Image: Internet / President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced an emergency plan to deal with the violence against women and children in the country.
Addressing a Joint Sitting of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces on Wednesday, the President said the plan strengthens existing measures and introduces new interventions in five principal areas.
These areas include how to prevent gender-based violence; strengthening the criminal justice system, as well as steps that need to be taken to enhance the legal and policy framework.
Other areas focus on what can be done to ensure adequate care, support and healing for victims of violence, and measures to improve the economic power of women in South Africa.
“This emergency action plan will be driven by an Interim Steering Committee located in the Presidency and co-chaired by government and civil society organisations.
“The Steering Committee will coordinate rapid response at national level. The plan will be implemented over the next six months,” the President said.
He called for the Joint Sitting to focus the attention of elected public representatives and the nation at large on the crisis of gender-based violence and femicide.
“To enhance the safety of women. we are going to, as a matter of urgency, make the necessary amendments to our laws and policies to ensure that perpetrators of gender-based violence are brought to book. We will make substantial additional funding available for a comprehensive package of interventions to make an immediate and lasting difference.
“Cabinet has resolved to direct R1.1 billion in additional funding in this financial year to the comprehensive response to gender-based violence. It is the government’s intention that the funds appropriated for this programme will be raised from within the current budget allocation and will not require additional borrowing,” the President said.
The government will launch a mass media campaign that will target communities, public spaces, workplaces, campuses and schools, as well as recreational spaces like taverns.
“As part of this campaign, we are going to provide gender sensitivity training to law-enforcement officials, prosecutors, magistrates and policymakers – and ensure that those who are found in breach of their responsibilities in this regard are held to account.
“We will undertake a mass mobilisation programme to train and deploy prevention activists to all of our 278 municipalities,” the President said.
The campaign will focus on men’s groups and formations, at-risk youth and offenders inside prisons.
This will be matched with prevention education in schools. Women’s rights and gender power relations will be part of Life Orientation in the school curriculum.
Strengthening the criminal justice system
The government will direct resources to improve the functioning of Sexual Offences Courts, Thuthuzela Care Centres, and the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Investigation Units of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
“Funding has already been approved for the establishment of an additional 11 Sexual Offences courts over the next financial year,” the President said.
The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development is already working on measures to clear the backlog of criminal cases for rape and other forms of gender-based violence.
These measures include the establishment of special courts, hiring additional court staff and clearing the backlog at forensic labs.
Enhancing the legal and policy framework
In a move to strengthen the response of the State to gender-based violence, the government will propose a range of legal and regulatory reforms in Parliament.
“We will propose to Parliament the necessary legislative changes to ensure that all crimes against women and children attract harsher minimum sentences.
“We need to engage with the Judiciary on the role it can play in supporting the national effort to end gender-based violence,” the President said.
He affirmed the position that the State should oppose bail for suspects charged with the rape and murder of women and children.
“Those who are found guilty of such crimes should not be eligible for parole. A life sentence must mean just that – life in prison. We are also going to give urgent attention to strengthening programmes to rehabilitate offenders and youth at risk,” he said.
The President also emphasised the importance of finalising legislation such as the Victim Support Services Bill. The bill will strengthen the support of GBV programmes and services.
“We call on all Parliamentary committees to prioritise these areas of legislative reform and ensure that we have effective legislation in place without delay,” the President said.
Care, support and healing for victims of violence
Government has committed to standardising the framework for funding civil society organisations working with survivors of gender-based violence.
“Through our Emergency Action Plan, we will provide post-rape training for health care providers and lay counsellors, who provide care and support to victims and survivors.
“We will work with the private sector, concerned individuals and other institutions to substantially increase the number of Thuthuzela Care Centres across the country from the current 54 to over 100 by 2025,” the President said.
The Department of Social Development has been tasked with increasing the visibility of substance abuse awareness and education, and prioritising funding for more treatment facilities.
In addition, the government will resource the gender-based violence framework in universities and colleges, which will include the establishment of gender equity offices in these institutions.
The President will meet with the vice-chancellors of universities to discuss what can be done at institutions of higher learning to address the challenge of violence against women.
Improving the economic power of women
The government will continue to prioritise women when it comes to access to employment, training opportunities and procurement of services.
“By tackling unequal economic power dynamics, we can reduce the vulnerability of women to abuse. Government is committed to reaching its target to set aside 30% of the value of its procurement for women-owned businesses, and to progressively increase that to 40%,” Ramaphosa said.
All government departments will be expected to adhere to gender-responsive planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation.
“We are also going to improve collection and analysis of data to monitor our GBV programmes. As part of this, a national gender-based violence prevalence study will be commissioned in the general population, as well as a specific survey to monitor gender-based violence in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex+ (LGBTQI+) community,” the President said.