South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday announced a five-point emergency plan to put a halt to gender-based violence during an extraordinary joint sitting of Parliament.
The five points are prevention, strengthening the criminal justice system, enhancing the legal and policy framework, ensuring adequate care, support and healing for victims of violence and strengthening the economic power of women.
The plan will be implemented over the next six months.
“In implementing our prevention measures, we must recognise that violence against women is not a problem of women. It is a problem of men,” Ramaphosa said.
This part of the plan entails the following measures:
- A mass media campaign that will target communities, public spaces, workplaces, campuses, schools and recreational spaces like taverns. The focus will be on men’s groups and formations, youth at risk and offenders inside prisons.
- Women’s rights and gender power relations will be part of Life Orientation in the school curriculum.
- Gender-sensitivity training for law enforcement officials, prosecutors, magistrates and policymakers. Those who are found in breach of their responsibilities in this regard will be held to account.
- Train and deploy prevention activists to all of 278 municipalities. They will engage in household visits and community interventions focused on changing harmful social norms.
2. Strengthen the criminal justice system
“This is to ensure that justice is served, perpetrators are held to account, survivors do not suffer secondary victimisation, and the law acts as a deterrent,” Ramaphosa said.
It includes the following measures:
- Directing resources to improve the functioning of sexual offences courts, Thuthuzela care centres, and the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Investigation Units of the SAPS;
- Funding has already been approved for the establishment of an additional eleven sexual offences courts over the next financial year; and
- The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development will clear the backlog of criminal cases for rape and other forms of gender-based violence through the establishment of special courts, hiring additional court staff and clearing the backlog at forensic labs.
3. Enhance the legal and policy framework
“Since the advent of democracy, we have enacted several laws and undertaken a number of programmes to tackle gender inequality in our society, to promote human rights and to enable effective action against gender-based violence,” Ramaphosa said.
“In many respects, however, these measures have fallen short of what is needed to confront the severity of the challenges we face.”
The measures to improve the legal and policy framework are:
- Proposing a range of legal and regulatory reforms to Parliament to strengthen the response of the State to gender-based violence and to ensure that all crimes against women and children attract harsher minimum sentences.
- Engaging with the judiciary on the role that it can play in supporting the national effort to end gender-based violence to ensure abusers, rapists and murderers know that they will be caught and punished. The State should oppose bail for suspects charged with the rape and murder of women and children and those who are found guilty of such crimes should not be eligible for parole.
- Strengthen programmes to rehabilitate offenders and youth at risk. Finalise legislation like the Victim Support Services Bill, which will strengthen support for GBV programmes and services.
- Ramaphosa called on all parliamentary committees to prioritise these areas of legislative reform and ensure that we have effective legislation in place without delay.
4. Ensure adequate care, support and healing for victims of violence
Measures in this part of the plan are:
- Standardising the framework for funding civil society organisations working with survivors of gender-based violence;
- Providing post-rape training for healthcare providers and lay counsellors who provide care and support to victims and survivors;
- Working with the private sector, concerned individuals and other institutions to substantially increase the number of Thuthuzela care centres across the country from the current 54 to over 100 by 2025;
- Meet with representatives of the private sector to discuss the establishment of a Gender-based Violence and Femicide Fund to increase support to survivors, including persons with disability and the LGBTQI+ community;
- As drug and alcohol abuse fuel gender-based violence, the Department of Social Development has been tasked with increasing the visibility of substance abuse awareness and education and prioritising funding for more treatment facilities; and
- Resource the gender-based violence framework in universities and colleges, which will include the establishment of gender equity offices in these institutions. Ramaphosa will meet the universities’ vice-chancellors to come up with initiatives that are focused on what should be done at institutions of higher learning.
Improve the economic power of women
“Women are often hostages in abusive relationships because of poverty and unemployment. Young women, in particular, are vulnerable to exploitation from older men with financial resources. By tackling unequal economic power dynamics we can reduce the vulnerability of women to abuse,” Ramaphosa said.
5. This will include the following measures:
- Prioritise women when it comes to access to employment, training opportunities and procurement of services, and call upon the private sector to do the same;
- Reach the target to set aside 30% of the value of its procurement for women-owned businesses, and to progressively increase that to 40%;
- Prioritise support and training for women engaging in small business and informal sector activity, and call on established business to be part of this effort;
- All government departments will be expected to adhere to gender-responsive planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation; and
- Improve collection and analysis of data to monitor our GBV programmes.
Comments from other political parties
The EFF‘s Veronica Mente noted that there was no quick fix to the problem. “Our only help is successful policing, prosecuting, tough sentencing and working prisons. We will stay with this problem forever, as long as we do not fix these systems,” she said.
IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe commended Ramaphosa’s initiative and pledged her support. But she noted that following previous high-profile murders of women such as Anene Booysen, Karabo Mokoena and toddler Courtney Pieters, the government had pledged action – but to no avail.
Van der Merwe said that in announcing the interventions outlined in his address, Ramaphosa had shown that he had the courage to act. However, what remained to be seen was whether the government had the courage to govern, the courage to do what was right and the courage to save the nation from becoming a failed state.
“To date, the disjunction between what our women endure and what our government does in response has been alarmingly inadequate,” she added.
ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe
called for harsher punishments for rape, saying that to help send a clear message that the justice system is serious about fighting gender-based violence, rapists should be denied bail and parole.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa complimented Ramaphosa’s announcement, saying that the president spoke like a commander-in-chief.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has called on political party leaders to cast aside their differences and recognise the severity of the gender-based violence crisis consuming South Africa.
“Let us make the dignity, respect and safety of women and girls in our society our number one priority,” he said. He said it was tragic was that few perpetrators were ever arrested and prosecuted, resulting in a conviction rate for rape of just 5%.
Maimane called on parents to set a better example to their sons. “We must raise them to respect girls and women as their equal. We must show our boys, through all our actions, what is right and what is wrong,” he said.
Children should be taught about consent at school, he said, adding that Kenya had achieved dramatic results with a “No Means No” programme in their schools. “We need to introduce similar consent classes in our own life orientation curriculum,” said Maimane, adding that culture, tradition or religion should not be allowed to offer a hiding place for those who commit such acts.
Maimane said the existing legislation was not up to the task as the act dealing with domestic abuse was 20 years old and out of touch. The DA leader proposed that parliament establishes an ad hoc committee to investigate the systemic causes of gender-based violence and to map out long-term solutions.
To watch the National Assembly session, click here.
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