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National drive to end GBVF

From government to civil society organisations, South Africa is working hard to defeat the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) that continues to plague the nation.

President Cyril Ramaphosa again confirmed this in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 20 June 2019.

“Following intensive consultations and engagements, we are working towards the establishment of the GBVF Council and a National Strategic Plan that will guide all of us, wherever we are, in our efforts to eradicate this national scourge. We are also capacitating and equipping the police and court system to support survivors,” he said.

President Ramaphosa launched the Declaration against GBVF at the official opening of Booysens Magistrate’s Court on 28 March 2019.

The declaration has created a platform for government and civil society to collaborate, plan and work collectively with a spirit of unity towards ending GBVF in South Africa.

“The missing political will in the GBVF agenda has finally been found, and this is quite a major stride to the most desired outcome. Hopefully, trust between government and civil society will be improved,” said Advocate Praise Kambula, who heads up the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s (DoJ&CD) Directorate: Victim Support and Specialised Services and one of its units, the Promotion of the Rights of Vulnerable Groups (PRVG).

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) agrees that political will is needed to end the scourge of GBVF and that this is now being demonstrated. However, spokesperson Javu Baloyi said the police need to be equipped with the necessary skills; adequate budget for in-stitutions like the CGE is needed so that they can carry out their mandates without constraints; and recommendations from the CGE’s research need to be implemented.

Despite the wealth of globally-competitive pieces of legislation on GBVF, South Africa has been heavily criticised for struggling to bridge the gulf between paper law and action. “This is a widespread challenge that many progressive countries are still battling with, but it gives relief to know that South Africa is doing something about it. The declaration sets out an action-driven roadmap to a South Africa free from GBVF,” noted Advocate Kambula.

The DoJ&CD assisted with the declaration’s development, working with the National Summit Planning Committee which Advocate Kambula chairs.

“The declaration moves from the premise that patriarchy is the major source of GBVF and highlights the need for family rehabilitation.

“It is time that the country invests resources towards addressing social-ills resulting in teen-age pregnancies, solo parenting, absent fatherhood and the persistent inability in male par-enting. The patriarchal notions in the upbringing of a boy-child remain a serious concern – demanding immediate interventions,” she said.

The PRVG’s mandate is mainly to monitor the national implementation of legislation protecting the rights of women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities, among others.

It is managing 10 programmes, namely sexual offences, National Register for Sex Offenders, femicide, domestic violence, victim-centric court system, Older Persons Programme, Children’s Act, child justice, child substance abuse and persons with disabilities.

One of the unit’s planned activities for 2019/20 is the Sexual Offences Courts (SOCs) project. Article 9 of the declaration requires the establishment of additional SOCs to ensure the equal and equitable spread of them in the country, particularly beyond geographical constrictions.

“At the Presidential Summit [on GBVF] the women of South Africa considered these courts super-responsive and equipped, with a globally-competitive catalogue of victim-centric support services,” said Advocate Kambula.

There are 89 SOCs in the country and the department will establish another 16 in 2019/2020. “The SOC model is a home-grown best practice that other countries are beginning to adopt, and the last country to show interest in it was Ireland in 2018.”

As reported by the National Prosecuting Authority, the conviction rate in sexual offence cases reported to Thuthuzela Care Centres and channelled to the SOCs in the 2018/2019 financial year was 73.5 percent, which was 3.5 percent above the set target. “This can be construed as the positive consequence flowing from the impactful functioning of these courts,” said Advocate Kambula.

Femicide watch

In February 2019 the department finalised the development of Phase 1 of the SA Femicide Watch, a dashboard for all cases of femicide, with assistance from the Integrated Justice System. It is the first in Africa and one of a few in the world.

The SA Femicide Watch was developed in response to a recommendation made by the United Nations in 2015. It is intended to assist the country to measure, profile, prevent and respond appropriately to femicide.

The department will develop Phase 2 of Femicide Watch in 2019/2020, which entails the sifting and capturing of available femicide cases from the SAPS and DoJ&CD database into Femicide Watch. “The aim is to publish the first impression of Femicide Watch during the 16 Days of Activism in 2019,” said Advocate Kambula.

The department is also developing legislation for the Presidential Council on GBVF; finalising the development of the first National Strategy against Femicide; reviewing the Domestic Violence Act, 1998; introducing mediation services at domestic violence service points at courts; and finalising the design of the Victim-Centric Justice System Strategy, in partnership with the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.

What can society do?

According to Advocate Kambula, visible and responsible parenting could be the most-needed antidote to GBVF. “So is healthy communication, mostly between intimate partners and family members,” she said.

In addition, she said, community leaders should establish family rehabilitation programmes, working with government. In addition, the business sector must take a determined step to support the GBVF agenda and patriarchy must be uprooted from all levels of association, through intense education and active community participation.

Advocate Kambula also highlighted the need for the fissures between government and civil society to be completely mended to restore desired trust; and for an active community commitment to report crime and support the criminal justice system.

She urged GBVF victims to ask for the court manager, at their nearest district court, who will take them to the appropriate service point. They can also contact the GBV Command Centre at 0800 428 428.

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