Speech by NomaIndia Mfeketho, Chairperson of Caucus during the debate on the Sixteen days of Activism of No Violence against Women & Children

20 November 2008

Madame Speaker,
Honourable Members,

The national theme of "Don't look away, act against abuse" for this year's 16 Days of Activism of No violence against women and children is a rallying call to all South Africans, men and women, young and old across all cultural divides, to speak out against the scourge of violence against the vulnerable in our society. It is a call to not hide nor deny the existence of such violence, it is a call to acknowledge when help is needed and to help, and it is a call to declare a permanent truce on this epidemic.

Fourteen years since the advent of democracy and a Constitution with among the strongest provisions on gender equality in the world, Gender Based Violence [GBV] continues to undermine the human rights of South Africans, especially women and children. Violence against women and children is a human rights issue but more specifically it is an equality issue. It is widely acknowledged that violence grows and takes hold in environments where relationships are characterised by inequity, where power imbalance (imagined or real), exist between men and women, boys and girls and adults and children. Violence is an expression of domination and power. It is exerted by the powerful over the disempowered.

The Amnesty International report (1995) states that violence against women takes place mainly in two main settings of society - family and the community. In the family, it takes place in the form of battering, sexual abuse of children, and marital and non-spousal rape. In the community it occurs in the form of rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment at work and in educational and other institutions, trafficking in women and forced prostitution.

Madam Speaker,

In 2006, South Africa made a ground breaking move to develop a 365 Days Action Plan to end Violence Against Women and children. The plan is a product of multi-stakeholder conference driven by the ANC-led government, in partnership with civil society organizations that are committed to the struggle of ending violence against women and children. This effort culminated in the launch of the action plan by then Deputy President: Phumzile Mlambo-Ncquka on 08th March 2007, in celebration of International Women's Day.

Other countries in the region like Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Lesotho, Zambia and Swaziland engaged in similar initiatives to develop actions plans to end violence against women. Almost all the action plans are framed against the SADC Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children that outlines five key areas in which measures must be adopted to address violence against women and children in the region. The key areas include: legal; social, economic, cultural, and political; services; Education, training and awareness and integrated approaches and budgetary allocations.

In launching a National Action Plan to End Gender Violence, South Africa is one of the first countries to heed the call of the UN Secretary General last year for all countries to develop comprehensive, multi sector action plans for ending gender violence.

This National Action Plan is a multi-sector framework and approach for ending gender violence over the period 2007 - 2009. The plan is in recognition that no single sector, government ministry, department or civil society organisation is by itself responsible or has the singular ability to address this challenge. It is envisaged that all the South African government departments and civil society organisations will as stakeholders use this National Action Plan as the basis to develop their own strategic and operational plans to ensure unity of purpose and cohesion of efforts to achieve maximum impact in the process of eradicating this scourge.

Madam Speaker,

In order to address and find resolutions to gender violence, the ANC- led government has put in place various measures. Some of these are:

Firstly, Ensuring Courts toughen up on gender violence:

The courts have continued to send out strong messages that gender violence is not acceptable and that the state will be held accountable for upholding the rights of women. Landmark cases include Omar vs the State, which upheld the provision for protective orders in the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) and van Eeden versus the Minister of Safety and Security which found the Minister responsible for damages in a rape case involving three off-duty police officers.

Secondly, New legislation has been passed:

The passing of the far reaching Children's Bill by the National Assembly and significant progress towards the development of legislation to combat Trafficking in Persons are important milestones. Certain sections of the long-awaited Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, No. 32 of 2007, came into effect on the 16th of December 2007 after being signed into law. Section 72 of the Act provides for the implementation of Chapters 1 to 4 and 7, which mainly deal with the creation of statutory sexual offences, special protection measures for children and persons who are mentally disabled, certain transitional arrangements and evidence related matters. The Act will help intensify South Africa's efforts to fight sexual crimes against all persons and, especially, sexual offences being committed against vulnerable groups, including women, children and people who are mentally disabled.

Thirdly, Sensitisation of law enforcement agencies:

In response to criticisms about the ineffective implementation of the DVA, the Integrated Domestic Violence Training Programme has been launched and a multi-sector Training Manual developed.

Fourthly, Integrated approaches towards addressing gender violence:

The Thuthuzela Care Centres that are directly linked to Sexual Offences Courts - such as the Sexual Offences Court in Wynberg and the Thuthuzela Centre at Jooste Hospital in Manenberg in the Western Cape - have been shown to yield a 95 percent conviction rate, compared to the seven percent in other courts. These one stop service facilities also significantly reduce secondary victimization and trauma whilst assisting women in accessing the comprehensive treatment and care necessary after a sexual assault.

Fifthly,Ensuring that treatment and care receive greater attention:

The Department of Health (DOH) has launched a National Sexual Assault Policy that aims to provide "a high quality, coordinated, and holistic sexual assault service, which meets the health needs of the rape survivor, the needs of the criminal justice system for well presented medico-legal evidence and the needs of the community in contributing to community protection and justice."

Sixthly, Where Media has become more a part of the solution than of the problem:

Although some media coverage of gender violence continues to be biased and insensitive suggesting, for example, that women are to blame because of their dress or conduct, various studies underscore a vast improvement in both the quantity and quality of media coverage.

Seventhly,Where space has been created to allow "Real men" to find their voice:

There is a growing "men's movement" in support of gender justice. There have also been innovative partnerships launched with traditional authorities to fight gender violence. Men are working with the media to promote alternative images and role models of the "new man."

Eighthly, Ensuring that public awareness campaigns keep gaining momentum:

Despite criticisms that the Sixteen Days Campaign is running out of steam, the Campaign seems to continue to be gaining ground with the latest move to extend the 16 Days Campaign to 365 Days of Action to systematically end GBV in South

Ninthly, Creating more efforts to achieve greater coordination of initiatives:

The 365 Day initiative led by SOCA (Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit) and includes an Anti-Rape strategy and audit of existing multi-sector Services, roll-out of additional Sexual Offences Courts (in 2007, 8 additional Sexual Offences Courts were established, bringing the total to 62) and the up-scaling and escalation plan of Thuthuzela Care Centres and efforts to help the government and civil society to create synergies and focus efforts on specific programmes throughout the year.

And finally, the Victims Charter

The ANC Government has committed itself to implement measures aimed at continuous reform of the criminal justice system to promote and protect the rights of victims of crime. This commitment is in the spirit of the South African Constitution and in compliance with international human rights instruments. The implementation of the Victims Charter is one of the measures aimed at balancing the rights of victims of crime and accused persons.

In 2007, a Stakeholder Summit was held in KZN on implementation of the Victims' Charter and Minimum Standards. Also, a National Workshop on Challenges of Training on Victims' Charter was held. Public as well as provincial consultation on implementation was held and a five year National Implementation Plan outlining commitments by the Departments of Justice, Social Development, NPA, SAPS, Health and Correctional Services has been developed.

Madam Speaker,

Despite these efforts and measures, if we in our neighbourhoods, communities, schools, workplaces and families, continue to turn a blind eye when faced with gender violence, we will be doing ourselves, as a society, a grave injustice. We need to break down those structures that support and perpetuate the silence around violence against women and children. By speaking out we also give hope to victims of violence that their lives can and should change for better.

I thank you!