Women dying with protection orders in their handbags

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Nomsa Dladla and Dudu Muvhali joined a protest to highlight how the justice system is failing rape victims. The writer says any type of abuse is unacceptable. / Elizabeth Sejake
Nomsa Dladla and Dudu Muvhali joined a protest to highlight how the justice system is failing rape victims. The writer says any type of abuse is unacceptable. / Elizabeth Sejake
Image: Elizabeth Sejake

I find New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fascinating, unconventional and an embodiment of servant leadership. She shows us that these are not just empty cliches or sound bites.

The New Zealand government recently promulgated a law that serves domestic violence survivors beyond the normal extent or limits that many governments would go to.

It grants victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave, to allow them to gain a level of stability such as finding new homes to protect themselves and their children.

Very few governments in the world would countenance promulgating such a law, let alone put in resources to assist women in regaining their dignity after leaving abusive partners.

In fact, when there are budgetary cuts, the first place it happens is with budgets that ameliorate women's living conditions.

It is about the bottom line and less about the wellbeing of women - what a shame that women's lives are secondary.

The passing of this law in New Zealand faced fierce opposition from those who said it would disadvantage small and medium businesses because of the time spent away from work.

I can't fathom how the lives of victims are superseded by business interests.

This legislation acknowledges the many facets that form part of a woman's life and get impacted on by the experience of abuse. It takes us into the workplace and humanises the law.

Many women have to brave it out after being beaten or raped and go to work because domestic violence legislation is not specific to the work context.

SA passed the Domestic Violence Act in 1998. The purpose of this act is to "afford the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from domestic abuse the law can provide; and to introduce measures which seek to ensure that the relevant organs of state give full effect to the provisions of this act, and thereby to convey that the state is committed to the elimination of domestic violence".

But what are the lived experiences of women in SA? Women have died with protection orders in their handbags because the police have failed to properly ensure they were protected.

I also know of incidents where a woman would be followed to a place of safety and be killed.

More often than not, the act dismally fails its intended beneficiaries. When you hear a loud cry that asks "what's the usefulness of these laws", these cries exist because women do not feel its use in their everyday lives.

The "maximum protection" part speaks volumes for me because it says we must exhaust all possible avenues in ensuring that victims of domestic violence are provided with holistic support. Like New Zealand has done - when drafting legislation that concerns domestic violence we must be cognisant that the victims are not only wives or partners, they form part of a bigger network.

They are workers, students, business owners and so much more. Comprehensive legislation should be cognisant of this lived reality.

Legislation without structures that support it is not enough. In fact, the majority of the women in the country will tell you that these acts just exist on paper.

I wonder why we are not able to ensure organisations that shelter and offer support get substantive resources for women in those places to regain their dignity and their freedom - meaningfully.

Is it because we are a society obsessed with creating legislation without measuring its actual impact or usefulness, especially for its intended beneficiaries.

The New Zealand way also points us to the importance of political will in bringing women's violence to the centre of how we allocate resources; it is about time that we put our money where our mouth is.

The New Zealand law represents what we should emulate when drafting legislation. By including those directly impacted on by abuse we are on our way to creating substantive change; doing otherwise would be a disservice to domestic violence survivors.

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