by Curswell Tshihwela
Twenty years after the Domestic Violence Act was passed, intimate partner violence remains a serious problem in South Africa. Victims of domestic violence, the police and shelters face numerous challenges in responding to the crisis.
Violence against women has always been on the rise, due to the fact that perpetrators are not held accountable throughout the world. Legal systems and public policy frameworks have often overlooked the crisis of violence against women. In failing to protect the rights and well-being of survivors or punish perpetrators, many reflect social biases tolerating violence more often. Domestic violence and harmful traditional practices have often been seen as private matters that are “outside justice.” Many laws and policies have been put in place to provide the foundation for a coordinated and comprehensive approach to violence against women.
While a historic together with the current number of laws and policies against violence are now in place, implementation is still lagging behind. Measures to strengthen the effective implementation should include training of officials who handle cases of violence against women, the establishment of mechanisms for monitoring and impact evaluation as well as accountability and better coordination. Committing adequate human and financial resources is also essential for minimizing the risk of violence against women. When this issue is brought into alignment with international human rights standards, it is discovered that laws and policies can often play a positive role in changing attitudes and behaviours in the long term, especially when they are accompanied by complementary strategies such as awareness-raising on ending violence, long jail sentence which can be influenced by bails hearing denial against perpetrators.
Once laws are in place, they convey a strong message that violence against women is not tolerated and that it is the right of every woman to live free of violence. The implementation of the criminal code, introduce further amendments and ensure sensitization and training of members of the judiciary, to address violence against women and girls. It further pledges to improve access to justice for vulnerable women, survivors of domestic violence, by eliminating unaffordable court fees and by enhancing free legal aid services. It will undertake regular awareness-raising and educational campaigns to make violence against women socially unacceptable and involve men and boys in combating violence against the criminal code
Encouraging women and girls, by means of competent structures and on the basis of the promulgated legal framework, to denounce abuse and resort to justice for protection and reparation. These efforts will also focus on the training of necessary support staff, and the acquisition of the elementary reflexes needed to enable the family, social and professional reintegration of victims in such a way to break the chain of the excluded social system. Implementing national measures by the states such as, establishing a national hotline for victims of domestic violence, and consolidate gender mainstreaming in public policymaking.
In that case, the government will be able to create new “Women’s Municipal Areas”, conduct workshops to train State and civil society actors on the reach of its national law on gender violence, and create a new registry for cases of violence against women. It will gather data and produce the first-ever national statistics on violence which will inform future public policies aimed at prevention and eradication of violence against women. The South African Police Service’s (SAPS) 2016/17 crime statistics show that 53,263 women reported being assaulted and 2,930 women are murdered, many at the hands of their intimate partners. Ahead of the government’s national summit on gender-based violence from 1-2 November, the time is right to assess what is working, what is not, and what needs to change.
South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act is considered among the most progressive worldwide because it was informed by expert input from government and civil society. It sets out in detail how police should respond when cases are reported and require the SAPS to report annually to Parliament. The police officers need to be trained on how to respond to a call from a victim of domestic violence, there are certain things they must do. They need to explain thoroughly to the victims that they are there to help them, for example by finding a suitable shelter, and ensuring they receive medical treatment. They should explain to the victims that they have the right to apply for a protection order, and explain how to do so. If instructed by the court, the police must serve notice on the abuser to appear in court and serve protection orders.
Police must arrest the abuser if the protection order is violated, and remove weapons that the abuser may have in their possession or at their home. If the complainant needs to collect personal items from his or her home, the police must accompany the complainant. The police must keep records documenting reports of domestic violence incidents. The law also addresses the role of clerks of the court and magistrates, who are instrumental in ensuring that protection orders are issued and adhered to. Prosecutors are not explicitly mentioned in the Domestic Violence Act, but they have a role when a victim lays a criminal charge, or if an abuser breaches a protection order.
Meanwhile, UN Women works to influence the adoption of advanced normative frameworks on ending violence against women and girls and partners with Governments and women’s advocates for their implementation through the adoption, strengthening and implementation of national laws, policies and strategies. After the Government of Cape Verde passed a comprehensive new law against gender-based violence in 2011, UN Women helped train judges, attorneys, and police on implementation and assisted in disseminating information about the law to the general public. In Praia, the capital, a judge and two prosecutors now work specifically on gender-based violence cases. Court sentencing overall has fallen to two months—from as much as five years. The law mandates expanded services such as shelters and treatment programmes for offenders.
Curswell Tshihwela is a UX designer, Diesel mechanic, Journalist, IT Technician, and TV/Radio Host