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Political parties' plans thin on dealing with rape

By unknown | Apr 16, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Lisa Vetten and Sally Shackleton

Lisa Vetten and Sally Shackleton

Political parties in South Africa lack concrete strategies to deal with violence against women - a problem facing a huge number of their constituents and a significant challenge to the country's development.

This was the message to political party representatives at a debate organised by Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Women's Net and the Political Studies department of Wits University in Johannesburg earlier this month.

The debate challenged political parties to explain to voters ahead of the 22 April elections concrete measures they plan to combat rape and domestic violence.

Community-based prevalence studies suggest that domestic violence affects as many as one in two women in some parts of South Africa.

The South African Police Service report for 1 April 2007 - 31 March 2008 reports that 182588 violent crimes were committed against women. Yet, statistics tell half the story.

One study found that only one in nine women rape survivors report to the police.

Despite flourishing rhetoric, the parties' positions were insubstantial and simplistic, which became apparent once the floor opened for questions.

For example, when answering questions dealing with the hardships that push some women into prostitution, the ACDP proposed the introduction of sewing groups.

The ANC sidestepped reasons for dismantling the specialist Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, while simultaneously pronouncing such crimes a priority.

Both the FF+ and the ACDP favoured reintroducing the death penalty for certain rapes - which drew a mixed response from the audience.

Only the Cope manifesto recognised the need to increase the number of "special care" facilities for women in abusive relationships.

But, during the debate, the UDM committed itself to examining laws concerning property rights preventing evicting abusive men, while the ID committed itself to examining funding service organisations and shelters.

Political parties need to recognise the current failure of the justice system to cope with violence against women.

A random, representative study of 2068 rape cases reported in Gauteng in 2003 found that half of reports led to arrests 50,5percent, but only 42,8percent of suspects appeared in court.

Trials began in fewer than one in five cases and a conviction resulted in just over 1 in 20 cases.

Some convictions were for lesser charges, so only 4,1percent of cases reported resulted in convictions for rape.

With the exception of the IFP, the DA and the ANC, party representatives were largely out of their depth.

No party manifesto adopted a multi-dimensional response to violence against women that went beyond the parameters of the criminal justice system alone.

While almost all parties responded to the legal dimensions of violence in a more or less inadequate fashion, responses to the societal, economic and material dimensions were almost entirely absent from their manifestoes.

Not one party recognised the unique circumstances and needs of marginalised groups.

Considering that the SADC heads of state committed to halving gender violence by 2015 when they signed the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development last August, the lack of national level planning is concerning.

Gender activists are also concerned about what a Jacob Zuma presidency would mean. They argue that the the rape trial and stigmatising treatment of the woman involved undoubtedly further reduced women's confidence in coming forward.

Encouragingly, party representatives proposed regular debates.

But whether this is anything more than a promise made in the heat of electioneering remains to be seen.

l Lisa Vetten is a researcher at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women. Sally Shackleton is an executive director at Women's Net.


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