Speech by the Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities National Stakeholder Summit: 16 Days Activism Campaign on No Violence Against Women and Children

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Birchwood Conference Centre, Boksburg

Programme Director
My Cabinet colleagues
Fellow delegates
Honoured Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is great honour and privilege for me to address you today as we mark the official start of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign on No Violence against Women and Children.

As you know, the 16 Days of Activism Campaign on No Violence against Women and Children is a United Nations-endorsed campaign. It takes place annually from the 25th of November which is an International Day of No Violence against Women. It runs up to the 10th of December which is an International Human Rights Day.

The period of the campaign coincide with commemoration of the World AIDS Day on December 01 and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 03. This allows us to focus on the link between sexual violence and the spread of HIV infection as well as incidents of abuse experienced by persons with disabilities.

Let us use this period to once again increase awareness of the negative impact of violence on women, children and society as a whole. Research undertaken by the Medical Research Council indicates that one in four women in the general South African population has experienced physical violence at some point in her life.

The crime statistics released by SAPS in September this year indicate an increase in sexual offences which stood at 71 500 cases in the past financial year. From July 2008 - June 2009, close to 40 000 cases of rape were enrolled for the first time in the magistrate courts across the country.

If we accept that there are also many cases that go unreported, these figures clearly demonstrate that we have a major problem on our hands. If we are serious about fighting crime, these are the cases that we need to reduce drastically.

Studies have found that the risk of intimate partner violence is highest in societies where violence is a socially sanctioned norm. In our case as the country, a 'culture of violence' is a pervasive feature of the legacy of apartheid, which forms a backdrop for violence against women. But what has been done over the past 15 years to address this challenge.

Since 1994, Government has placed legislation to redress the wrongs affecting women and children. Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act was passed to ensure that women have equal enjoyment of rights and freedoms. Employment Equity Act, ensures that discriminations in employment, occupation and income within the labour market that resulted from apartheid laws are curtailed.

Maintenance Act, which ensures that maintenance for the child is recovered from the parents or other persons financially responsible for the child. Domestic Violence Act, was enacted to afford survivors of violence maximum protection from domestic abuse. Women being at the most receiving end of domestic violence now have a legal recourse that will ensure their protection. Children's Act, 2005 and Children's Amendment Act, 2007 were enacted to amongst others, protect a child from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.

Government has also implemented and supported many interventions that protect the human dignity of women and children. The Children Rights Charter is being reviewed and updated to also include emerging challenges such as use of children as subject of pornography and children's exposure to pornographic material

The process is underway towards the re-establishment of specialized police units dealing with domestic and sexual offences and other crimes against women and children. This development will mobilize the expertise needed to enhance management and successful prosecution of crimes against women and children

There are Thuthuzela Care Centres established across the country in communities with high incidents of sexual violence. The Centres provide health and welfare services as well as initiate process of reporting. Shelters established in terms of the Domestic Violence Act have increased from 39 in 2001 to 96 currently.

Programme Director, today we have an opportunity to reflect on the work done so far as we mark the ten year anniversary of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign. Over the ten years, we have witnessed exponential growth of this Campaign, making it the second most known government event in South Africa, after the State of the Nation Address according to the GCIS Tracker Survey of last year.

This Summit provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the 10 years of the campaign. How do we build on the current high levels of awareness and turn that into behavioral changes and therefore, reduction of cases of abuse. This summit needs to agree on the interventions needed to ensure an effective response to the growing scourge of gender violence and violation of children's rights.

Working together with other government departments and civil society partners, the Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities wants to ensure that this campaign is sustained throughout the year. Let us work together in the implementation of the 365 Days National Action Plan against Gender Based Violence.

We have to ensure that as the torch of peace is passed to education in January, it also carries a message that abuse in schools will not be tolerated. With the STI/Condom week in February, we will be focusing on the importance of treatment of sexually transmitted infection. Let us ensure that antiretroviral drugs are always available for prevention of HIV for rape survivors.

Human Rights Day in March provides us with an opportunity to reclaim the right of women and children to walk the streets of South Africa without fear of being attacked.

Next year's World Health Day in April will focus on safer cities, providing us an opportunity to highlight issues of safety particularly as the country round up the preparations to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup in our nine cities. The Bill on Prevention of Human Trafficking should be made an Act in time for it to be used to deal with possible cases of exploitation of women and children around the World cup.

In May, we have the Child Protection week leading into the Youth Month which covers International Children's Day and the Day of the African Child. We will remember the emphasis that President Nelson Mandela puts on the welfare of children as we observe the Nelson Mandela Day in July. August as you know is Women's Month filled with a number of activities including efforts to address issues of gender based violence.

Cultural practices that are not in line with the Constitutional rights of women and children will be our focus during September Heritage Month as we have done in addressing the problem of forced marriages of children (ukuthwala) in Eastern Cape.
The psychological effects of abuse will be our main focus as we observe Mental Health Month in October which leads us into the start of Disability Awareness Month in November and the 16 Days of Activism Campaign for next year.

We are confident that as the SAPS reinforces security measures for the December festive season, the issues of safety of women and children will be high on the strategies to combat crime during this period. The Independent Complaints Directorate should also act firmly against police officers involved in cases of abuse. We cannot allow our police force to be tainted with issues of rape and child killing as it gears up for massive crime combating efforts that this government has committed to.

I also believe that the criminal justice system needs to strengthen its focus on the needs of the survivors of abuse. The case is often reduced to a matter between the state and the accused, thus alienating the survivor from the process and possibly negating a potentially vital link to the outcome of bail hearings and even the successful finalisation of the case.

Investigating officers need to engage closely with the survivor when investigating for purposes of bail applications because of its potential to cause severe distress to the survivor. Survivors become anxious when the alleged perpetrator is released on bail especially because the accused is often known to the complainant - a relative, a neighbour, a work colleague, etc. When the perpetrator move back into the house next door; the impact on the complainant is terrible.

For our people to act against abuse, they need to have confidence that they will not be victimized. Let us reinforce the theme for this year:

Let us work together towards building a society where, women and children will be free to walk the streets of our land with no fear of being attacked.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you all successful deliberation.