Speech by the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Ms Lulu Xingwana, at the provincial event of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign ,Bisho, Eastern Cape
29 Nov 2012
MEC, MP’s, MPL’s, Councillors
Friends and colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen
I am inspired by the seriousness and firmness with which the Eastern Cape provincial government confronts the scourge of gender-based violence. I am certain that your practical actions will help turn the tide against women and child abuse.
Friends and colleagues, I am certain that, collectively, we carry a huge responsibility on our shoulders as we seek to ensure that out of this summit emerge effective strategies to eliminate gender-based violence. In the name of many women and children who have suffered and perished in the hands of their abusers, we dare not turn this event into another talkshop.
We are all gathered here to answer this crucial and fundamental question in the most practical of ways: What are we doing, individually and collectively, to address this scourge that threatens to erode the gains we have made since 1994 to build a caring society? Beyond adopting the role of critics, what is it that other sectors can do to help government to eliminate violence against vulnerable groups?
As we ponder these questions, let us agree that all of us need to do more than what we have been doing in order to reduce the unacceptably high levels of abuse in our society. It is important that all of us answer these questions, because it is easy and fashionable for anybody to blame somebody for this scourge without doing any personal self-reflection.
On Sunday, we were in Kimberly, Northern Cape, for the official opening of the Sixteen Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. The theme for this year is: “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!” As a sub-theme, South Africa will also focus on the theme for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW): “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and children”. The campaign strapline remains: Don’t Look Away – Act Against Abuse”.
The 25th of each month has been declared International Orange Day by the United Nations, UN Women in particular. The campaign is aimed at ensuring that violence against women and girls is observed on a daily basis and let all of us ensure that the Orange Day Campaign/ 25th of every month is incorporated into our 365 days National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence.
As we mark the 13th anniversary of this national campaign which began in 1999, we must accelerate our offensive against gender-based violence. According to the UN General Assembly gender-based violence is: “Any act of violence that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women; including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”.
Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), in its various forms, is prevalent in communities around the world, cutting across class, race, age, religion and national boundaries. As a country, we are not immune to this scourge. Women from rural areas and lower socio-economic levels are more vulnerable to gender-based crimes, such as rape, domestic violence and child abuse.
The reality that we must collectively confront is the reluctance on the part of some victims of violence to come forward and seek legal advice and social support. This could be due to lack of knowledge of their rights, the social stigma around domestic violence. In addition, the financial dependence of women on their partners exacerbates their vulnerability and tends to force them to stay in abusive relationships.
Women are faced with several challenges which include discrimination, physical abuse, HIV and Aids and other diseases. Despite numerous treaties, declarations and interventions from government by rights groups and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs), rape is still widespread and often goes unreported.
Gender-based violence is also used as a weapon of war especially in countries that are in war and conflict, where women and children are the worst affected. Rape, sexual slavery, murder as well as hostage taking are used as weapons of war to humiliate the enemy.
Our global theme is “From peace in home to peace in the world, let’s challenge militarism and end violence against women and children. (Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) soldiers from South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Palestine, Syria). We cannot sit at home and relax, tomorrow it will be your daughter married to a soldier, battered and shot dead.
Very often, we do not take time to consider the impact of gender-based violence. Yet, it has the most devastating consequences not only for victims but for society as a whole. These consequences have direct costs that, among other things, include health care services, judicial services, social services and other related services. Indeed, the consequences of gender-based violence are devastating as survivors often experience life-long emotional distress, mental health problems as well as poor reproductive health.
Furthermore, women who have been physically and sexually assaulted are often in need of health care services and in some instances these are not easily available or accessible. It is likely that gender-based violence may extend to future generations as children who have witnessed abuse or were victims themselves, often suffer lasting psychological damage or become abusers themselves.
We must look and check what our children are watching on TV, in their cellphones, etc. Studies have shown that exposure to gender-based violence and sexual coercion significantly increase girls’ and women’s chances of early sexual activity, experiencing forced sex, engaging in transactional sex, and non-use of condoms.
The impact of sexual and gender-based violence resonates in all areas of health and social programming: survivors of sexual violence experience increased rates of morbidity and mortality, and violence has been shown to exacerbate HIV transmission, among other health conditions
Gender-based violence impacts on women and their children, communities as well as families and is a significant obstacle to reducing poverty, achieving gender equality as well as meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Gender-based violence robs women of the opportunity to become productive citizens of the country. It denies them their constitutional rights and condemns them to a life of perpetual fear. They are therefore prevented from enjoying the fruits of our freedom and democracy. This means that the strategic objective of making ours a truly non-sexist society is not advanced.
At times, the attitude of society, especially cultural-traditional institutions, can exacerbate gender-based violence. Giving priority to customs, traditions as well as religious beliefs over the respect for fundamental human rights marginalises women. Women are relegated to the lowest rungs of society. This is a matter of concern to all of us.
We are painfully aware that, in most cultures, traditional beliefs, norms and social institutions entrench and legitimise subjugation of women, thereby perpetuating violence against women, children, the elderly people with disabilities, as well as the Gays and Lesbians (LGBTI). This must be addressed if we are to defeat the scourge of gender-based violence.
We must defeat all attempts to use culture to reverse the gains we have made to promote gender equality in the past 18 years. We must fight harmful practices such as ukuthwala and ukungenwa with every available means at our disposal. In addition, virginity testing exposes girls to increased risks of sexual violence by publicly marking them as targets for men who seek out virgin girls as sex partners.
We are also concerned about the horrible crimes of the killings and burnings of the so-called witches. This is particularly worrying because the majority of these victims are elderly women and children.
We are cautiously encouraged by the crime statistics released recently by the Minister of Police, Mr Nathi Mthethwa. For the 2011/12 financial year, the sexual offences cases decreased by 3,7%. Rape decreased by 1,9%. Despite these figures, we believe that violence against women and children remains unacceptably high. We believe that the introduction of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit have contributed positively to the fight against the scourge of violence against women and children.
We now have 52 Thuthuzela Centres run by the NPA under the Department of Justice and we welcome the announcement by the Minister of Justice to open sexual offences courts. These will go a long way in cutting the huge backlogs of rape and sexual offence cases in the courts.
The reality that we must collectively confront is the reluctance on the part of some victims of violence to come forward and seek legal advice and social support. This could be due to lack of knowledge about their rights and the social stigma around domestic violence.
We must also accept the sad reality that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members increases their vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder. We remain convinced that empowering women will help us win the war against poverty, inequality, unemployment and abuse. We are confident that the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill will help address the underlying causes of gender-based violence.
Also, cooperatives, small businesses as well as agricultural projects that contribute towards women’s economic empowerment will go a long way in fighting abuse and ensuring gender equality.
Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable as a result of entrenched social and structural discrimination against them. The stigma surrounding disability very often means their needs and rights are dismissed by communities, authorities and families.
This is compounded by the acute lack of access experienced by many children with disabilities to education, child protection and medical, psychosocial, legal and other services, including reporting mechanisms that rarely accommodate their individual needs.
These children end up being uninformed about their rights, and finding themselves in environments where they are vulnerable to sexual violence. If they are violated, they have little opportunity to receive medical, legal or psychosocial support. All this leaves children with disabilities in an extremely weak position in society. More painfully, some children suffering sexual violence are not aware that what is happening to them is wrong. Those who do, have little possibility of reporting or receiving support.
In the 18 years of our democracy government has made significant progress in fighting gender-based violence by formulating and promulgating legislative and policy frameworks. Chief amongst these are the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996) which was founded to promote the values of human rights and freedoms.
The constitution informs several International Treaties and Instruments including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform For Action (BPFA), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. State parties to these international and continental police and legal instruments are under an obligation to address violence against women and girls. South Africa has adopted and ratified all these treaties.
South Africa has adopted significant legislative and policy measures as well as programmes aimed at addressing gender-based violence. Chapter 11 of the Constitution- the Bill of Rights guarantees protection of women, children and people with disabilities in the home, community and in the workplace. Government has intervened in the form of the following legislations and programmes in order to eliminate the scourge of women and child abuse:
The Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998
The Criminal Law Amendment (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007
The Protection from Harassment Act (Act no. 17 of 2011)
The Human Trafficking Bill
Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS)
Service Charter for Victims of Crime in South Africa
As a department, we believe that the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill and the establishment of the National Council Against Gender-based Violence will help us win the war against gender-based violence. We believe that the 365 Days National Plan of Action will enhance a concerted approach to end gender based violence with measurable targets and indicators to which all South Africans can contribute.
The war against gender-based violence must be intensified. Working together, we can do more to eliminate gender-based violence.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities
29 Nov 2012
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