Gender Advocacy Programme
Submission on Domestic Violence
The Gender Advocacy Programme is an independent advocacy and lobbying organisation. We seek to bridge the gap between women in civil society and structures of governance. Through this process we aim to increase women's participation in decision-making in parliament and at all levels of government. We therefore welcome this opportunity to participate in the process of public hearings. GAP commends both the Portfolio Committee on Justice as well as the Committee on the Improvement of the Quality of Life and Status of Women for the significant step it has taken towards contributing to gender equality in South Africa by identifying violence against women as a specific focus of these hearings.
Our organisation's key projects are: Women and Local Government, Domestic Violence, Women and Social Policy and Women and Governance. Our strategy is twofold. We raise awareness among women and do training in advocacy and lobbying skills to empower women to participate in decision-making processes as well as to impact on policies and legislation. On another level we directly seek to impact on legislation and policies to ensure that these are gender sensitive and actively promote equity between women and men in all spheres of decision-making.
The Gender Advocacy Programme through its information meetings, workshops and seminars has gained insight into the experiences, needs and interests of women living in impoverished conditions in certain communities of the Western Cape. (e.g. Manenberg, Khayelitsha, Guguletu, Carterville - near Paarl, Bredasdorp, Atlantis, Mfuleni and Mitchell's Plain ) It is in relation to these experiences as well as GAP's lobbying expertise that we wish to highlight the following issues:
1. The Frame of Reference
The South African government has made significant commitments to improve the quality of life and status of women and has in particular taken significant steps to protect women from all forms of violence. This is reflected in the SA Constitution, the ratification of the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. These instruments set the context for action by both state parties and organisations of civil society.
The Gender Advocacy Programme through its work has found that women's experiences, needs and interests are often excluded or rendered invisible in the political sphere. We strongly believe that women's representation and participation in decision-making processes need to be increased to give effect to the fundamental value of the constitutional commitment to equality. In this regard we firmly believe that "substantive equality" should be inscribed in the implementation of all legislation and policies. We recommend that "the actual social and economic conditions of groups and individuals" be examined and that this be set as a requirement in the implementation of the gender policy of the Department of Justice as well as in the application of the Domestic Violence Bill. This would also enhance the Department of Justice's 1996 Beijing commitment to "review the Family Violence Act and to ensure better access to justice". For example, in a poverty stricken area like Carterville, where there is inadequate housing and the majority of women are unemployed and have minimal literacy skills, it is critical for women to have access to a basic service in their immediate vicinity such as that provided by the police. In this context, where women have structurally been disadvantaged due to lack of access to education, we believe that government has even a greater responsibility to ensure that women can effectively access legislation and that the Constitution's commitment to equality is being upheld."
The Gender Policy Considerations Document of the Department of Justice reflects that this policy is part of a broader vision of transformation. We therefore recommend that the introduction of the gender policy not be the responsibility of a single unit within the department, especially in light of the absence of a clear strategy for mainstreaming the policy. Provincial and local gender structures or units that would be best placed to transfer information and co-ordinate activities and programmes to advance gender equity should be established by the department . Alternatively, a clear strategy to filter down information, policies and practices related to gender equality and advancement should be developed.
The document has clear guiding principles but seems to lack reference to specific points of interaction with these principles. For example, it would have been useful if the "legal issues" covered by CEDAW (see 3.3 p5) as well as the "specific commitments" made by the department in relation to the Beijing Platform for Action (see 3.4 p5) could have been detailed.
An important strategy identified by the Department of Justice, was the recognition of the central role of the National Gender Machinery for the advancement of gender equality. The Gender Unit has committed itself to work in partnership with the Office on the Status of Women and the Commission for Gender Equality but has not developed strategies or set time frames for these. We strongly recommend that partnerships like these be formalised and that clear strategies are developed to strengthen the working relationship. We recommend that one of the main objectives of such a partnership should be to develop strategies on how to interact with the National and Provincial Gender Machinery and on how to effect the "mainstreaming (of) Gender Considerations in Policies and Programmes".
2. The Structure and Functioning of the Department of Justice
The Gender Policy Considerations Document makes no reference to the structure and functioning of the Department of Justice. Reference is made to the establishment of a "Gender Forum" (4.3.4 B p11), but there is no clarity on either the relationship of the forum to the unit or its functioning. We believe that it is imperative for organisations and institutions making submissions to know the location of the gender unit in relation to the rest of the department. We recommend that the document should reflect on reporting lines as well as the actual status of the gender unit within the department as well as its role in relation the functions and duties performed by the department.
3. Budget and Time Frames:
The department should make the budget as well the time frames for the implementation of the Gender Policy explicit. These essentially determine if, when and how policies are implemented. Lack of financial resources have often effectively hampered the implementation of gender policies and legislation in many departments and if policies are planned and drafted without budgets or with lack of sufficient resources to effect implementation it calls the credibility of the policy into question. Furthermore, through the setting of time frames and budgets the department will pledge to honour its commitments to gender equality.
Transparency, Consultation and Participation:
Whilst recognising the attempts made by both committees to ensure public participation and to meet the provisions of the constitution for "Public access to and involvement in the National Assembly, as stated in chapter 4. (section 59, p35) However the entire constitution is explicitly based on the premise of democracy and although this may be subject to various interpretations, it is imperative to recognise that transparency, participation and consultation are particularly critical in the new SA context. The latter are key indicators of a move away from apartheid, oppression and undemocratic rule. We therefore reiterate the critical role of these committees to further create conditions for public participation.
We recommend that the call for written and oral submissions be well publicised in newspapers and by community radio stations and that key role players be informed and invited well in advance of an event, such as the public hearings so as to ensure maximum and effective participation by the public and women in particular. Since most women lack access to public spheres of power, we strongly recommend that the above mentioned committees make available information on the process followed as well as developments and progress of the legislative process. For example, it would have been useful to have access to information on the process followed after submissions were made last year, so as to track submissions as well as to understand the link between committee processes and that undertaken by the SA Law Commission.
4. External Issues - The Department and the Community(4.4.1)
The Gender Advocacy Programme views the department's commitment to develop positive relations with the community as commendable. We suggest that the department gathers information on already established audits, access these and identify the gaps. Subsequently, it should be ensured that this community resource is accessible to all interested and relevant role players. (see 4.4 in document). Thus it should also be investigated whether the South African Communication Service is the best institution to make this resource accessible.
The idea of a partnership between the department and NGO's to publicise the work of the department on gender related issues, is a positive step and it would most likely increase access to justice through a public education campaign. In this regard, we suggest that special attention is given to the use of language that is easy to understand and that is gender-sensitive. We further recommend that the department together with CBO's and NGO's develop a clear distribution strategy which will ensure that the pamphlet is accessible to the majority of South Africans.
The Department of Justice's recognition of "the high illiteracy rates in South Africa" is an important step and is critical for the development of positive relations with the community. It displays the department's commitment to serve the majority of South Africans. We commend the department for recognising the need to utilise radio as an effective medium of communication with the many illiterate constituents. We further recommend that this strategy becomes part of a clear integrated approach to reach constituents with minimal literacy skills.
5. Access to Justice (5)
Please note that this section focuses on access to justice, but there are many overlaps with some of the other sections. The sections on (6.) Crime, Safety and Security; (7.) Courts and other structures administering justice and (8.)Training impacts on and are inextricably linked with access to justice.
a. Legal Information, Advice and Representation (see 5.3)
The department of justice by developing positive relations with the community can simultaneously increase access to justice. The use of community radio stations could also increase access to justice for marginalised, rural and poor women. In this regard a clear media strategy should be developed for the relevant constituencies. The National Women's Justice Programme:(5.3.2 a & b) Firstly, the context and main objectives of this programme are not clear. For example the "limited availability of legal aid" to women is not merely because priority is given to "criminal law cases", but more so because of the unequal power relations between women and men in all spheres of South African society, and in relation to justice in this instance in particular. We recommend that location and status of the above mentioned programme should be made explicit and that its goals and strategies be outlined, especially in relation to that of the rest of the gender unit. Clear roles and functions of key role players mentioned in 5.3.2 b should also be outlined.
The National Women's Justice Programme could take responsibility for introducing and co-ordinating regular open forums in local communities, similar to the Open Day at courts for women, held on 7 March 1997. The Gender Advocacy Programme attended the open day in Mitchell's Plain where it shared a platform with the Minister of Justice and other service providers. This event gave women in communities the opportunity to directly interact with the ministry and service providers and created a sense of recognition and value for women's experiences. In turn this event increased the credibility of the department of justice with communities and provided direct exposure for it to the impact of policies and legislation on women's lives. To this effect we recommend that the department organises similar events in partnership with NGO's and CBO's on local level and in addition to this collectively develop clear strategies for improving access to justice.
Support to NGO's and CBO's
We commend the department for recognising NGO's and CBO's as key role players, however, clear strategies need to be developed to formalise these partnerships. The Gender Policy Considerations document recognises the "inadequate resourcing of NGO's and CBO's" but fails to present any concrete recommendations beyond support. (see 5.3.1 b & 5.3.2 e) We strongly suggest that the department costs the envisioned financial support to NGO's and CBO's and includes this as part of its annual budget for the gender unit. Clear criteria for financial support to NGO's and CBO's must be set to ensure fair and just distribution of such funding and to ensure effective and efficient utilisation of financial resources.
b. Accessible Language (5.4)
The issue of access to language is linked to constitutional rights on languages, which states that:
(a) The national government and provincial governments may use any particular official language, taking into account usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances and the balance of the needs and preferences of the population as a whole or in the province concerned; but the national and each provincial government must use at least two official languages. (b) Municipalities must take into account the language usage and preferences of their residents.
Furthermore the department should introduce strategies in addition to training for all personnel that would ensure the use of language that is gender-sensitive and easy to understand. We recommend that the use of accessible language be considered for all services, public awareness on legislation, publications, etc.
c. Access to Services
It is important to note that in order to improve access to justice, it is imperative that there is access to services. For example, in Carterville (an area outside of Paarl) where GAP has conducted training workshops, there was up until recently no police station in the immediate vicinity, which meant that if the community does not have direct access to a police station, it will inevitably impede their access to justice. The location of courts and structures administering justice can also inhibit access to justice. In Khayelitsha there is no magistrates court which means that residents from Khayelitsha are usually compelled to travel to Mitchell's Plain when they have to go to court and this directly limits their access to justice since they have additional travelling costs and often have to take off work to go to court. In relation to the location of services related to the administration of justice, we suggest that the department seeks to develop formal intersectoral relations with relevant departments, e.g.. through the setting up of an intersectoral task team. It would also have been extremely useful if the department could have highlighted some of the learnings from the implementation of and interaction with the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). Does the gender unit have interaction with the NCPS and if so, what is the nature of this interaction?
d. Intersectoral Collaboration
Another area for intersectoral collaboration would be around public awareness and education campaigns, with specific strategies to reach the many illiterate South Africans. In this regard the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs would be a key role player, since awareness of and access to constitutional rights are closely tied up with access to justice. For example, if someone is unaware of her constitutional right to protection and safety and the right to use the Prevention of Family Violence Act, it is almost inevitable that she would not have access to justice because she might not know of her right to lay charges against another person. This was the case for one of our workshop participants who said that when she went to apply for an interdict at the Magistrates Court in Wellington, the court official who assisted her, told her that she should first try to sort out her problems with her partner and if that is unsuccessful, she should come back to apply for an interdict.
This incident clearly illustrates that: - many women have no knowledge of their constitutional rights and that gender-sensitive training of all court personnel should be a priority. We also suggest that this training geared at changing insensitive attitudes and behaviour should take precedence over the improvement of court facilities, as this was a need expressed by most of the women who participated in our workshops. Access to justice is a very broad issue and evidently impacts on many other issues, such as courts and other structures administering justice, as illustrated in this instance. (see 7.1 and 7.2 p22)
e. Gender-sensitive Training
It is evident that gender-sensitive training for all court personnel should be a priority for the department of justice. This training should also take into account the many other biases such as "race, class and rural isolation" which restrict ordinary people's recourse to justice, as identified in the document (5.1 p13). We recommend that this training be part of a co-ordinated approach to challenge bias and insensitivity (and in particular those biases related to gender issues) with the objective of transforming both the Department of Justice internally as well as the administration of justice. Subsequently, it is imperative to develop indicators to evaluate and monitor the impact of such training.
6.Crime, Safety and Security (6) & Violence Against Women (5.6 & 7.3.2)
The Gender Advocacy Programme notes with great concern the lack of specific attention to and interaction with the Domestic Violence Bill, which we view as a central piece of legislation to increase women's access to justice. We feel that the alarming rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse call for special focus on the Bill. We find the reference to women as a "vulnerable group" in 5.6 (Amendments to the law for vulnerable groups) problematic because women's vulnerability is not contextualised. In this instance this kind of reference leaves the definition open to interpretation. Women are "vulnerable" because of the unequal power relations and their subordinate position in society and this should be made explicit.
The Gender Advocacy Programme would like to thank the Department of Justice for the opportunity to give input into the Gender Policy Considerations. In conclusion we would like to reiterate the following:
Time frames and budgets need to be set explicitly because these will ultimately determine if, when and how the policy is implemented, as mentioned formerly. We strongly believe that the experiences and needs of women in communities need to be taken into account and we urge the department to look at women's experiences beyond numbers. We strongly recommend that the department sets its gender policy explicitly within the context of transformation with a specific emphasis on contributing towards challenging the unequal power relations between women and men in our society. We view this submission as part of an ongoing process of consultation and interaction with the Department of Justice and we hope that the recommendations made will be incorporated into the final document.