President Cyril Ramaphosa made all the right noises about gender-based violence yesterday, talking tough against the recent spate of incidents affecting women and children, but a gender rights group has questioned whether it will amount to any real changes.
Ramaphosa took time off from the World Economic Forum summit in Cape Town twice yesterday. First to address thousands of protesters on the steps of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, and then again to address the nation via a broadcast last night.
During last night’s address, the president described the recent deaths of Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess, Leighandré Jegels as well as the scores of other women and children as a “crime against our common humanity” and a “national emergency”.
While saying he was appalled by the violence, Ramaphosa claimed that there has been progress on the implementation of decisions which were taken at last year’s summit on gender-based violence.
He cited the review of laws on domestic violence and sexual offences, and said there will be efforts to “prioritise the needs and interests of survivors”, while boasting the opening of 92 dedicated sexual offences courts since 2013 and plans for a further 11 in this financial year.
He also promised an overhaul of the the sexual offenders register, promising that parliament will be asked to consider amending legislation to make the register public, while also proposing harsher minimum sentences for gender-based crimes, and an instruction to the state to oppose bail and parole applications for those guilty of sexual offences.
“Violence against women is not a women’s problem. It is not a problem of what a woman said or did, what a woman was wearing or where she was walking. Violence against women is a men’s problem. It is men who rape and kill women,” Ramaphosa said.
“There is therefore an obligation of men of our country to act to end such behaviour and such crimes. As men, let us speak out. We must not look away. We must face gender-based violence head on.”
He also promised re-opening of all gender-based crimes that have been irregularly closed or not investigated, while promising increased protection for the LGBTIQ community.
Nonhlanhla Skosana, community education and mobilisation unit manager at Sonke Gender Justice lauded the president for “making all the right noises” but bringing “nothing new” to the table.
“He said nothing new,” she said after his address last night, citing the lack of implementation of resolutions taken during previous engagement regarding the scourge of gender-based violence countrywide.
“He talked during last year’s Gender-Based Violence summit. He talked during the ANC manifesto launch, and he generally talks the right language, but what we need is implementation and funding.”
Skosana questioned the effectiveness of the sexual offences courts, saying they are under-resourced, while Thuthuzela Care Centre, an organisation that caters for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, with 54 branches across the country, is facing a financial crisis, leaving them unable to render services.
She mentioned that there is a need for at least R42 billion to ensure the gender-based violence interventions run smoothly.
While Ramaphosa last night said the finance ministry would be instructed to make sure funding is available for this, she questioned why little has been done until now.