On the 1st of August 2018 thousands of South African women marched to the Union Buildings, challenging the government to deal more decisively with Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and the femicide epidemic blighting South Africa. While the march resulted in a Presidential Summit and the drafting of a national strategic plan, South African women once again this year found themselves back on the streets raising their voices over the same issues, proving that very little progress has been made in this area. Against the background of significant growth in instances of sexual offences against women, as recently reported by the South African Police Service, there is a lack of urgency in achieving the resolutions made at the summit and prioritising the fight against GBV. In addition to the inadequate commitment to pledges and declarations has been the challenge of weak policy implementation mechanisms as well as insufficient funding for GBV initiatives.
The Presidential National Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Summit, held in November 2018, ended in the adoption of a declaration against GBV. As part of the declaration, a commitment was made to review existing laws and policies relating to GBV to ensure that they are survivor-centred and responsive. In addition to this, a commitment was made to ensure the finalisation of outstanding legislative measures and policies aimed at protecting the rights of women and gender non-conforming persons. The country’s current laws and policies have evidently been insufficient in tackling GBV, making the necessity for stronger policy and judicial interventions quite clear and urgent. Movement in this area, however, has been at a snail’s pace, with recent suggestions, such as the return of the death penalty, failing to provide a meaningful response to what is essentially a systemic issue. Speaking at a Joint Sitting on GBV in Parliament, President Ramaphosa once again expressed government’s intention to make sweeping changes to laws and policies, as well as ensuring harsher minimum sentences. With the proposed changes being part of a wider Emergency Action Plan, one can only hope that the changes are implemented urgently and that the document does not gather dust.
During the Joint Sitting, President Ramaphosa committed to making R1,1 billion available to fund efforts aimed at curbing GBV. Lack of fiscal prioritisation within the government in the fight against GBV has been one of the biggest obstacles in the implementation of an effective strategy. The President has also issued a call for the private sector to pull up its socks in funding initiatives, mirroring a demand made by hundreds of women in a protest outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) earlier this month. While the government has the responsibility of fiscally prioritising GBV-curbing initiatives, the private sector is also faced with the responsibility of playing a greater role. The fight against GBV ought to be a collective societal effort.
A commitment from the summit that has been honoured is the development of a national plan of action against GBV and femicide. While the development of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide is commendable and long overdue, the lack of prioritisation on implementation mechanisms is quite discouraging. One of the country’s biggest challenges in bringing about meaningful change, on all fronts, has been the inability of those in leadership to carry through on promises and commitments. The draft NSP, as it stands, is focused primarily on articulating the prevalence of GBV in South Africa as well as clarifying intervention strategies. These are both necessary steps and form an integral part of any informed intervention programme. Very little effort, however, has been dedicated to clarifying implementation plans – arguably the most important aspect of the NSP given the current state of the country and the urgent need for decisive action. What the strategic plan would most benefit from is a clear articulation of specific tasks to be undertaken, bodies responsible for carrying out these tasks along with clear time frames. Monitoring of progress in the implementation of the NSF should also be clearly outlined – a task given to a national multi-sectoral coordinating body yet to be established.
The GBV crisis, as it stands, does not demand increased declarations of solidarity or calls for constant dialogues resulting in resolutions that are not adequately prioritised. It demands decisive action. While the new commitments made by President Ramaphosa during the Joint Sitting are commendable and quite necessary, the need for urgent action still remains. To deal with the catastrophe, the government needs to move beyond repeatedly defining the issue and ensure that its commitments are honoured, implementation plans are made clear and that initiatives are prioritised fiscally. This can be achieved through the streamlining of commitments and programmes to ensure that responsibilities are clearly delegated to respective bodies, along with effective implementation mechanisms that allow for the tracking of progress. Without a clear and practical strategy, women will once again find themselves back on the streets pleading for action and defending their rights.