Hearing of evidence on gender related issues

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Meeting report



20 March 1998


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Rape Crisis, Community Law Centre, South African Law Commission, Commission on Gender Equality, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South African Human Rights Commission, Women on Farms Project, NICRO and Gender Advocacy Programme.

Nine organisations and the Department of Justice gave oral evidence on issues related to gender. The organisations were: Rape Crisis, Community Law Centre, South African Law Commission, Commission on Gender Equality, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South African Human Rights Commission, Women on Farms Project, NICRO and Gender Advocacy Programme.

Rape Crisis and the Community Law Centre gave a joint submission focussing on sexual assault. Disappointment was expressed that the agreements reached with CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) and at Beijing have not yet been instituted in compliance with these agreements. Ms Myakayaka-Manzini (ANC) disagreed with this statement. She said that many laws have been proclaimed and she sees NGOs as playing a major role in ensuring these laws are implemented. Ms Pithey, from Rape Crisis, said that if the criminal justice system made it known that they took cases of rape and abuse or assault very seriously, then she felt there would be a higher reporting rate than at present. She also referred to the Namibian draft bill on the law pertaining to rape which provides clear, structured and comprehensive sexual assault legislation.

The South African Law Commission focussed on domestic violence. The Commission's view was that the present act was very narrow and, in consequence, the justice system dealt with that problem in a haphazard and inconsistent manner. A new bill was in the process of being drafted and would contain many new and progressive provisions.

The joint Chairperson, Mr de Lange, said he was aware that the Law Commission had a discussion paper on sexual offences against children and he wanted to know if there was such a paper on adults. Mr Kuhn, from the South African Law Commission, replied that he was not certain, but thought that an such an inquiry had been held up due to a lack of resources.

Ms Manzini (ANC) wanted to know when the new Bill would be published. Mr Kuhn informed her that the Commission would have to ensure that it was in line with the Constitution and they were liaising with the South African Police Service to confirm that they would be able to carry out certain duties. The Bill would then have to go to the full board of the South African Law Commission and, afterwards, to the Minister of Justice.

Advocate Sedibe-Ncholo, from the Department of Justice, reported on the "Violence against Women" campaign and informed the committee that valuable statistics had been derived from it, e.g. Kimberley had the highest rate of rape or abuse. As a result, a planned conference was to be held in that city and all relevant individuals and organisations would be invited. The campaign revealed the gross inefficiencies in the criminal justice system and it was decided to set up a high level task team to investigate the matter. This team consisted of judges, magistrates, some NGOs and the South African Police Service. Arising from a long process of meetings, including a visit to Canada under the leadership of the Department of Justice to study its system, they were ready to start a training programme. They have produced guidelines concerning sexual offences against women as well as a report which was to be submitted to the Minister.

Ms Jana (ANC) wanted to know if there would be resources from the new budget for gender issues. The Justice Chairperson informed Ms Jana that the budget allocations had not been worked on yet, but there would be restraints on fiscal commitments.

Mr Hofmeyr (ANC) asked what the position on special courts was for dealing with specific sexual offences. Advocate Sedibe-Ncholo said that the number of special courts have been expanded, but lack of trained staff and suitable infrastructure as well as budgetary constraints were hampering progress.

Mr Hofmeyr wanted to know what was the position of gender issues in traditional courts. Ms Moletsane, from the Justice Department, informed the committee that they were starting to revolutionise themselves and were functioning well. An exercise to investigate the possibility of increasing their powers and functions was in progress, with thorough consultation with all stakeholders.

This information raised signs of disagreement in the committee. Ms Manzini felt strongly that these courts were far from being revolutionised and should not operate until everyone had been trained. She also queried whether they have legally trained personnel. Ms Moletsane said that many of the traditional leaders were lawyers, but admitted that it was not so in the rural areas and there could still be insensitivity to gender issues.

Ms Govender informed the committee that the Ad Hoc Committee On Improvement Of Life And Status Of Women intended submitting a formal range of questions in writing to the Justice Department in order that the latter may reply to the various issues.

Regarding the National Women's Justice Programme, all stakeholders have endorsed this and a consultant would be appointed to put all information and input into an integrated document for wide consideration.

Ms Jana asked whether the Department would provide a progress report on increasing the inclusion of women in managerial positions. Mr de Lange agreed that at present the proportion was not satisfactory. There was a firm commitment in the Department to raise women to managerial status, but that would involve workshops, training, etc., but once again, there were no resources available for that. A survey conducted last year found that only 18% of women were at managerial level. The target was 30% by the year 2000. In future, four out of ten positions were to be filled by women.

Ms Gerntholtz, from the Commission on Gender Equality, was critical of the Department of Justice and said there seemed to be little activity regarding gender issues. From an outsider's point of view, it would appear that attention to gender issues was not co-ordinated. Monitoring of and oversight over gender issues was lacking. She proceeded to list the more important matters requiring the Department's attention, namely:

1) Black Administration Act. This should be repealed urgently, if not wholly, at least the provisions which reduce women to the status of minors.

2) Maintenance Bill. The draft bill had been referred to the South African Law Commission and she enquired about its progress.

3) Prevention of Family Violence Bill. The Commission urges that this be looked at urgently.

4) Anti-Discriminatory Bill.

Mr de Lange replied only to item two of the Commission's priority list, saying this was a priority bill and was going to be dealt with in the next term, failing which the third term.

Ms Vetten read out the submission of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. The joint Chairperson said that the case studies, though alarming, could not be dealt with by the committee as it would be interference in the criminal justice system. However, the relevant Attorney-Generals should be consulted. Ms Jana agreed with the point concerning the early release of women and thought that a further legal mechanism would be to petition either the Minister himself or the Chief Justice.

Ms Meyer, from the South African Human Rights Commission, presented the submission which focussed on violence against women. She said the SAHRC hoped to be working closely with the Commission on Gender Equality in future. Ms Meyer referred to the "Cautionary Rule" in the existing legislation, saying that it should be changed. Mr de Lange agreed with Ms Meyer and said that amendments should not be made but a substantive new act should be introduced.

In closing the morning session, the joint Chairperson, Mr de Lange, said that what came through clearly was the general lack of resources, i.e. fiscal constraints. He encouraged NGOs to make an emphasis on this aspect in future submissions. Unless money was made available he feared that there would be no concretisation of gender issues in the Department of Justice.

The afternoon session was not minuted. Submissions were heard from Womens on Farms Project, GAP and Nicro.


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