People's Stories Women's Rights

Violence against women and children a national crisis says South African President
by SABC, Bhekisisa, Mail & Guardian, agencies
South Africa
20 May 2017
South African men march against abuse of women and children. (BBC News)
Hundreds of protesters, most of them men, have marched in the South African capital, Pretoria, over rising levels of violence against women and children.
One of the organisers, Kholofelo Masha, said men had to take collective responsibility for the increase in beatings, sex attacks and killings.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world. Police figures showed that 64,000 cases were reported last year.
A series of grisly murders of women and children has hit the headlines this year and President Jacob Zuma has described the situation as a crisis.
"The time to take collective responsibility for our shameful action is now," said Mr Masha, who described himself as "a loving dad, brother and uncle."
He said South African men had been quiet on the issue for too long.
"You hear a lady screaming next door, you decide to sleep when you know there is a problem. No man should beat a woman or rape a woman while you''re watching".
On Thursday, President Zuma visited the parents of a three-year-old girl who was raped and killed.
Courtney Pieters went missing from her home in Cape Town on 4 May and her body was found more than a week later in a shallow grave.
"We, as the citizens of this country, must say enough is enough," Mr Zuma said at the time. "This is one of the saddest incidents I''ve come across. It''s a crisis in the country, the manner in which women and children are being killed."
The governing African National Congress party has branded the wave of violence "senseless and barbaric", while the opposition Democratic Alliance has called for a nationwide debate on the issue.
20 May 2017
Hundreds of marchers in Pretoria voice their opposition to gender-based violence and child abuse.(SABC)
Organisers of the #Not In My Name march have apologised on behalf of South African men for not taking action to protect the vulnerable in society. Hundreds of people marched from Church Square in the Pretoria CBD to the Union Buildings against the abuse of women and children.
Organisers say it''s time for men to stand in solidarity with abused of women and children. Marchers voiced their opposition to gender-based violence and child abuse.
March convenor Siyabulela Jentile, addressed the crowd. "I would like to say a few words to our sisters. On behalf of all men on SA, whether they agree with me or not, we apologise. We failed you, all of us. From here onwards I am not even going to debate about it because we are a country that loves debate. We are wasting a lot of time on analysing without taking the solutions. It''s time for people to rise up. We have failed you and we apologise."
18 May 2017 (SABC)
President Jacob Zuma has called on South Africans to fight against women and child abuse. He was speaking during a visit to the Elsies River home of the slain three-year-old Courtney Pieters.
The toddler''s body was found in a shallow grave in Epping last weekend after being missing for more than a week.
Zuma visited the Pieters family at their home to convey his condolences. "I believe that there is something that has gone wrong in our country. The rate at which children are being murdered and raped by men. Something has gone wrong. I made a statement and called upon South Africans to unite to fight against this. I think enough is enough."
The President says the manner in which women and children are being killed in the country has reached crisis levels. He says he will discuss the manner in which police handled the matter with the police ministry.
He said the family told him police treated the mother, Juanita, badly when she reported her three year old as missing.
Zuma described it as one of the saddest incidents he''d ever come across. “We must look at this, maybe we should have strict regulations and laws and it should be discussed.The country is in crises in the manner in which women and children are being killed.”
A family spokesperson Roegchanda Pascoe says, "It’s time that government comes to the people’s level, we have to discuss these matters. It’s good that the president was here.”
May 2017
Women are being killed. Stop! (Mail & Guardian: Editorial)
This week, we report on the gruesome murder of Nombuyiselo Nombewu in Klerksdorp; her alleged murderer was out on bail on rape charges. It is often the criminal justice system that fails dismally.
About 287 000 cases of civil hearings under the Domestic Violence Act were registered with the courts between April 1 and December 31 last year, said Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery.
“Of these cases, nearly 189 000 were new applications for protection orders,” he said. Jeffery was speaking at a ministerial dialogue about intimate femicide in South Africa.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines it as the killing of a woman by an intimate partner. Several studies, including one by the WHO, have confirmed that South Africa has the highest rate of femicide in the world.
The murder and abuse of women by men they know has become routine. The current discourse on femicide is deeply troubling. The reality is too raw and refuge too scarce.
It is often police who fail to assist abused women. Even when assault charges are laid, even when evidence is available, even when restraining orders are in place, the police, Mbalula’s charges, still fail to protect abused women. They could do better by believing women when they say they are in danger.
Dec 2016
STUDY: 56% of surveyed Diepsloot men have raped or beaten a woman in the past year, by Mia Malan (Bhekisisa)
Rape and physical abuse rates more than double those reported in national studies have been recorded in Diepsloot in northern Johannesburg.
More than half, 56%, of surveyed men in Diepsloot in northern Johannesburg say they’ve either raped or beaten a woman in the past 12 months, according to results from the Sonke CHANGE trial, which were released this week. These figures are some of highest rates of violence against women ever recorded in South Africa: they are more than double those reported in national studies.
The Sonke CHANGE trial, a partnership between the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and gender activist organisation Sonke Gender Justice was conducted this year among 2,600 men in the township. The men were between the ages of 18 and 40 years with an average income of R1 500 a month. Only half had been employed in the three months before the study was conducted.
Of those men who had raped or beaten a woman, 60% said they had done so several times over the past year.
“These levels of violence represent a state of emergency for victims and survivors of this violence,” the researchers said in a study summary.
“They experience serious long-term physical and psychological harm. They experience ongoing fear of repeat victimisation, with little reason to believe that perpetrators will be apprehended or held accountable or that potential perpetrators will be deterred from using violence against them.”
South African Police Service reports show that of the 500 sexual assault cases reported in Diepsloot since 2013, there has been just one conviction, according to the researchers.
Abigail Hatcher, one of the lead researchers from Wits, told Bhekisisa: “If you think that 56% of men used violence against women, and because most of them did so more than once, it is likely that at least half of women in Diepsloot are experiencing it annually.
“But because most of the perpetrators have enacted violence towards a woman more than once, it is possible that they enact violence towards more than one woman at the same time. We estimate that we need care services and shelters for about 60% of the female population in Diepsloot. But except for a small organisation, Green Door, there are zero shelters.”
Green Door consists of three donated Wendy houses; the organisation does not receive any funding. It has only one part-time, volunteer counsellor.
According to South Africa’s 2011 census, 138,000 people live in Diepsloot, about 12 000 people per square kilometre. But residents and organisations in the township say this number is a gross underestimation: most estimate the population to be closer to half a million. If that is true, and if half the population consists of women, about 150,000 (60%) could be in need of care and shelter services.
On Wednesday, Bhekisisa will be launching a cellphone app in Diepsloot to make it easier for victims of gender-based violence to know where to find help.
The app is being launched in partnership with Green Door, Sonke Gender Justice, social enterprise organisation Afrika Tikkun, Lawyers Against Abuse and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.
Users dial *134*403# from their cellphone, which notifies a server to send a series of three menus asking the user where they are in Diepsloot and what sort of help they need. An SMS is then sent to the user with the phone numbers and addresses of the organisations in Diepsloot that help victims of gender-based violence, as well as the numbers of the police and ambulance services.
The Sonke CHANGE trial found that the most significant cause of men’s violence towards women in the township was “inequitable and harmful gender norms that grant men a sense of permission to use violence against women”.
For instance, one out of three men in the survey believe wives should not be able to refuse sex, more than half expect their partner to agree to sex when the man wants it and most believe they have the right to control the clothes a woman wears, the friends she sees or where she goes.
Controlling a partner doubled the odds that men used violence in the past year.
A troubled past, a troubled future
Childhood trauma was closely associated with men becoming abusers: 85% of the surveyed men who had raped or beaten a woman had been physically or sexually abused themselves as children. Men who had experienced child abuse were five times more likely to use violence against a woman.
“Children exposed to this violence in the home and community are far more likely to themselves become involved in violence later in life — boys as perpetrators and girls as victims — and are at increased risk of experiencing a host of other social problems, including psychological distress, alcohol abuse, poor school performance and increased involvement in crime, including interpersonal violence,” the researchers said.
Men with signs of depression were three times as likely to be violent towards women; 49.8% of men were found to have probable depression and 50.3% probable post-traumatic stress disorder.
Yet, the Sonke CHANGE trial researchers pointed out that “there are no public mental health services available in Diepsloot to address the mental health consequences of such widespread exposure to generalised violence”.
According to Brown Lekekela, who runs Green Door, the two local clinics don’t stock rape kits and there is no nearby government hospital that offers rape counselling services.
The nearest Thuthuzela Care Centre — a one-stop, government-run service offering rape care — is at Tembisa Hospital about 30km away. “This means rape victims are forced to travel long distances to access post-rape care or to attend court cases,” the researchers said.
The only other available counselling services are those offered by the police and non-governmental organisations. The Gauteng health department had not responded to questions about the lack of services at the time of publication.
Alcohol plays a huge part in exacerbating violence against women. Problem drinking — binge or frequent drinking that interferes with daily life — increased men’s abuse of women by 50%. Three-quarters of the men in the study reported problem drinking. That rate is about six and a half times higher than the national alcohol abuse rate of 11.4%, as reported by the South African Stress and Health survey published in the South African Medical Journal in 2009.
The survey showed that men who had a matric qualification, were older than the average participant age of 27 and were employed, were less likely to be violent towards women. Having food security, which is when a household has access to the food needed for a healthy life for all its members, reduced the odds of violence by 40%.
Hatcher said: “When men feel active and productive, and when they’re able to have certainty in their lives about their daily needs, they’re likely to use violence less to prove their manhood.”
Dec. 2015
“South Africa’s still long walk to free women from the shackles of violence” – UN expert calls for change (OHCHR)
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic, today urged the Government of South Africa to strengthen the fight against gender-based violence through awareness and education at all levels of society. “I have heard on many occasions that violence against women is normalized in South Africa,” she warned stressing the need for change.
“The violence inherited from the apartheid still resonate profoundly in today’s South African society dominated by deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards the role of women in society which makes violence against women and children an almost accepted social phenomenon” Ms. Simonovic said after her first official visit to the country from 4 to 11 December.
“Despite an arsenal of progressive laws and policies to deal with gender-based violence put very ably in place, there has been little implementation, hence impact and gender-based violence continue to be pervasive and at the level of systematic women’s human rights violation,” she said.
The independent expert said that different forms of manifestation of violence against women and girls take place in the country, among which femicides or gender-related killing of women, domestic violence, rapes, gang-rapes which in their most extreme and forms have lethal consequences, and other forms of sexual violence.
In relation to the high number of femicides, she encouraged South Africa to establish a “femicide” or “gender-relating killings” watch through which the number of such killings would be released every year. Such data and information about each case, carefully analysed, is needed to identify any failure of protection in the response’s chain to gender-based violence and would bolster improving and developing further preventive measures.
She also called for the conduct of risk assessment and crisis management in the context of domestic violence and application of protection orders that should guarantee immediate protection.
“It was reported to me that, mostly in some rural areas, the practice of Ukuthwala continues,” she said warning that girls as young as eight can be forced into marriage through their abduction, kidnapping, assault and rape associated with such harmful practice. “It needs to be clearly stated that such practice violates the constitutional rights to dignity, freedom and security of the person.” Other harmful practices include virginity testing and accusations of witchcraft.
The human rights expert said that there is insufficient specialized training for all front-line actors involved in the responses to gender-based violence, namely the police, prosecution office, and courts. She called for better awareness of the police’s positive duties to protect women in domestic partnerships who are victims of abuses, to manage the reporting and investigation of sexual offenses and to refer those reporting sexual offenses to medical services.
Ms. Simonovic cautioned about hearings conducted in a non-victim friendly manner, the presence of perpetrators and the lack of security of the victim, all of which leads to secondary traumatization. Victims’ friendly rooms at police stations, while mandated by the Sexual Offenses Act, are lacking.
She also highlighted gender stereotyping by magistrates leading to leniency towards the perpetrator and need for gender sensitive education for judiciary. She expressed concern that there is no established risk assessment and crisis management and protection orders are not immediately available and when issued are often not adequately followed up by police, for lack of human or financial resources.


This Mother’s Day, remembering the joys – and dangers – of motherhood
by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
12 May 2017
Syria – Motherhood should be a time of joy, but for too many women, it comes with something else: peril.
"Becoming a mother and having a family was always a dream of mine. But I never expected it to happen in these circumstances," Fatima told aid workers in Homs, the conflict-affected governorate in Syria.
She and her husband, Essam, fled brutal violence in Palmyra last autumn, when she was less than three months pregnant.
They settled in shelter Homs, where they struggled with the persistent insecurity, as well as unemployment, poverty and limited access to health services. As her pregnancy progressed, she grew frail.
This coming Sunday, dozens of countries around the world will observe Mother’s Day. It is a day to celebrate mothers everywhere, but also a moment to reflect on the risks that too many women still encounter on their journey to motherhood – and what can be done about it.
Despite decades of commitments by governments and leaders, mothers continue to die in massive numbers from entirely preventable causes.
An estimated 303,000 women died in 2015 of pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, the vast majority of which were preventable or treatable. This amounts to one maternal death every two minutes.
Ninety-nine per cent of these deaths occurred in developing parts of the world, a combination of under-resourced health systems, poor infrastructure, and lack of priority given to women’s health and rights.
Women in humanitarian crises and fragile settings face some of the greatest barriers to life-saving health care. A dramatic increase in maternal deaths is often seen during conflicts and disasters, and even in the aftermath of humanitarian crises.
Data show that just 35 countries considered to be fragile, crisis-affected or crisis-prone account for almost two thirds of all maternal deaths.
Fatima was at risk of becoming one of these grim statistics.
The Syrian crisis has been devastating for civilians. An estimated 6.3 million people are internally displaced, and mass movements of civilians are continuing, and in some cases intensifying.
Vulnerable women are paying a particular toll. An estimated 4.1 million women and girls of reproductive age are affected by the crisis – including 360,000 pregnant women. All of these women and girls require sexual and reproductive health care, services that include check-ups, health information, family planning and antenatal care. Yet the conflict has interrupted access to these vital services.
Fortunately, Fatima was able to get help. Her new neighbours urged her to visit a UNFPA-supported medical clinic. There, she was found to be severely underweight and lacking in essential vitamins and minerals.
At first, she felt guilty for being weak. “What if I give birth to a sick baby?” she worried.
But she began to receive regular check-ups at the clinic, where UNFPA also referred her to a monthly food voucher system operated by its partner, the World Food Programme (WPF). In addition to obtaining fresh food, she also received guidance on what foods would help her maintain a healthy pregnancy. (This partnership also works in reverse, with WFP referring pregnant women and new mothers to UNFPA for health care.)
Over time, Fatima’s health showed steady improvement. Six months later, at the clinic, she delivered a healthy baby boy, whom she named Jad.
Reaching those most in need
Around the world, UNFPA supports sexual and reproductive health care, with a special focus on providing care to women and girls in humanitarian emergencies.
UNFPA and its partners deploy mobile clinics, trained health professionals and life-saving health supplies, helping women to safely manage their pregnancies and give birth in some of the most harrowing settings.
Still, much more is needed, including strengthened health systems and increased access to sexual and reproductive health services for all people, especially those in crises.
Fortunately, for Fatima, the threats have subsided – at least for now.
She continues to receive the WFP food vouchers, which are helping her stay healthy while nursing little Jad, and she gets postnatal care from the UNFPA clinic.
“I have been eating and breastfeeding without any trouble,” she said.
She makes it a habit to refer community members to both UNFPA’s and WFP’s services, which she says have helped alleviated some of the financial strains on their family.
“My husband Essam and I are now able to spend what little money we have saved to buy diapers and clothes for Jad,” she said, smiling.

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