Speech by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, at the Women’s Day Event of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), Cape Town
25 Aug 2011
Programme Director, Mr IS Zuma,
Officials of the Department of Correctional Services
Ladies and gentlemen,
Two months ago, we had an opportunity to visit the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre here in the Western Cape, to interact with incarcerated women, particularly those that live with children in prison.
The experience derived from this visit has once more highlighted and emphasised the need to create an environment that nurtures and protects the rights of women, in all spheres of life, regardless of the peculiar conditions in which they might find themselves as a result of the social ills afflicting our society in transition.
Indeed, the conditions under which women live in Pollsmoor Correctional Centre could not help but replay in the most graphic manner, the untenable socio-economic conditions which, for decades in our country, have kept countless women in social bondage. It is similar conditions, amongst many, that account for the selfless struggles and sacrifices made by women to liberate our country from an oppressive and exploitative system that discriminated against people on the basis of race and gender.
As we celebrate the Women’s Month, I want us to recall the heroic women who fought for our freedom such as uMama Lillian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Sophie du Bruyn, Albertina Sisulu and Charlotte Maxeke, among other heroines.
Today, our land enjoys freedom and democracy on the bed-rock and solid foundation laid by these fore-bearers, who fearlessly advocated for women empowerment and the transformation of gender relations in our society. Theirs was an unambiguous call and commitment to safeguard and promote women’s rights, regardless of the specific location in which they could find themselves in life.
This is what defined their lifetime commitment and devotion to women empowerment. The democratic dispensation has entrenched this protection through The Bill of Rights, which rightfully proclaims that “everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”. This means that as government we have a responsibility and an obligation to provide a correctional environment that prevents human rights violations of any form.
It has to be a defining feature of our social conscience that, as a country, we come from a historic past which deliberately and systemically created the structural conditions of poverty and impoverishment of our people. Central to this dehumanising social and economic system was that women were denied their rightful place and respect in society.
The prison system under apartheid was designed to reinforce the abuse of women beyond the underclass status which characterised their existence. Since 1994 the democratic government placed the total emancipation of women at the apex of its transformation priorities. The achievements we made in the revamp of the prison system we inherited have resulted in the currently unfolding correctional system, whose central pillar is to rehabilitate and prepare inmates for a successful reintegration into the mainstream of society.
We believe the litmus test of our success will be entirely determined by the degree to which we would have changed the plight of our women who for reasons directly linked to their social degradation and victimisation, have unfortunately found themselves incarcerated. In the concerted effort to give practical meaning to the constitutional imperatives to respect and protect the rights of women, we continue to evolve various intervention strategies aimed at guaranteeing a better place for women in our society.
Amongst other things, the ethos of our Constitution enjoins women in prison to have access to medical services, including quality food and hygiene, as well as proper bedding and clothing. Importantly, a conductive environment must be created in prisons for incarcerated mothers with infants to care for their children. It is for this reason that we have the Imbeleko Project which focuses on creating a humane, secure and friendly environment for the mother and child in correctional facilities.
Through this initiative, the Department of Correctional Services creates the required environment for mothers to interact with their children in the correctional centres. I know that there are areas where existing cells have been converted into mother and child units specifically for this purpose.
This, in our view, is a good measure to allow mothers to bond with their children with an understanding that these children will leave these centres when they are two years old. Government is aware that women offenders form part of the most vulnerable group in the country’s correctional system.
The availability of sanitary towels for these women remains a challenge. I am aware that the Department of Correctional Services plans to roll-out a skills development programme for women offenders which seeks to impart skills among them on the manufacturing of sanitary towels. The plan is to distribute these towels to women offenders in all South African prisons.
Generally, the principle is that the prison system must not unnecessarily aggravate the suffering inherent in a prisoner’s loss of self-determination and liberty.
We must understand that women in prison are also human beings with the potential to be rehabilitated and ultimately, reintegrated into society. An environment must be created for these women to participate in activities that will help them thrive and prepare for life after prison. Amongst others, they must have access to skills development and training opportunities provided for prisoners so that they can make a meaningful contribution in their communities and the country at large after serving their sentences.
In certain instances, their willingness to become better citizens is reflected in their conduct and behaviour in correctional facilities.
In this context, a report by the South African Human Rights Commission titled The National Prisons Project, which was commissioned at the early stages of our democracy in 1998, revealed a very interesting analysis.
It highlighted that: “The conduct of female prisoners in the women’s prisons or sections we visited was generally impressive with little, if any, criminal activity taking place. Conflicts could be induced by anxieties, stress or be intimacy-related. Even in prisons where there are no recreational, educational or rehabilitation activities, women prisoners tend to make the best out of their circumstances.”
In keeping with the principles of equality that we advocate for, the report’s recommendations also touched on the need for equal labour opportunities between men and women in prison.
It said that:“Labour opportunities seem to be either very limited to traditional ‘feminine’ areas of work, or concentrated into domestic labour, free of charge, for members. It is important that gender bias in prison industry is addressed, so that at least those women who would like the opportunity to learn skills such as bricklaying or electronics may be allowed to do so. Similarly, there may be male prisoners who may like to have the opportunity to learn dressmaking or hairdressing. “
I could not agree more with this statement because it highlights the principles of equality championed by progressive forces in our democratic society.
Indeed, the skills attained by women while in prison can be used when they are released to better their own lives. This is important in the context of the dynamics in South Africa, where poverty is feminised, mostly affecting women and their children. These skills will also help in the reintegration processes to involve these women actively in the affairs of their families, communities and the country.
Our communities must at all times stand ready to welcome ex-prisoners back into society, and provide them with the necessary support required for their full integration and participation in society. Social workers remain ready to render the necessary support services to ex-prisoners.
Women, in particular, must get this support beyond families but also from women organisations as well as community based organisations with the view to empower them. They must also benefit from programmes aimed at liberating women of our country through the creation of job and economic opportunities.
We have already expressed the need to adopt multi-pronged measures to mainstream gender perspectives into the development process, including improving the capacity of the national machinery for incorporating women’s perspectives into the development process, improving access to education and training opportunities.
These are the steps we must take to emancipate women from the shackles of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is a cadre of women correctional officers whom we must celebrate for taking up this challenging and risky career. As we all know, women are still under-represented in this field of work. About 15 years ago, women only represented 11% of a staff complement of over 35 000.
This year, the Department of Correctional Services released a report which showed that by mid-2009, there was a total staff complement of 41 601, with women representation now having increased to 28%.
Taking into account the high risky environment of the prisons in respect of security, there are proposals to allow male offenders to perform custodial and security duties where male offenders are incarcerated, especially at centres where offenders classified as maximums are incarcerated. This will go a long way in minimising the security risks for women correctional officers.
In conclusion, we encourage more women to consider a career in correctional services. We must all accept and appreciate that women offenders have constitutional rights just like all of us outside prison. We must also instil an understanding in our communities that they too deserve a second chance in life and that they can in fact add value in their communities. Let us exploit their many diverse talents for the betterment of our communities. Young incarcerated girls, in particular, must be encouraged to pursue their studies and be assured that education can deliver them to the promise of a better life for all.
Issued by: Department of Social Development
25 Aug 2011
[ Top ]