Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP at the National Men's Dialogue against Femicide, Burgers Park Hotel, Pretoria, 20 June 2017
Members of the Judiciary
Members of the National House of Traditional Leaders
Members of civil society
Representatives of government departments
Ladies and gentlemen
Newspapers from around the world paint a grim picture of domestic violence.
A weekend newspaper in Melbourne stated that new statistics reveal domestic violence in Australia has resulted in the murders of 99 women and 47 children in just two years.
Another publication stated that women in Taiwan suffer alarmingly high rates of domestic violence, with 322 cases each day, or one every five minutes.
Reuters recently reported that rampant domestic violence is forcing women to flee their homes in Central America.
So, where do we feature as South Africa?
Statistics SA recently released the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016 Key Indicator Report.
Let’s take a hard look at ourselves.
The report indicates that South Africans continue to experience and suffer violent relationships and this is most severe amongst the widowed, those living together and divorced or separated – where respectively one in five, one in three and 40% suffer violence.
Although lowest at the highest income level quintile, the violence by income level is uniform at one in five for all other income quintiles.
Gender-based violence is a violation of human rights. Despite constitutional protection and progressive legislation, gender-based violence remains persistent and widespread in South Africa.
The report also states that violence against women occurs across socio-economic status, race, age, and religion.
There has been emerging research on the pandemic, aiming to provide more substantive information about the nature, scope, and dimensions of this problem by academia, government, and nongovernment organisations.
Violence against women in South Africa is currently reported using either police reports or victimisation surveys.
Preventing and reducing levels of violence has been placed on the national transformation agenda as one of the country’s priorities. Legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act was formulated to curb the scourge. The Act protects women from domestic violence by providing accessible legal instruments aiming to prevent further incidents of abuse within domestic relationships.
The data for women aged 18 and older shows that one in five (21%) partnered women has experienced physical violence by a partner, and 8% had experienced physical violence in the 12 months prior to the survey.
Younger women were more likely to report physical violence in the 12 months before the survey than older women; for example, 10% of women age 18-24 experienced physical violence from a partner in the past 12 months compared with 2% of women age 65 and older.
Women who are divorced or separated were more likely than other women to have ever experienced physical violence (40% versus 14%-31%). Experience of partner violence varies by province, ranging from a low of 14% in KwaZulu-Natal to high of 32% in the Eastern Cape.
Further data shows that 6% of women aged 18 years and older have experienced sexual violence by any partner, and 2% experienced such violence over the 12 months before the survey.
The experience of sexual violence by any partner and experienced in the past 12 months was comparable between women living in urban areas and non-urban areas.
However, variability was observed by province; in the past 12 months, intimate partner sexual violence was most common among women living in North West province (5%) and least common in Western Cape and Limpopo (1% each).
Experience of sexual violence by any partner was highest among women who are divorced or separated, followed by those who are living together with their partner but are not married.
Sixteen percent of divorced or separated women had experienced sexual violence by a partner, and 4% had experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months; 10% of women who were living together had experienced sexual violence by a partner, and 5% had experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months.
These figures are important because sexual violence and physical violence by a partner can very easily become intimate femicide.
Unattended domestic violence often results in a tragic domestic homicide – something that could have been stopped.
The costs are dire for their immediate families and children. Some of these children, who may have witnessed their fathers abusing or killing their mothers, are likely to also become violent later in life.
We have many survivors of domestic violence. For instance, musician and actress Marah Louw has spoken of the loss of a close family member who passed away after being set alight by her boyfriend.
And she talks, in her autobiography, about how she herself survived abuse. She recently appeared on DJ Sbu's show and said -
"There was a time he bashed my head into the taxi window….
He owned spears and one day he chased after me with one and I ran into his mother's room where his sister slept…. Maybe if I didn't do that, I would have died."
Men very often don’t understand the full and devastating effect violence has on women and children.
No child should ever have to witness violence in the home.
That’s also why the way we raise our children, in particular our boy children, is extremely important.
Researchers on the topic have shown that the issue of gender-based violence is very often social in nature. In other words, it pertains to social issues such as the early socialisation of young boys.
Other factors which play a role are poverty and unemployment, which can be detrimental to the self-image of men, with poor self-image then leading men to take out their anger and frustration on women.
And patriarchy and sexism play an undeniable role too.
A lot of debate has taken place as to whether or not all men are trash.
I personally, am of the view, that the hashtag #MenAreTrash is a good thing as it has generated a lot of much-needed debate and discussion around the topic of domestic violence and partner abuse. A lot has been written about the hashtag and some have expressed strong views in print and social media.
But there is more to the argument as to whether or not we simply agree that all men are trash.
Patriarchy is more than a hashtag.
As Kiri Rupiah, the Mail & Guardian’s social media editor, wrote and I’m quoting,
“Physically assaulting women is not the only form violence can take. Words are just as important an insight into the probability of future physical violence.
Gendered insults … are in our daily lexicon, contributing to the dehumanisation of women. … Because men are the beneficiaries of sexism, they do not experience the often destructive and deadly consequences of insults. But for women those names are a dimly lit alleyway into others negotiating her humanity.
Those cutting words are a cataract that thickens with time; men fail to see women as people deserving of their compassion.”
So what can we do?
We have many initiatives and programmes in existence, like progressive legislation, protection orders that can be issued, the work being done by our Thuthuzela Care Centres, and our Sexual Offences Courts.
We have shelters for women, Khuseleka One Stop Centres, the Department of Social Development’s very successful GBV command call centre and the SAPS’s Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigations Units.
We also have collaboration projects and meetings like we had this past Friday with an NGO called Dads in the Picture which focusses on better parenting and involved fatherhood. We’ve also had a series of Intimate Femicide Dialogues which I thought were very successful.
I also want to repeat what the Minister of Police recently said when he assured South Africans that crimes against vulnerable groups, women and children are a top priority. Domestic violence is not to be treated lightly.
He said that rape, femicide, infanticide and gender based violence will be regarded as a fundamental threat to national security and he has instructed the SAPS to deal with it in that manner as a priority crime.
His message to the police is that -
• No woman must be told to “go fix things at home”.
• No woman must be turned away without a proper investigation.
• Reports and statements must be taken confidentially and in private rooms.
• When a missing person’s report is made, police are expected to immediately conduct scene investigations and follow protocols and standard operating procedures.
These are all endeavours which we, along with all the other role-players in the JCPS cluster, will support and strengthen so that we have a holistic response to domestic violence and intimate femicide.
What we need now, and what I am confident we can achieve through our efforts today, is better coordination between NGOs amongst each other and also between NGOs and government, faith-based organisations, traditional leaders, schools and so forth.
We also need a very specific focus on what we can do to get men to change their mindset and attitudes.
We need to get the message out that women and girls are not the possessions of men.
We need to get the message out that there is no place for jealousy, possessiveness and violence in a relationship.
We need to make sure that women know where to go for help.
And most important, we need more men to rise up to the challenge and tell other men that violence against women – whether physical or emotional – is unacceptable.
It is about becoming role-models and mentors in our families and in our communities and showing children and young people that men can be caring, respectful and compassionate.
It’s about educating our boy children and also our girl children, as former US first lady, Michelle Obama, once remarked -
“I was also fortunate enough to be cherished and encouraged by some strong male role models as well, including my father, my brother, uncles and grandfathers. The men in my life taught me some important things, as well. They taught me about what a respectful relationship should look like between men and women. They taught me about what a strong marriage feels like: that it's built on faith and commitment and an admiration for each other's unique gifts.
They taught me about what it means to be a father and to raise a family. And not only to invest in your own home but to reach out and help raise kids in the broader community.”
I want to wish you all the best for today’s discussions and thank you for your commitment to these processes.
We can make a difference.
We can be the change we want to see in the world.
We can eradicate gender-based violence and intimate femicide.
I thank you