The United Nations Special Rapporteur Dubravka Šimonović was in South Africa from December 4 to 11 to gather first-hand information from victims and survivors of violence in the country, where violence against women is prevalent and a woman is killed by her partner every eight hours. Her findings stunned her.
The independent expert said that different forms of manifestation of violence against women and girls take place in the country, including femicides or gender-related killing of women, domestic violence, rapes, gang-rapes which in their most extreme and forms have lethal consequences, among other forms of sexual violence.
“It was reported to me that, mostly in some rural areas, the practice of Ukuthwala continues,” she said. According to her, 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,” Šimonović stressed. Other harmful practices which the expert discovered were going on include virginity testing and accusations of witchcraft.
Ms. Šimonović also cautioned about hearings conducted in a non-victim friendly manner, usually in the presence of perpetrators, and the lack of security of the victim, all of which leads to secondary traumatization. She further lamented that victims’ friendly rooms at police stations, while mandated by the Sexual Offenses Act, are lacking.
She, therefore, urged urgent action to stem the ugly tide. In relation to the high number of femicides, the UN rapporteur encouraged South Africa to establish a “femicide” or “gender-relating killings” watch through which the number of such killings would be released every year, as such data and information about each case is needed to identify any failure of protection 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.
The expert also highlighted gender stereotyping by magistrates leading to leniency towards the perpetrator and stressed the need for gender sensitive education for the 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.
During her eight-day visit, Šimonović met with Government officials at the federal and provincial levels, representatives of civil society organizations, academics, including in the townships of Diepsloot and Khayelitsha. She also visited a women’s prison, met with numerous women’s survivor of gender-based violence.
“I have heard on many occasions that violence against women is normalized in South Africa,” she said.
“The violence inherited from the apartheid still resonate[s] 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. Šimonović added.
Although she acknowledged the presence of laws and policies to deal with gender-based violence, but noted that implementation has been lacking, hence the continued pervasiveness of gender-based violence. She called for change.
The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report with her conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016.