The South African justice system has been urged to do more to protect women who are victims of gender-based violence and discriminatory laws.
The call was made by Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Deputy Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize during a panel discussion at the Family Law Dialogue in Benoni on Saturday. The dialogue was held as the country wraps up Women’s Month.
Mkhize said she believed that the criminal justice system is still a very important and powerful tool society can utilise to tackle some of the problems that women continue to grapple with.
“Access to justice seems to be a big issue for women across all segments of society. South Africa is rated among the highest in the world [in terms of inequality and lack of safety] for women. Our call is to say we can do better and we have to do better for the majority that is marginalised on a daily basis.”
Mkhize said the country should ask itself how, despite having one of the best constitutions in the world, women still battle with access to justice.
“We have come up with a number of legislations, which are undermined by our own frontline service providers in the system... You go to a police station and police are surprised why are you reporting your husband and so the case doesn’t take off, even though legislatively, you are protected. Those are some of the big issues that we need to look at.”
During Women’s Month, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities had various engagements. Among these was a dialogue with the LGBTQI+ community as well as a Women’s Parliament, which this year focused on gender-based violence and femicide.
“There are high levels of violence in our society. The LGBTQI+ community admitted that even among themselves, there are power dynamics… Added to this, society uses culture to terrorise and kill them, in the name of culture,” Mkhize said.
She lauded President Cyril Ramaphosa for decisively responding to a call for government to urgently address gender-based violence. Shortly after the #TotalShutdown march to the Union Buildings last year, President Ramaphosa last year convened the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Summit.
“As Head of State, he was decisive, saying he was committed to be the head of the cause. He has consistently said, ‘you have me on your side’,” Mkhize said.
The battle, she said, is winnable but it is up to society to consolidate.
Issues that require urgent intervention include:
- Children who are taken care of by the State while their fathers are employed.
- Disempowered bereaved widows in rural areas.
- Sex and personal rights.
- Empowerment of women in the workplace.
Vuyokazi Noncembu, the North West regional court president and Deputy President of the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ), said it was important to include men in efforts to curb gender-based violence.
“As women, we can’t do this alone. One thing that is clear about gender-based violence is that it’s deeply rooted in patriarchy. And for us to deal with patriarchy, we need men. It doesn’t help us to talk about it alone,” she said.
The SAC-IAWJ has a sexual and gender-based violence programme with the Gauteng Education Department. It is hoped the programme will be spread to the rest of the country.
United Nations Women Representative Anne Githuku-Shongwe said it was important to deal with the issue of discriminatory law.
“There are 39 countries that do not even mention the issue of spousal rights. There are 31 countries where women are not considered heads of a household, even though you do not have a partner, you are merely a child. There are many countries where women are not allowed to work,” she said.
South Africa, fortunately, was largely compliant but had a few areas of concern, said Githuku-Shongwe. – SAnews.gov.za