The Committee received a virtual briefing from the Department on the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) National Strategic Plan (NSP). The Minister introduced the presentation by commenting that at its core, gender-based violence and femicide was a manifestation of a profound lack of respect and a failure by men to recognise the inherent inequality and dignity of women. It was an issue of fundamental human rights. Men and women were equal human beings and were both protected by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The right to life was enshrined in the Constitution.
To bring an end to the injustice of GBVF, work had been done to formalise the fight against it. As a result of those efforts, the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), formed by the President after the adoption of the NSP, was busy establishing a National Council on GBV. The Council would consist of six Ministers and representatives from civil society, with broader support from technical working groups at the national, provincial, district and local municipality levels.
To kick-start the implementation of the NSP, the Department had called on all departments to integrate the GBVF-NSP targets into their annual performance plans and strategic plans as they reprioritised their targets to cater for the Covid-19 pandemic. The NSP had been approved on 11 March, including the establishment of the Council and IMC. Once the Council had been appointed, it would become the custodian for driving the implementation of the GBVF-NSP.
Members wanted to know about the process of appointing the seven representatives from civil society; the Department’s oversight and coordination role in respect of the NSP; implementation of the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP), and lessons learned from it; the process of invitation for consultation with stakeholders, and those who were consulted; how the NSP would help change social norms on GBVF and toxic masculinity; the decriminalisation of sex workers; and whether during the process of drafting the NSP the team had studied the effects of pornography on GBV.
The Committee also received a briefing on the Pan African Women’s Webinar from a Parliamentary official, set to take place on 31 July 2020. The webinar sought an engagement on the impact of Covid-19 on women and gender-based violence. The Webinar would address two fundamental questions -- the gaps in the State’s response to Covid-19 in terms of securing women’s economic productivity, and how Parliament could improve oversight on these matters. All Members would be welcomed, and civil society organisations would be invited.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone present and acknowledged the presence of the Minister. Since the National Lockdown, the country had seen a rise in the numbers of gender-based violence. The gruesome crimes against women and children were happening on their watch and as women of this country, they needed to do something to ensure that GBV was dealt with. Women cannot afford to be silent on this matter.
Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, was pleased to brief the Committee on this matter and the timing could not be more perfect. She was deeply concerned about the recent murders and violence against women and children. She informed Members she had received a memorandum that morning on behalf of the President from a non-governmental organisation on gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.
At its core, GBV and femicide was a manifestation of a profound lack of respect and failure by men to recognise the inherent inequality and dignity of women. It was an issue of fundamental human rights. Men and women were equal human beings and were both protected by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The right to life was enshrined on the Constitution.
South Africa would centre its efforts on bringing about specific changes based on the pillars of the Gender-based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan (GBVF-NSP).
The Inter-Ministerial Committee formed by the President after the adoption of the NSP was busy establishing a National Council on GBV. It would consist of six ministers (herself, and the Ministers of Police, Justice, Minister Treasury, Public Service and Administration, and Social Development, as well as representatives from civil society organisations and broader support from technical working groups at the national, provincial, district and local municipal levels.
To kick-start the implementation of the NSP, the Department of Women had called on all the departments to integrate the NSP targets into their annual performance plans (APPs) and strategic plans as they reprioritised as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. As part of coordinating the NSP, the departments would be asked to detail the percentage of funds being spent on Covid-19 that had gone to women.
On 11 March, Cabinet had approved the NSP as well as the establishment of the Council and the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC). Once the Council had been appointed, it would become the custodian of driving the implementation of the NSP. The Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) that was implemented between October 2019 and March 2020 had demonstrated that working together one could achieve more than working in silos. Similarly, the NSP was based on the understanding that the multi-party approach was central to effectively addressing GBVF. The NSP set out to provide a cohesive strategic framework to guide the national response to the epidemic of GBVF in South Africa.
South African women were in a crisis, and were dealing with the double-edged sword of having to fight against Covid-19 as well as the epidemic of being killed in their bedrooms. The NSP’s vision stated, “A South Africa free from gender-based violence and femicide directed to Women and Children and LGBTQIA persons.” To achieve this, women had to be empowered economically. On 30 June, as part of the weekly progress report exercise, a report would be provided to the President. Whilst establishing the National Council, they had started implementing the pillars based on interim technical teams, constituted by both government and civil society representatives. The interim team had been tasked with popularising the NSP at the district and local municipality level in order to mobilise communities to actively participate and join the fight against GBV. Media campaigns were also under way to influence attitudes and behavioural changes in the society.
The success of the NSP would depend on all stakeholders working together and building relationships of trust.
Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities: National Strategic Plan
Dr Annette Griessel, Acting Director-General, Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (DWYPD), told Members that there had been calls for a national cohesive and strategic approach to GBV over past decade, such as the Stop GBV NSP campaign by civil society.
Leading to the GBVF declaration to address the epidemic of gender-based violence and femicide, discussions had taken place at the summit between different stakeholders to consider the context, the constitution and rights, inequality, and the scale of the problem. In addition, there had been calls for strengthened political commitment, structure, accountability and coordination aimed at preventing GBVF, emphasising the need for a strengthened response, care and support services, improved research and information systems, and addressing structural drivers. Norms and economic disempowerment had been raised sharply by civil society. The declaration had then been put together by including base documents generated by task teams and respective commissions at the summit. The declaration consisted of 19 articles that reflected the recommendations emerging from the Presidential summit, and addressed the critical issues that needed to be addressed to strengthen the response to GBV and femicide.
She touched on the journey towards the GBVF-NSP and its scope, which focused on comprehensively and strategically responding to GBVF, with a specific focus on violence against all women -- across age, physical location, disability, sexual orientation, sexual and gender identity, gender expression, nationality and other diversities -- and violence against children, and how these served to reinforce each other.
The principles of the GBVF-NSP pillars, as well as the implementation modalities, were also reported to the Members.
The principles included a multi-sectoral approach; complementing and augmenting existing strategies; active and meaningful participation of communities; a visionary, gender-responsive, and transformative approach; a human rights-based, victim-centred and survivor-focused approach to the provision of services that reached all; an inter-generational, youth-friendly approach; progressive realisation of outcomes; forward looking to the co-creation of a different social milieu; mutual accountability for changes; and inclusiveness, embracing diversity and intersectionality.
(See presentation on the details of pillars and implementation modalities.)
As for the costing of the structure and GBVF, the DWYPD was currently consulting with relevant departments, National Treasury and agencies to look at the reprioritisation of the APPs and resource allocation to include GBVF-NSP targets.
Ms N Sharif (DA) said Members were looking forward to having the briefing on the NSP. She asked how the seven representatives from civil society were going to be appointed. She believed that the process would require that posts were put out to the public, and wanted to know how the process would unfold. Secondly, on slide 24, it had been mentioned that the Department would provide an oversight function over the implementation of the NSP, but the same slide stated it would play a coordinating role. How were the two roles separated?
She wanted to know how the ERAP was implemented, and some of the lessons the Department had learned through using the ERAP, moving on to the NSP. How had the Department and the Interim Council gone about inviting the civil society to participate in the consultations? She also asked for the list of the stakeholders that had been consulted. Lastly, how would the NSP change social norms on gender-based violence as well as toxic masculinity? This was an important point, because the social norms on toxic masculinity played a bigger role in this.
Ms Sharif said she had been contacted by stakeholders from her constituency to pose some questions to the Minister and the Department. What did the NSP mean by decriminalisation of sex workers? Were the GBV survivors including people who had been prosecuted? When putting the NSP together, had the team considered or studied the effects of pornography on GBV?
The Chairperson felt that the Multi-Party Caucus was left behind the developments around addressing the issue of gender-based violence by government. The Committee’s mandate was to lobby and conduct oversight -- was it not possible to have Members of the Multi-Party Caucus to be part of the Council? She commented that the Department and the municipalities were all preoccupied with programmes on fighting and curbing the spread of Covid-19.
Dr Griessel said that on 13 June, the Minister led a consultation with the civil society organisation representatives to discuss the appropriate method for their appointments. The Ministry had taken a decision that it would not impose on how the civil society appointments should be conducted, but rather have the civil society inform the Minister and the Department how it would like its appointments to be conducted, or handled by the National Council. This included the issue of criteria, so the process was currently under way.
On oversight and coordination, the Department had a dual responsibility to coordinate other government departments and ensure that they were doing the work within the NSP. The Minister would also exercise oversight to some extent on the extent to which other government departments were indeed implementing their roles. The IMC would also play an important role. The National Council, as the overall custodian, would also play an oversight role.
The ERAP had been developed as a six month plan, and there was a report on the progress that could be furnished to the Committee for consideration.
One of the most critical challenges within society was related to the manner in which social norms were constructed in the first place. These norms were established through multiple social institutions, cultural practices and faith-based practices, but how did one reverse those social norms and dismantle patriarchy? There was quite a vast literature on behavioural change, and part of it was through the mass media and schools. It was also through embedded norms and assumptions that were built into the curriculum, or the manner in which girls were supposed to look in their school uniform.
Part of it was also the mass media -- how it projected various norms in society. If one looked at the mass media on Covid-19, much had been about behavioural change, and the repetition of the message had made a significant difference as well. The Department could learn lessons from it.
The NSP had already been approved and outlined who the members of the Council should be. She acknowledged that the Council needed to play a central role, with mass inclusion of the structures within the government and the political environment.
There were various structures within government dealing with how government was developing and implementing its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were various work streams that contributed towards the National Command Council, and the Department had ensured that GBV was a permanent item on the agenda. It had also ensured that the issue of GBV cases was crucial, so that various NGOs that provided support for GBV victims were able to continue providing that support. The Department had also made inputs on women, youth and persons with disabilities as part of the economic recovery plan.
Ms Esther Maluleke, Chief Director: Governance Transformation, Justice & Security, Department of Women in the Presidency, said that the Department had looked at the effects of pornography on GBV. This could be confirmed by consulting the references of the NSP, where a list of the literature that had been reviewed was outlined. There was an extensive literature review on issues that impacted on gender-based violence.
There had been an extensive debate on the decriminalisation of sex workers, and engagement with the drafters of the NSP and experts. This matter had been left open, heeding the advice of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, simply because it was a complex matter and there were no converging views on the decriminalisation of sex workers. There was a need to ensure that it was aligned to the laws of the country, but it was an issue that had to be resolved as part of responding to GBV.
With regard to ERAP, there had been a number of initiatives that had been done and were planned -- for example, on access to justice. Activities that had been implemented included the provision of rape kits, evidence collection kits, and assault kits at police stations. In addition, the Family Violence, Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Unit had been strengthened, bolstered by the training of 312 policemen that had been deployed.
The issue of “cold cases” had also been reviewed, and a task team that was established by the Department of Justice in October 2019 had since analysed 785 000 dockets relating to sexual offences. There were also other initiatives, which included the creation of posts for social workers by the Department of Social Development. These posts had been approved, and the process of appointing had commenced.
The NPA sought to upgrade five Thuthuzela Healthcare Centres, and sites in five provinces had been identified. There was also the “Rapid Results” initiative, which had been piloted in the Eastern Cape. The Department needed to find a model for responding at a local level, and the approach of this strategy was to have it working on that level, because GBV was happening at that level. There was an ERAP report that gave details on what had been done through ERAP and the lessons learned.
The Department had contracted 319 participants in 230 municipalities and districts to assist it with GBV while empowering people economically.
As for the lessons learned through ERAP, it was a challenge to find effective and systematic ways of addressing challenges. “Fixing the plane as we fly,” was another challenge. They were busy implementing the NSP, but the crisis was moving faster than they were able to respond. There were a lot of local structures, such as the community police forum (CPF) structure, which needed to be revisited, because these kinds of structures were at the ground level.
Dedicated capacity was another challenge that needed to be looked into. The Department needed people who would actually drive the NSP on a daily basis and ensure that the commitments were honoured. Lastly, the challenge of reporting and accounting by other departments remained the biggest challenge. Coordination was a challenge at a multi-sectoral level, even among civil society, to report on the implementation of the NSP.
Changing behavioural norms was not an easy task, so the DWYPD needed multi-faceted tasks, such as programmes on parenting and early childhood development facilities.
Ms Tshabalala indicated that in the district municipality plans, GBV issues were included to ensure that the communities were mobilised to fight the pandemic and GBV matters. They needed to ensure that they established rapid response structures within communities. Plans to facilitate and activate the neighbourhood watch teams through the street committees were under way.
As the Department concluded their discussions around the issues of district models, they would like to upscale the implementation of the national crime prevention strategy through pillar number three, which ensured that the public was safe.
Ms M Hlengwa (IFP) provided an input on schools and the early childhood development (ECD) curriculum. She believed that behavioural change should be implemented at the ECD level, and a boy child should be taught at that level how to treat girls.
Dr Griessel acknowledged this point from Ms Hlengwa, and said it was welcomed wholeheartedly.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for its input, and appreciated the input on the decriminalisation of sex workers. The response had been pretty clear and straightforward.
Proposal to host Pan-African Women’s Webinar
Ms Joy Watson, Senior Parliamentary Researcher, informed Members that the Committee had been requested by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Thandi Modise, to put together a Pan-African Women’s Webinar to focus on Covid-19 and its impact on women’s lives, and issues around gender-based violence. She had researched the economic impact report that had been put together by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which estimated that a significant number of women had been impacted by Covid-19. Focusing on the South African context, many women were employed in the informal sector, and the impact of Covid-19 had been significantly disproportionate in that sector. Women who owned SMMEs had been put out of business. The social protection mechanisms had been inadequate to ensure income security so that women were able to put food on their tables.
Gender-based violence had been a pandemic in its own right, long before Covid-19. The national lockdown had had a significant impact on GBV because the victims were now locked up in homes with their perpetrators. The fact that social healthcare workers were overburdened by Covid-19 cases also exacerbated the matter.
The webinar therefore aimed at creating a platform to engage on the issues by both Members of Parliament and civil society organisations. There was a suggestion to extend an invitation to Members of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s) regional Parliaments.
The webinar was based on two fundamental questions:
- What were the gaps in the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of securing women’s economic productivity and addressing gender-based violence?
- How could Parliament improve oversight in this?
For now, the webinar was set to take place on 31 July, for about two hours. Once a final decision had been taken on the date and the time, this would be communicated to everyone.
Ms Watson informed Members she would like to take back to the Speaker’s Office the caucus’s role in this webinar. Parliament would organise all the arrangements and preparations.
The Chairperson said she would like the Committee to be either one of the co-owners of the programme, or to be responsible for the entire programme. However, Members would be given an opportunity to digest the proposal and suggest what they felt the role of the Steering Committee should be on this programme.
Members all agreed to this.
The meeting was adjourned.
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