Women should never be deterred from claiming rights

Date: January 1, 1970
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As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of our Constitution, the outcome of the Zuma rape trial should not deter women from claiming their Constitutional rights. We commend the complainant in this case for her courage and perseverance in taking up a case against a powerful man and despite repeated intimidation. As the judge himself stated, this case was more about sexual politics and gender power relations than about rape. It is indeed a sad indictment on our society that the complainant is reportedly preparing to go into exile. Clearly, the rights guaranteed in one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world are still far from being a reality for most women.

While we respect the judicial process and judgment reached, a number of issues in this case are disturbing:
The judges acceptance of the characterization of the complainant as “sick and in need of help” fuels stereotypes about women who are victims of sexual assault behaving irrationally.
The questioning of why she would lay such a charge given the consequences, and then using this as a premise to delve into her prior sexual history to explain a possible motive underscores all the concern that has been raised about the admissibility of such evidence.
The fact that some of that history related to her experiences before the age of sixteen is highly problematic. The issue of consent is not applicable in such cases, because any sexual intercourse between an adult and a minor is statutory rape.
The fact that this evidence was used to assess if the complainant had a history of making false allegations, and that much of the judgment centred on this, raises the urgent need to review the circumstances under which such evidence should be admissible.
The fact that the judge accepted the arguments relating to the complainant wearing a kanga with no underwear as proof of sexual interest. This reinforces long standing stereotypes that women who dress in a particular way ask to be raped.
This case goes well beyond legal technicalities. It is fundamentally about the tests of leadership in our new democracy. We welcome the fact that the judge made it clear that former deputy president Jacob Zuma should not have had sexual intercourse with a child of his comrade, and that it was inexcusable that he had unprotected sex with someone who was HIV positive. The central question for South Africa as we celebrate the tenth anniversary of our Constitution is this: does a man who has exhibited such irresponsible conduct and lack of respect for the rights of women deserve to lead?
In the immediate context this case and the weaknesses in the criminal justice system that it has revealed should prompt us to:
Pass the Sexual offences Bill, whose provisions address many of the weaknesses identified, especially those relating to what constitutes consent and admissibility of various types of evidence.
Strengthen police investigations and
Have a nationwide debate on our attitudes to issues of culture, power and the rights of women that have been at the heart at this case.
Jointly issued by Gender Links and the Gender and Media Southern African Network (GEMSA)
For further information
Colleen on 082-651-6995
Kubi 082-378-8239

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