As South Africans continue to rise against gender-based violence and demand justice for all those who have suffered – and are suffering – at the hands of perpetrators, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has said that this is a sad period for South Africa. The CGE has indicated that while it regards this year’s Women’s Month as a success due to the awareness raised around the struggles women in South Africa face and the initiatives launched, many women are still afraid to do the most basic things in public out of fear of violence or harassment.
Concerningly, although increased awareness and educational initiatives are almost always encouraged in combating violence against women and children, it seems that some criminals are inspired to “prove a point” when exposed to such initiatives, according to the CGE.
“During Women’s Month we went all-out in all nine provinces,” said Chairperson for the CGE, Tamara Mathebula.
“Not only the commission, but a number of other hashtags used [on social media] were raising awareness. However, it seems that it was not enough and it also seems that the more we raise awareness around these issues the more perpetrators come out to prove a point that despite the awareness, there are people who take their frustrations and angers out toward women.”
“It’s such a sad period in South Africa and in the lives of many women who are scared to come out, scared to walk in the streets, jog and do all those things.”
Mathebula explained that the CGE has investigated issues relating to the treatment of victims of gender-based violence within the justice system and that they have made some troubling findings.
“In 2018 we conducted investigations with the South African Police Services (SAPS) and into the entire process of handling these cases,” said Mathebula.
“Our findings were that in most cases, when women go to police stations and report, they will be subjected to what we call secondary victimisation. The way they [victims] are handled and the way questions are asked is improper. Even the way cases are categorised [is problematic] – they [the police] say, ‘This is a domestic issue, just go home and sort it out between yourself and your partner’ and that doesn’t help the person who has been victimised and who now feels that it’s time to go out and ask for help.”
“In some police stations, there were no rape kits – which provide evidence for certain cases to be dealt with in court – and we discovered that accordingly some of these stations, as well as prosecutors in the justice system, were not ready to prosecute because there was no evidence due to the lack of rape kits.”
The CGE also found it improper that police would often issue protection orders to victims while expecting those orders to then be delivered by the victim to the perpetrator without any accompaniment by SAPS.
Mathebula warned that doing so exposes the victims of these crimes to the possibility of further violation and even death.
As a result, a report which contains binding recommendations to SAPS has been issued by the CGE. The recommendations include that protection orders be handed over to perpetrators by police and that rape test kits should be ordered and dispatched to all police stations.
The commission has committed to ensuring the implementation of the recommendations contained within the report.
Furthermore, the establishment of a gender-based violence and femicide council has also been marked as a key issue that the CGE intends to monitor.
According to Mathebula, the CGE will therefore monitor the implementation of declarations made at the 2018 Presidential Summit Against Gender-based Violence and Femicide and ensure that there is an establishment of a functional gender-based violence and femicide council.