identify her assailant as her boyfriend. On the day Steenkamp was shot, thousands of women in South Africa and millions worldwide marched for One Billion Rising, Eve Ensler's global campaign to end violence against women.

While South Africa's 1996 constitution is one of the most progressive in the world, the country's transition to democracy and its framework of human rights remains challenged by violence against women. It was the first African state to recognise same-sex marriage and its constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual identity, but corrective rape - the rape and often murder of lesbians - is a growing problem. In theory, women are protected by the constitution. But attitudes have failed to catch up with these formal protections and in reality, unequal gender norms, power inequalities and dominant ideals of manhood prevail.

Steenkamp was killed in the home, almost always the most dangerous place for a woman. Unlike most of the women murdered at the hands of a partner, her case made the front page - but even so, her death was overshadowed by the courtroom drama surrounding Pistorius and his crying, vomiting spectacle. There were only a handful of times when the spotlight turned to Steenkamp, when photographs of her bloodied corpse flashed on screen in court.

Pistorius may not have been found guilty of femicide, but Steenkamp was the collateral damage of a pattern of deadly misogyny in South Africa: a combination of the negligent use of firearms, fear and masculinity.