WOMEN ON FARMS PROJECT
The Women on Farms Project (hereafter referred to as WFP) situated in Stellenbosch was originally a project of Lawyers for Human Rights that began in 1992. In 1996, WFP became an independent non-governmental organisation focusing on providing rights education and capacity development for action and advocacy to women farm workers within the Boland region. At present, the organisation has 3 specific portfolios: Labour Rights, Organisation Building and Social Rights. Within the social rights portfolio there are 2 programmes, maintenance and violence against women.
This submission stresses the need to consider the implementation of laws when drafting legislation in order to ensure that the rights of the most marginalised communities such as women on farms are upheld. Information has been attained from research done by the Gender, Law and Development Project of the Institute of Criminology at UCT, University of Stellenbosch, Centre for Rural and Legal Studies (CRLS) and the Women on Farms Project (WFP) and therefore includes the concerns and frustrations voiced by women farm workers themselves. The submission starts by contexualising women on farms and the obstacles they face in order to illustrate the inaccessibility of justice for women on farms with emphasis on violence against women. Thereafter recommendations are provided acknowledging that further dialogue with Justice is essential.
Contextualising Women on Farms
Agriculture is a significant form of employment in rural communities and agriculture contributes substantially to the economy of South Africa. The Western Cape alone produces approximately 22% of South Africa's agricultural produce (CRLS, 1998:
Locating Women Farm Workers in South Africa). In this agricultural production process, women play an increasingly important role. Within the deciduous fruit industry, 59% of the workforce consists of women; 57% of the workforce in table grape sector are women and within apple industry, although women constitute 40% of the permanent workforce, 70% of the seasonal workforce comprises women. (WFP: Women on Farms in the Western Cape).
Women's input into the production process is huge, however, as will be noted below, an input that is not greatly valued. Women working and living on farms are still one of the most marginalised groups in the Western Cape. Despite a commitment to improve the status of women in South Africa, real concerns regarding the future of women on farms continue to mount.
Violence against women has reached alarming proportions in South Africa and affects all women in this country. However, different contexts determine the extent of a woman's vulnerability to violence and also the access women have to justice. Most women workers live in rural areas. It is time that attention is given to the extent of the vulnerability of rural women and women on farms specifically. Women in rural, remote and severely underprivileged areas remain one of the most vulnerable groups to violence in their communities and their homes.
53% of South Africa's population live in rural areas
75% of the poor reside in rural areas
80% of the ultra poor arc rural inhabitants
Females account for 49.9% of the population in the Western Cape
Female headed households in the rural area are in the high poverty risk social
(Artz, 1997: Access to Justice For Rural Women)
There are specific factors that exist that increase rural women's vulnerability to violence and influence their access to justice. These obstacles are also experienced by women on farms but in addition to these, women on farms also experience further difficulties.
Obstacles facing rural women
· Rural communities are physically isolated from service providers
· Distance to public services are great and childcare is a problem if travel is necessary
· Relatively few development services exist within these communities
· There are no or limited taxi or bus services and these are expensive
· Telecommunications is poor and expensive
· Response time of police and ambulatory services are slow
· There are few support services for abused women, and there is no safe accommodation for women if they must leave there homes
· Lack of resources for affordable and sustainable treatment or support services
· High rate of unemployment and/or underemployment leaves women in a weak position financially
· Low education, illiteracy rate and limited skills prevent women from seeking alternative work to improve their financial position
Additional obstacles facing farm women
· Women are seen as an extension of men and therefore are not afforded rights of their own. They receive work only if they are involved with a man and their work is considered cheap labour, an extra for the farmer when he employs the man.
· Women are mostly involved in seasonal work even though they work the same hours as permanent workers.
· Because they are considered as extra help when men are employed, they do not have independent work contracts and receive lower wages for work done. The wages women receive range from R80 - R120 per week.
Housing is given to men as a benefit to working on the farm and women are rarely given housing outside of their relationship with a male partner. Therefore, when a man loses his job, a woman automatically loses her work and accommodation.
For a woman farm worker to survive on her own is virtually impossible. For the purpose of survival, many women therefore enter into relationships with men.
When looking at power structures within work and home, women occupy the lower ranks. As a result, women have very little say over their lives. They are caught in a cycle whereby the farmer and their partner have power over their work and home lives.
Access to Justice
The new South Africa with its new gender sensitive laws has not given adequate consideration to the oppressive environment facing rural women and specifically women farm workers, the extent of their powerlessness due to their lives being dominated by a male partner and a farmer as well as the isolation from resources. Although laws may exist that aim to promote the rights of women, in reality the implementation of these laws achieves the opposite. Any attempts at creating a more sensitised approach to assisting survivors of violence against women are first devised and then implemented in urban settings, thus considering the urban context. When these approaches are eventually brought to rural settings, they do not take into consideration the rural context, least of all the context of women farm workers. As a result, women farm workers are made invisible. This invisibility has been absorbed by many and translates into discriminatory treatment of women farm workers. The lives of these women have not altered since the inception of the new government in 1994 and there seems to be a limited interest in ensuring that legislation does contribute to positive changes in the lives of women farm workers. The lack of adequate resources and the inaccessibility of resources reinforce women's isolation, subordination and thus powerlessness.
Our concern is that legislation when drafted, does not give sufficient consideration to the implementation of laws, therefore does not ensure these laws work for all women. Below are examples to illustrate the basis of these concerns:
Implications of applying for an interdict:
· Applying for an interdict is not an easy process for women on farms. Applications need to be made in town.
· Women are therefore dependent on the unreliable system of public transport for which they can wait two hours or longer. The transport to and from the town is also costly and cuts substantially into women's tight budget.
· The process of making an application i.e. getting there, applying and returning to the farm takes and entire day. For women on farms, it translates into a loss of one day's wages a loss they cannot afford as women are employed on a no work no pay basis.
· Women who are illiterate require assistance when completing the form. Women are therefore dependent on the attitude of the court officials and often this attitude is one that further disempowers women
· A violation of the interdict involves contacting the police and that requires access to a phone. Phones are limited resources on farms.
· Police response depends on attitude of the police officer both to violence against women cases and to farm workers in general.
· The arrest of a partner would result in a loss of one income much needed by the family and also jeopardises women's (and her entire family's) access to employment and housing.
· Most women do not know that they have a right not to be abused they do not know about legislation that offers protection nor about application procedures
· The lack of confidence in the police, law and social services discourages women from making use of services as they anticipate further humiliation
· The shuffling around from one service provider to another and the repeated abuse from these service providers discourages women from reporting the violent incident.
Implications of applying for maintenance:
The purpose of the state and private maintenance grants are to alleviate poverty and to ensure the basic needs of children are met. However, both systems of maintenance are wholly unsatisfactory and women struggle to secure their rights and those of their children.
· Women have to wait in long queues and spend a minimum of a day just applying for maintenance - once again this results in a loss of wages
· Women have the added responsibility of proving whether their partner is working or not
· Women are badly treated by maintenance officers and are made to feel as though they should be embarrassed about applying for maintenance
With regards to the new child support grant:
· While agreeing with the need for children to be well nourished, women were concerned about the requirement that they engaged in certain health activities before receiving the grant, since access to health facilities in farming areas is particularly difficult and costly.
· Many women have no bank or post office account and indicated that in a hand-to mouth existence, quarterly payment would be problematic. Women feared that they would have to resort to making loans, either with farmers, loan institutions or family members to make ends meet between payments.
Women working and living on farms are not aware of their rights and enormous structural and social obstacles inhibit their ability to claim and enforce their rights. Power relations at household level together with entrenched patriarchal practices within farming communities combine to keep women subordinate and vulnerable. These beliefs and practices also restrict women's access to resources and services.
All women within South Africa are subjected to violence daily and are able to share experiences of powerlessness within a patriarchal society. However, the way in which this powerlessness is entrenched differs from community to community and as a result each community context needs to be examined individually. The recommendations listed below are specific to the context of women working and living on farms:
With Regards To Violence Against Women: Focus on Domestic Violence
· Procedures for dealing with cases of violence against women should be enforced therefore there should be compulsory training of all personnel in the justice, health, welfare & safety and security departments. This training must include the appropriate conduct when dealing with a case of violence against women, the rights of women and how to inform women of these rights and legal procedures
· Documentation of charges laid and interdicts applied for must be kept so that follow-up can be done on farms
· Women don't feel safe - their right to safety must be upheld and their faith in the justice system needs to be nurtured e.g. prosecutors can equip women with appropriate information
· Department of Justice together with NGO's and CBOs's should assume responsibility of informing women of their rights and how the law can uphold these rights. Justice must co-ordinate or resource these efforts
· The various departments (Justice, Welfare, Safety & Security and Health) must work closely together and serve as watchdogs of one another to ensure that they function effectively and are able to deliver efficient service. This is imperative as a department that fails to function optimally impedes the work of another department and the result is that women's rights are not upheld e.g. when police do not gather sufficient evidence because they do not feel that a report is important or serious; it could result in a case not reaching court. To ensure that the watchdog role is fulfilled a formalised mechanism must be established to ensure the close working relationship is maintained and that action is taken when this does not occur. The National Crime Prevention Strategy with Welfare at the realm, promotes a holistic approach to addressing crime. A strategy also focusing on a holistic approach should be devised by Justice to ensure that no-one's access to justice is hindered by the incompetence of another department.
· A complaints body/mechanism must be established so that women can report unacceptable conduct of court officials and clear guidelines need to be drafted to ensure that these complaints are followed through. This includes informing women of action that will be taken following their complaint. We acknowledge the Sexual Offences guidelines that exist but feel that there should be guidelines for all aspects affecting women's access to justice.
· Systems need to be put in place to remove the onus from women to ensure their rights are upheld. Having this extra burden only serves to leave women feeling punished and under duress by offenders, family, community and farm owners/farm management.
With Regards to Maintenance
The maintenance grant is an important source of income which provides women with limited independence from insecure and poorly paid employment as well as from a domestic position which entrenches male dominance. Even a small means of financial independence is critical for women and children's well being in a context where domestic violence is rife and male domination is the norm.
· Tougher punitive measure should be put in place for fathers who do not maintain their children.
· Rights education and practical information such as where maintenance offices are, how to apply, and who is eligible should be made available. Radio is one of the mediums that should be used to provide this information
· Maintenance court must ensure that women fully understand their legal rights and protections as well as each component of the maintenance process. This must be built into justice policy and procedure with respect to maintenance cases
· A complaints mechanism must be set up for the complainants. Women are entitled to responsive effective and efficient service from the Maintenance court
· Women should be informed of the procedure involved in lodging a complaint. A system must be in place to ensure that these complaints are followed up and women informed of the procedures.
· A minimum standard of service should be established i.e. women should not have to wait for more than 2 hours without being reimbursed for their time and travel expenses
· Appointing full time maintenance officers so that women are not turned away without being assisted
· Maintenance officers must undergo appropriate training to deal with maintenance issues. This should be done through the Justice College or by appropriate NGO's
· Maintenance courts must be made accessible in relation to physical proximity and this could occur by means of satellite courts
We recognise the tough task that lies ahead and that there are no easy solutions. But if we wish to uphold the rights stipulated in our country's Constitution, rebuild South Africa and restore the faith of its citizens in the justice system, then the needs of women must be addressed and concrete steps put into place to uphold these rights.
Many of the points raised are in need of further discussion and we would be willing to engage in dialogue around these issues. We, at Women on Farms Project, can be contacted at 8872 960(T) or 8872 963(F).
The information listed below can be made available upon request.
Research drawn on in drafting this submission:
Gender, Law and Development Project at the Institute of Criminology (UCT) and
Knysna Black Sash
1997 Access to Justice for Rural Women: Special Focus on Violence Against Women
Centre for Rural and Legal Studies
1998 Locating women farm workers in South Africa
Department of Sociology, University of Stellenbosch
1997 Vroue op Plase en Kinderonderhoud
Women on Farms Project
1997 Women on Farms and Child Maintenance
Women on Farms in the Western Cape: A contexual scan