SOUTH AFRICA: Abused Women Need More Protection

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Mail & Guardian Online
Southern Africa
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

The criminal justice system (CJS) needs to do more to protect women and to deal with all social and political issues affecting women living in abusive conditions, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Tuesday.

"Failure to do so, makes the system an equal perpetrator of injustice," she said at the South African launch of the 16 days of activism campaign on no violence against women and children.

The continued treatment of abuse cases as private matters that the state could not intervene in, was not only grossly unfair to women, but against the spirit and letter of the law, she said.

The CJS ministries would continue to work with other social partners to ensure that lasting solutions were found to the problem of the domination of women, "the oldest and most widespread form of oppression globally".

The systematic and institutional arrangements perpetuating women oppression had to be removed.

"We will have to further accelerate our programs aimed at ensuring that women have equal access to education, opportunities and resources in order to ensure empowerment and contribution by women in the development of our country.

"We believe that structural, social and cultural changes need to happen in order for there to be improved justice in relation to issues of gender and crime," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The past decade had seen a significant increase in the number of women incarcerated.

Currently, women represented about 2% of the offender population in both the sentenced and remand detention categories.

"For us within the system of corrections, and the criminal justice system as a whole, this increase has meant that we need to think seriously about the issues affecting women who are in conflict with the law," she said.

Independent research had shown that a growing number of women in correctional centres were either convicted for economic crimes or for violent crimes, such as murder.

Both these categories could be directly attributed to the standing of women in society and the difficult choices they had had to make to survive -- choices that unfortunately might have landed them into criminality.

Research indicated that the majority of spousal killings took place in instances where such women had been subjected to a long history of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and financial abuse as opposed to isolated instances of abuse.

The department was focusing on how the women already incarcerated could play a role in educating other women about the dangers of remaining in such relationships until they were "forced to take the law into their own hands".

"The message that we need to be sending jointly, not only as government departments, but society as a whole, is 'Don't wait until it is too late'.

"It is better to leave an abusive relationship or marriage than to stay until you are killed or you kill your partner and end up in prison," she said.

The department also remained concerned about the general conditions under which women were incarcerated in its facilities.

The Ministerial Task Team that had been auditing various categories of offenders and their conditions in centres had just completed its visits to all facilities and would give a final report at the end of December.

However, various preliminary reports showed that a lot had to be done to improve the conditions under which women in particular were incarcerated.

Facilities remained both structurally and systematically unsuited for the specific needs of women.

They were never designed with the incarceration of women in mind and this needed to be addressed.

"We have decided therefore that dedicated facilities that cater for women should be created in the current facilities and that any new facilities that are constructed should include such dedicated sections catering for women offenders," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The origins of the global campaign lie in the marking of November 25, 1960 as the day that the three Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic -- Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa -- were killed, according to United Nation's Unifem.

They had opposed the activities of the regime of Rafael Trujillo and before they died, their husbands and families were constantly harassed and they were imprisoned several times. They are believed to have been assassinated while they were in their car.

In 1991 women's groups decided to dedicate a lengthier period of time to highlight violence against women and the campaign has also been taken up by agencies of the UN.

The sisters are also referred to as the "Unforgettable Butterflies" and have become a symbol against victimisation of women.