Violence against women 'not a priority for government'

18 May 2015 - 12:15 By Aarti J Narsee
Womans hands clasped in prayer. File photo.
Womans hands clasped in prayer. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Tackling violence against women is not a priority in South Africa.

This is the message that the South African government is sending out, a group of civil society organisations and individuals have said in the wake of the cancellation of the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women's official visit to the country.

UN special rapporteur on violence against woman, Rashida Manjoo, announced last week that she has cancelled her trip to SA because government "repeatedly failed" to confirm a date.

Special rapporteurs can only visit a country by invitation of government.

The cancellation has led civil society organisations to write a letter to the parliamentary portfolio committees on justice, police, social development and women.

The letter, sent out last week, appeals to the committees to urge government departments to facilitate the visit.

It was spearheaded by the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women and the Women's Legal Centre and endorsed by 19 other organisations and individuals.

"The signatories to this letter would like to express our grave concern at this development, and the message it sends about the authenticity of government's commitment to addressing the endemic levels of gender-based violence in South Africa," the letter said.

The letter notes that South Africa has also not submitted reports due to the UN's Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and an overdue report on the Protocol for the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the Rights of Women in Africa.

Sanja Bornman from the Women's Legal Centre said: "We are turning to parliamentary committees as elected officials representing the people of South Africa, that have oversight over the executive, to hold the executive to account. It is not enough to publicly condemn the levels of gender-based violence in South Africa."

Manjoo would provide "great assistance" in critically evaluating SA's efforts about this issue, the letter noted.

Her visit would have created an opportunity for investigation, critical engagement, new recommendations, and possibly support from the international community, said Bornman.

In her statement announcing the cancellation, Manjoo, a South African who is a University of Cape Town public law professor and was previously a commissioner of the Commission for Gender Equality, said that she tried to secure a visit to South Africa since 2012. A visit was originally scheduled for February this year and it was later delayed to May.

"It is unfortunate that I will miss the opportunity to engage with all stakeholders dealing with violence against women in the country," she said.

Bornman said: "By failing to confirm dates for such a visit ... our government is sending a message to us here at home and to the international community that violence against women is not in fact a priority."

The Department for Women had failed to respond to requests for comment.