South Africa: Back prevention, NGOs say as Sixteen Day campaign kicks off

Date: November 27, 2009
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25 November 2009: NGOS that work to end gender violence have called on the government to resuscitate the 365 Day National Action Plan to End Gender Violence and make prevention a central pillar of the largely dormant plan.

In a statement at the close of a three day symposium convened by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) under the banner “We can Prevent Violence” the 25 organisations called on the government to establish a special fund to end gender violence, in line with regional and international commitments.

They also called on the Equality Court to send out a strong statement in support of women’s rights in its ruling, due out shortly, on the case taken up by Sonke Gender Justice against ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema for saying that a woman who has been raped does not ask for taxi money in the morning. The fact that a men’s group has taken up this case underscores the importance of men taking a stand on gender violence as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy.

The NGOs, who came from several different provinces, also called on FIFA to use the coming World Cup 2010 to send out strong messages in support of the campaign to end gender violence as well as HIV and AIDS.

The statement is being released on International Day of No Violence Against Women – the first day of the Sixteen Days of Activism Campaign – at a forum convened by Gender Links to take stock of progress over the last year.

Earlier this week, the CSVR symposium, opened by UN Special Rappoteur on Gender Violence Rashida Manjoo heard that the UN Secretary General has launched a five year UNite to End Violence Against Women campaign that calls on all governments to develop multi sector campaigns with clear targets, time frames and indicators. This is in line with international commitments contained in the Millennium Development Goals and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development adopted by Heads of State in Johannesburg in August 2008 sets a target of halving current levels of gender violence by 2015. The South African Constitution enshrines gender equality; protects bodily integrity and states that should there be a conflict between any customary law or practice and the provisions of the Constitution the bill of rights takes precedence.

Despite these progressive provisions; the Domestic Violence Act, Children’s Act and the Sexual Offences Act finally adopted last year, gender violence continues to escalate. Participants noted that while the 12% increase in reported rape cases to 71 500 from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009 may in part be due to the expanded definition of rape under the new act, the figures are unacceptably high and are anyway likely to be under stated due to under reporting.

They noted with concern that the South African Police Services still does not have a distinct category on domestic violence, making it impossible to monitor this key area effectively.

While the Children’s Act has provisions on primary prevention, this is not the case in either the Domestic Violence Act or the Sexual Offences Act. Government is still well behind in reaching the target of 81 one stop centres for addressing gender violence by 2010 provided for in the National Sexual Assault Policy.

At a time when it is most needed, participants noted, the national gender machinery is in disarray. There is a lack of clarity on which agency is driving the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign, which used to be housed in the department of local government, following the establishment of the Ministry of Women, Children and Disability in April this year.

The ministry has yet to hold a consultation with civil society organisations. There has also been a deafening silence on the status of the 365 National Action Plan to End Gender Violence adopted in March 2007 and coordinated by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA).

A recent attitude study undertaken by the KZN and Western Cape Networks on Violence Against Women shows that a high proportion of men believe that beating ones partner is a sign of love or that a woman deserves it; that men are entitled to sex on demand; that friends, relatives and the community should keep quiet about violence in their midst and that women who are raped have enticed perpetrators. These attitudes underpin the gender stereotypes in society that drive gender violence.

Yet government funding and strategies continue to be reactive; directed towards response, to a lesser extent support and virtually no funding at all for prevention of GBV. The symposium heard that even the NPA’s work on prevention is dependent on foreign donors.

Citing the impact that prevention campaigns are starting to have in the fight against HIV and AIDS, participants stressed that unless there is a paradigm shift towards preventing GBV backed by strong political, social and financial support, annual Sixteen Day campaigns will be little more than a symbolic ritual and talk show. “What we need is a strong overarching action plan in which prevention takes centre stage; is funded from state resources and GBV is denounced at every public forum,” the NGOs stated.

(For more information call: Angelica Pino, CSVR on 083 303 4153; Colleen Lowe Morna, Gender Links on 082 651 6995)

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