Address by the Honourable NN Mapisa-Nqakula – MP, Minister of Correctional Services on the occasion of the MTN Annual Women’s Day luncheon - ‘Celebrating Women Who Have Paved the Way for the Emancipation and Advancement of Women’, Castle, Kyalami, Johannesburg
5 Aug 2011
The Executive Management of the MTN Group, present here
Women’s Formations, represented here
Civic society organisations and non-governmental organisations, represented here
Comrades, friend and colleagues
‘Challenges faced by Women who are incarcerated’
For South Africa, the month of August holds a special place in our calendar as we dedicate the country and all our people to focus on the plight of women and the quest for women emancipation.
It is also during the month of August that we remember and celebrate the women who took part in the great women march of 1956, the anniversary of which is marked as an official holiday in our country.
This very important gathering this morning comes on the heels of a three-day National Women’s Conference, the first of its kind for our young democracy, which convened all structures of women’s groups and formations to begin what I believe will be an annual tradition for us as women to come together to trash out issues pertaining to the process of being full participants in our economy and other critical spheres of our development as equals next to our male counterparts.
Program director; allow me to once again commend the Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, the Honourable Lulu Xingwana for having hosted this historic gathering of women in our country.
One of the critical issues tabled at this conference facing women today was the very issue for which I have been invited to address you on here this morning and that of the plight of women in incarceration.
This is sadly a growing trend in our correctional system and one that forces us to engage as a nation in a national discourse over, if we are to understand and hopefully arrest its causalities in society.
Yes, women represent the fastest growing category of offender population in our country.
It is for this reason that, as government we have started to pay a bit more attention to the issues surrounding women who are in conflict with the law.
Since the dawn of our democratic dispensation, South Africa has engaged in a process to transform our penal system from one that emphasised punishment to a system that seeks to correct offending behaviour and prepare offenders for successful reintegration into society.
This thinking is based on the recognition that offending behaviour is borne of social construct and that in order to correct it you need interventions at a social level.
This is certainly the case with regard to our approach to dealing with women who are in conflict with the law.
Although it is established that everybody who has been convicted of a crime should serve a sentence, the process of correcting their offending behaviour should take into cognisance the social circumstances that led to such offending behaviour.
This is most certainly the case when it comes to women in incarceration and the types of crimes they have committed.
Last year we collaborated with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Special Assignment program to produce a documentary on women serving custodial sentences in our correctional facilities for having killed their partners in a moment of rage while protecting themselves after years of suffering physical and emotional abuse.
We are having an increase in the number of women who are serving life as a result of killing their partners and it was important for us to bring this to the attention of the South African public.
We needed these women to tell their story and to share their circumstances with the outside world.
Our message to women, through this program, was that you do not need to remain in an abusive relationship until you get to the point where you take the law into your own hands and commit a crime.
What was even more disturbing was the fact that some of these women were serving time together with their daughters who have assisted them in committing these murders after they themselves have been direct or indirect victims of the abuse by their fathers.
As I have indicated before, the intention is not to suggest that these women should not serve time for the crimes they have committed, but that considering their circumstances, these women require care and counselling as part of their serving sentences in incarceration.
That in order for rehabilitation to work, these women should be assisted to deal with the trauma caused by years of physical and emotional abuse.
There are various levels at which the work of bringing forth the plight of these women should be engaged with.
At one level, there are issues of policy and law, and these determine how our courts and law enforcement agencies should deal with such cases.
There are also issues relating to the support that women in abusive relationships should be given, even before they commit such crimes, including places of safety, education and access to justice.
Then, of course, the key aspect is that of awareness to ensure that such abuse is prevented.
So, there is a need for various partnerships, both within government, and society in general.
I must say that as government we are encouraged by the MTN Group’s interest in these and other societal issues which we should and must interrogate if we are to overcome some of our social ills.
After all as the White Paper on Corrections states, Corrections is a societal responsibility and not of Government and its law enforcement agencies alone.
What we are focusing on as the Department of Correctional Services, is how the women who are already incarcerated in our facilities could play a role in educating other women about the dangers of remaining in such relationships until they are forced to take the law into their own hands.
The message that we need to be sending jointly, not only as government departments, but society as a whole, is “Don’t wait until it is too late”.
It is better to leave an abusive relationship or marriage than to stay until you are killed or you kill your partner and end up in prison.
We believe that, even in the absence of a policy review, these women who are now serving life sentences for murder, can, through their own stories, sound a warning to those who are still trapped in abusive relationships.
We also need to call on women who are living in abusive relationships to seek help now through mediation, relationship counselling and if all fails for their sake to walk away from such unions.
Another category we are dealing with is that of women in incarceration after being caught in violent conflict with other women in competition for the affections of their male partners.
Again in these instances, women need the support to gain their own self esteem as part of the process to correct their offending behaviour.
One of my greatest concerns as Minister responsible for Correctional Services has been the issue of women who are pregnant at the time of their incarceration and those mothers with babies younger than 2 years who do not have any family member to whose care the child can be entrusted.
Most of these women are sentenced by magistrates and incarcerated for petty crimes and are serving sentences below 24 months.
Some of these crimes include shoplifting for supplies for the baby and we have directed that our heads of centres should approach the sentencing magistrates with motivation to convert their custodial sentences into correctional supervision outside the centres.
This approach is even more desirable for this category of inmates considering our overcrowding and the vulnerability of these petty offenders being recruited into more serious crimes while in incarceration.
We, in fact have directed that separate medium security facilities should be established as pre-release centres for all inmates serving sentences of less than 24 months as most of these are first time offenders.
For those women with babies and serving long sentences for serious crimes, we are creating specialised units which are conducive for the upbringing of children.
As per of our program for Women’s Month, we will be opening these units in identified centres across the country.
Of course, we will continue to lobby that there be legislative changes that will ensure that children should never in the first place be allowed to be brought up in the environment of a correctional centre while balancing the need for mothers not to be separated from their children.
It is a balancing act we will have to negotiate.
Part of the system of corrections is to develop offenders and give them skills to be able to be functional in society after their release.
In this regard, we have been concerned that most of our centres only offered “soft” skills training to women.
Women were mostly involved in baking, textile and hairdressing programs.
We are now involving women in other levels of training including entrepreneur skills, carpentry, architecture, engineering and design.
We are also partnering with various businesses and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to ensure placement and job opportunities for them upon their release.
We invite you MTN to investigate these and other plans unfolding in the department and hopefully you will find a niche through which you can be involved and partner the department in realising these desired outcomes.
This month we are launching a project in which women will be trained in the production of sanitary pads both for their own use in the centres as well as for distribution to girls in public schools and women in impoverished circumstances.
Women who are in conflict with the law are not the only category that we are involved with.
We also need to look at women who are in law enforcement and how their contribution is important in dealing with issues of violence and other crimes against women.
We have thousands of dedicated women in uniform who bring in a gendered approach to our criminal justice system.
They make huge sacrifices to work in an environment that is male dominated and in which they were systemically excluded for years.
Serving within the field of law enforcement is especially demanding on women, since criminals do not keep office hours and the demands set by the job within this field usually require a full time around the clock commitment from those who want to excel and advance.
In most cases, although there has been considerable change at policy level, the system still remains by and large, not designed to accommodate the specific needs of women in the workplace, including the basic provision of amenities for women.
However, overall, a combination of political changes and legal mandates have now helped pave the way for women to enter law enforcement, and ensured that any change in the sector will have to recognise the place and role of women.
These women also make a huge difference to the manner in which the system deals with women who are in conflict with the law.
The absence of women input in the design of the system of law enforcement is another area of concern.
Today we face a situation where many procedures and practices within the system have to be re-evaluated because they were established without taking into account the needs of women.
For instance, the manner in which we treat victims as well as offenders within the criminal justice system can be significantly enriched and enhanced by taking on board inputs from a female perspective.
If you take Correctional Services as an example: At the time of the adoption of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners in 1957 very few, if any, women provided an input into the drafting of this document.
As a result the rules focuses almost exclusively on the needs of male prisoners, a fact which has now been acknowledged and will be addressed through the adoption of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial measures for Women Offenders.
In conclusion, I must indicate that there are various initiatives that we are involved in to improve the system of corrections and many of these will benefit women offenders directly.
These include the establishment of half way houses to serve as a bridge for offenders who need support before fully reintegrating into society.
Women who come from abusive marriages and might have lost support of their families as a result of killing a partner will benefit a great deal from this initiative.
We are also introducing an electronic monitoring system that will ensure that those offenders who have committed minor crimes are released into correctional supervision while they are also monitored.
This will mean that women who have committed minor crimes and are first time offenders can be released, particularly those who are pregnant or have young babies.
I am glad that as a country we are launching our own chapter of the United Nations (UN) “Unite to End Violence” campaign.
The scourge of violence against women is a global one and we need united efforts globally to combat it.
Source: Department of Correctional Services
Issued by: Department of Correctional Services
5 Aug 2011
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