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Discussion Document on Gender Violence Policy

Discussion document on Gender Violence Policy

26 November 1998


This discussion document (which reflects information gathered from various sources) has been prepared to elicit responses, to serve as a basis for discussion, deliberations, debates, to raise public awareness on the subject of gender-related violence. It is hoped that this discussion document will also serve as education material. The document must be viewed as a discussion document and not a policy statement.

This discussion document is issued to provide members and structures of the African National Congress and any other interested persons an opportunity to comment, make suggestions and thus participate in the formulation of the African National Congress Policy on Gender based Violence.

Gender-based violence is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. General Recommendation No. 19 of General Assembly (11th session, 1992), Violence Against Women


Every woman in South Africa, irrespective of her race, class, religion, language or political affiliation has something in common: her fear and risk of being the victim of gender-related violence, Neither social status, economic empowerment nor political affiliation, ensures a women's safety. Violence against women is pervasive, systemic and knows no race, class or culture barriers. It is the one truly non-racial institution in South Africa. Violence against women acts as an instrument of control over women to maintain ,equality, just as Apartheid was used to control Black people.

Facts about violence against women:

  • the home is the most dangerous place for women
  • the perpetrators of gender violence are often known to women and may be their partners, fathers, uncles, employers and acquaintances or they may be total strangers
  • most women remain in abusive relationships due to financial dependence on a partner.


Until recently, violence against women has not been recognised as a human rights issue, Why is this the case?

  • Violence against women is often invisible due to
  • the silence attached to many of the violations, which often happen in private and many victims are reluctant to speak out - a large majority of rape and battery survivors do not report the abuse countries in which gender roles are extremely rigid, such as certain Islamic countries, where women are completely subjugated and also cases of abuse within the family are grossly where these are under-reported.
  • the fact that this violence is often connected to accepted, age old customs, traditions and practices. Condemnation of the violence is then seen as an attack on sacred institutions. For example, many laws which protect families may inadvertently protect abusers but since the family is regarded as the foundation of all civilised society it may be difficult to attack the abuse without simultaneously attacking the institution of the family.
  • the fact that there are few laws which recognise the types of violence women experience. There is no offence of committing domestic violence or femicide.
    These crimes are recorded by police as common assault or murder. These offences are therefore not recorded as offences committed against women, and as a result there are no reliable statistics as the extent and pervasiveness of the problem.
  • there is a general disbelief about the extent and pervasiveness of violence against women: it is often claimed that the statistics are inflated when in fact, any statistics that exist are most likely an under representation of the true numbers of women who are victims.
  • the link between gender violence and gender equality has not been made at an international political level until very recently: Even the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, though it addresses gender inequality broadly, does not deal specifically with violence against women. This shortfall was addressed a later General Recommendation 19 by the Committee on the Elimination of discrimination against women at its 11th session.
  • many types of violence have been unnamed until recently: The terms domestic violence, sexual harassment, date rape have only recently been coined by the violence against women movement to describe women's experiences.
  • women are blamed for the violence: as a result the responsibility for ending violence is deflected from those who abuse to the abused.
  • there is often a hopelessness by those who are aware of the extent of the problem about being able to realistically end violence against women


Violence against women comprises any act of abuse, intended or unintended, of verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual or physical form which results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or deprivation of liberty it includes, but is not limited to:

  • physical, sexual and psychological violence in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and femicide, economic
  • physical, sexual and psychological violence outside the family, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work and in educational institutions, stalking, witch burning, trafficking in women and forced prostitution, jack rolling, certain types of pornography and femicide.
  • any form of violence to women perpetrated or condoned by the State.1
  • controlling behaviour against the women, where such behaviour may cause imminent harm to her safety, health or well-being.


Certain types of violence manifest with the gender bias i.e. the act is perpetrated on the Victim, because she is a woman, The fact of her womanhood target her for gender-specific crimes. According to statistics provided by NICRO, approximately 31 000 interdicts were issued in Western Cope in terms of the Prevention of Family Violence Act for the period December 1993 to November 1997, of which roughly 98% were to women and 2% were to men, clearly indicating that the majority of the victims/survivors are women.

e.g. Two men break into a house with the intention of stealing. They discover a man and his wife in the house. Though they had no intention at the outset to rape, they tie up the man and rape the woman.

Another reason why violence against women is treated as a specific form of violence is that the overwhelming number of rape victims and victims of battery are women and the majority of perpetrators are men, This cannot be legally insignificant.


There is no one isolated factor that is responsible for violence against women. It is rather a cluster of forces operating in our society which gives rise to violence against women, including cultural, economic, political and ideological factors:

Gender roles and stereotyping

Cultural notions of women as the weaker sex, of women as property result in a patriarchal attitude that women are owned by men. This manifests in practices such as the bride being given away by her father to her husband, prices being attached to the virginity of the girls and by the recently abolished marital power in marriages. Women are expected to marry and have children, and this results in a culture of compulsory heterosexuality. Added to this, is the glorification of brutality and male violence in South Africa's macho culture, through aggressive sports, the legacy of the SADF, human rights violations by both left and right wing groups. Society is further brutalised as a whole through racism, poverty and unemployment.

Female dependence and economic disempowerment

The split between the home and the workplace which has traditionally isolated women in their homes and has rendered them part of the unpaid workforce has resulted in a class of unemployed women and has rendered most women financially dependent on their partners. The marrying of daughters into domesticity without any financial career or prospect of independence creates female dependence and helplessness which in turn obstructs a woman's exit from a battering relationship. Girl children have historically had fewer opportunities for education, since most families prioritise the education of sons. As a result, women were more likely to be illiterate than men, Within the workforce, women are paid less than men and are unable as a result to compete with men on an equal basis. Teenage pregnancies, which may be the result of rape, result in many women being unable to complete their education and effectively minimise their tertiary education opportunities and therefore their job opportunities. As a result of political violence and housing shortages., women whose husbands are caught up in the migrant labour system, have been forced to join their husbands in hostels, making it almost impossible for them to leave abusive relationships despite almost intolerable hostel conditions.

The media and a complacent society

A society that turns a blind eye to the media and pornography industry, in which rape and abuse of women is sexualised is endorsing that this violence is normal. In turn, consumers in a capitalist society who continue to buy products that advertise by sexualising abuse of women contribute to the tolerance of a culture in which women are targeted for violence,

The unresponsive legal system

The failure of the legal system to prosecute alleged rapists and batterers and to secure convictions with hefty sentences, sends a powerful message to men that their violence is acceptable, and to women, that their lives and safety are not worthy of protection.

Religion, tradition and culture

Most institutional religions are structured along patriarchal lines, replicating the gender role stereotypes of women as passive homemakers, and men as breadwinners. Some religions even endorse chastisement of a wife who does not know her place. In South Africa, cultural myths combined with lack of education have resulted in the myth that raping a virgin cures HIV,

Alcohol and drugs

Whilst alcohol and drugs do not in and of themselves cause violence, they do play a disinhibiting role with abusive men,

Violence in family of origin

There is a clear link between violence in the family and violence in the family of origin. Children who grow up in abusive families, will often repeat the patterns they learned by either inflicting or becoming victims of violence later on in life, This is why the cycle of violence must be broken,

  • One way of understanding the social context which conduces to abuse of women, is to invert the sexes, and ask: where are men abused? The context in which men got raped is in situations of literal imprisonment. This is the closest equivalent men have to ordinary female experience.
  • The factors that cause the oppression of women through violence, in turn oppress men who are caught up in the some system of gender stereotyping. For this reason rape and battery of men is an invisible feature in South African society, Nations of manhood preclude men from reporting these crimes due to the myth that men do not get raped or battered. However, we know that rape of young boys and men is common.
  • Uncounselled victims of this type of violence are not able to deal with their pain and anger and may, as a result, develop self-destructive or abusive behaviour patterns.


There are certain features of other societies in which rape and domestic violence are less prevalent:

  • economic empowerment of women (especially Scandinavian countries such as Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark)
  • less rigid gender roles (women and men are both breadwinners in families and share household work).


The impact of violence against women in society is devastating, Violence affects every aspect of a woman's life, including how she dresses, whom she associates with, what activities and jobs she undertakes, Women are governed not only by violence, but by constant threat of violence. This fear keeps women oppressed, due to the fact that they constantly take precautions to prevent violence, and in so doing, limit their life choices.

E.g. Refilwe is a 21 year old woman. She passed matric but did not get a university exemption. She wants to find a job, but since she does not have a car or a driver's license, she is forced to find work in town where she must take public transport. Her boyfriend is threatened by the prospect of her earning more money then he does and he does not want her to work. He threatens that he will beat her senseless if he finds out she is working with other men. She is afraid that he will hurt her. Every so often, he sleeps with prostitutes and does not use any protection. She gets a job interview in town, but is afraid to dress too smartly for fear of attracting the attention of the men who travel with her. She ends up wearing a dowdy outfit that makes her look sloppy in the interview and, like she does on public transport, she does not make eye contact with the men who are interviewing her. As a result she does not come across confident in the interview. She does not get the job as a result. A week later, she discovers she has an STD and is four weeks pregnant

Women are unable to achieve equality: Due to the ever present threat of violence, women live on a continuum of violence: either anticipating violence, experiencing violence or recovering from violence, Consequently, women's life choices are limited,. women are afraid to move around the world and to become independent. This fear has a silencing effect on women who are unable to participate as full citizens in society. Until violence against women is eradicated women are not able to realistically exercise free choice (would a woman take a high paying executive job if she was required to work late hours alone in a building at night?) Consequently, it is impossible to achieve other fundamental rights until a woman can function as a free member of society, unafraid for her safety. This effect on women undermines their ability to achieve equality, and is therefore a form of sex discrimination,

Women are unable to negotiate for reproductive health: Many women contract HIV through forced sex, either in the form of rape, gang rape (jackrolling) or marital rape. Though a woman may engage in consensual sex, she may not be able to negotiate for protected sex, This results in many unwanted pregnancies which in turn may lead to abortions, suicides, infanticides, unwanted children, backstreet abortions, and HIV/AIDS,

Children's lives are adversely affected: Many men who abuse their wives, also abuse their children. Many young girls and boys are raped in the family. Children lose parents through domestic violence. Children who witness violence in the home learn this behaviour as normal and may become abusers or victims themselves. The link between abuse of women and child abuse is clear: the reason children are abused is because women are not able to protect them,

There is a direct link between violence and poverty: Block women are disproportionately the victims of economic disempowerment, due to the combined effects of Apartheid and sexism. This means that it is these women who suffer from a lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure sustainable livelihoods, who are likely to experience hunger or malnutrition, limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness, homelessness , unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. Poverty of this kind is also characterised by a lack of participation in decision-making in civil, social and cultural life 2. Homelessness is another factor that is directly linked to violence against women. Homeless women in turn become targets for further acts of violence. Therefore, poverty both exacerbates and causes violence against women.

the economy is adversely affected due to the costs of violence against women

In addition to the social effects of violence against women, this phenomenon has grave economic consequences, Violence against women is costly both to the state as well as the private sector. The following costs are incurred both as direct and indirect results of violence:

  • medical costs: due to injuries sustained as a result of domestic violence, medical care, complications in pregnancy as a result of abuse, HIV infection due to rape, counselling for women who attempt suicide.
  • costs to the justice system: due to investigation of rapes, assaults, suicides and murders of women., costs of days spent in court, divorce cases, costs of keeping men in jail, costs of incarcerating children who have resorted to delinquency due to witnessing violence,. service of official documents
  • costs to the private sector: as a result of traumatised employees who may have been raped or who are being battered (absenteeism from work, lower productivity, lateness for work, poor concentration, leaving early, taking days off, excessive use of medical benefits due to depression.
  • human costs: lost lives, orphans, disabilities, secondary victimisation.


Recently, violence against women has assumed international importance through the Beijing Platform for Action and Declaration, the SADC Declaration on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children and other international instruments. In keeping with international trends, the South African government has mode a number of commitments, both notional and international, in the post four years towards addressing the issue. In many respects, South Africa has held itself out as on example to other countries (including first world countries) in adopting many commitments to eradicate violence against women:

International Commitments

Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, September 1995 which the South African government adopted. The Beijing Platform of Action deals with violence against women as one of many critical areas of concern, It names violence against women as 'an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace.' It highlights c number of actions to be token by governments including the enactment and implementation of effective legislation; the allocation of resources,. the training of low enforcement agents and the formulation of plans of action to eliminate violence against women.

The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) adopted by United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1979: The South African government ratified this international covenant without reservation in December 1995 and submitted its first report to the International Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1997, CEDAW defines discrimination against women in broad terms, and links the issue of gender equality with a number of critical areas of development including political and public life, education, employment, health care, nationality, representation, low, marriage and family life. NGO's submitted a highly critical shadow report which outlined the deficiencies in governmental action on the issue of violence against women,

General Recommendation No. 19 (11th session, 1992): The International Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women defined discrimination against women to include acts of gender-based violence and denounced violence as (in inhibitor to the achievement of gender equality. Poverty and unemployment were identified as factors which force many women into prostitution

Violence against women was also linked to the morbidity, infertility and ill-health of women. Domestic workers, disabled and rural women were highlighted as groups particularly vulnerable to violence and in need of state protection. Measures to combat femicide (the killing of a woman by her intimate male partner) were recommended.

SADC Declaration: Ministers, legislators, government officials and NGO representatives from the SADC region who participated in a meeting in March 1998, Durban adopted a Declaration which recommended the adoption of various measures, including the enactment of adequate laws to both protect victims, especially those vulnerable to violence and to punish offenders, to ensure the eradication of gender bias in the legal system, to ensure that women and children have access to counselling, restitution and reparation; to adopt social, economic, cultural and political measures including measures to ensure the equal representation of women and men in positions of leadership, to ensure adequate legal, educational, health, social welfare, counselling and other services are available; and to ensure research and training are undertaken to both respond to and prevent violence. This Declaration which since been signed by the SADC Heads of State and Government in Mauritius in September 1994 stresses the need for on integrated approach and for adequate resources to be allocated to ensure the implementation and sustainability of the programmes.

National Commitments

The South African constitution: There are a number of sections which are relevant to the protection of women from section 9: the right to equality: section 10: the right to dignity; section 12 the right to freedom and security of the person, especially the right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources. The Constitutional Court has held that equality is the cornerstone of our constitution.

In addition, equality has been interpreted by the Court to have a substantive, rather than a formal meaning3. This may well impose duties on the government to actively ensure women's safety, rather than to refrain from interfering with a women's safety. This may mean that citizens con demand that resources be allocated to shelters, victim empowerment programmes, training of low enforcement agents and other projects aimed at protecting women from violence.

ANC Policy and resolutions on gender violence: At the National ANC Conference in 1998, it was resolved that the ANC would amend its code of conduct to reflect that violence against women and children is a 1 serious crime'; that the code of conduct should clearly define violence against women to include the non-physical effects of violence (emotional and psychological), that the ANC's political education should include compulsory education on violence against women, The ANC also adopted a resolution that men who have interdicts against them for domestic violence, who have been convicted of child abuse or have had their convictions set aside because of technicalities or who have outstanding maintenance claims against them for their children, will not be allowed to stand for or remain in public office in any ANC or government structures, The Conference also resolved to campaign for the review of all lows, customs, traditions and any other discriminatory and oppressive practices which offend the equality clause in the Constitution.

Domestic Violence Act (1998): This Bill adopts on expensive definition of domestic violence as well as a broad contextual understanding of how it arises and its implications for women and children. It imposes many duties on a range of low enforcement agents for ensuring that women con access legal redress. The state is mandated to bear all costs associated with the protection orders.

South African legal system recognised on 1 December 1993 that marital rape is a crime is promulgation of Prevention of Family Violence Act 133 of 1993

The recent striking down of the cautionary rule in rape cases in case of Jackson v State, AD 1998 by the Appellate Division means that many magistrates and judges will need training on how to hear rape cases in the future.

The National Crime Prevention Strategy: This strategy was produced by an interdepartmental team consisting of the Departments of Correctional Services, Defence, Intelligence, Justice, Safety and Security and Welfare in May 1996. Gender inequality, poverty and inadequate support to victims of crime were identified as some of the factors which give rise to crime in South Africa, A Four Pillars Approach was adopted: Pillar 1 is a Criminal Justice Process; Pillar 2 is reducing crime through environmental design, Pillar 3 is public values and education and Pillar 4 is transnational crime. Integration of the criminal justice system (in particular Safety and Security, Correctional Services and Justice) was identified as a priority, as was victim empowerment and support.


Because violence against women is a pervasive and complex phenomenon, no one single approach con remedy the problem. Therefore, a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach is needed which is based on an understanding of oil the factors that contribute to the problem, and which understands that the elimination of violence against requires urgent short term, medium-term and long term strategies. A national strategy on violence against women is needed that not only encompasses legislative innovation, but community-based programmes, research and education aimed at raising public awareness of the issues. In order to find an appropriate strategic programme, it is important to understand that: economic disempowerment and lack of education is at the core of violence against women, that women form more than half the population of the country and are a powerful constituency that there is a need to identify the role of institutions such as the church, the school, the legal system, and marriage in contributing to violence against women. The aim of the programme should be to hold men accountable for violence, and to place women's safety as a priority.


Understanding the Violence
Responding to the violence
Attacking the roots of the violence
  • Document and identify the kind and extent of violence; conditions supporting it; effects on women; what is needed to stop it; appropriate programmatic responses
  • Identify places of risk for women; develop geographic understanding of places where women are likely to be assaulted
  • Offer protection to victims (shelter, crisis intervention etc.)
  • Provide medical, legal and therapeutic assistance
  • Establish support systems
  • Empower women to:
    develop a social analysis of violence; understand the extent/limits of the law
  • Create new options by developing skills (self-confidence, self-defence, employment, political etc.)
  • Organise for political action
and men generally
  • Identify factors which enable men to rape and batter and which support this behaviour
  • Interview rapists and batterers to understand the motivation to these crimes
  • Ensure maximum sentences handed down for offences committed
  • Hold men accountable for violence through educational programmes attached to jail sentences
  • Initiate educational programmes to promote sell respect, mutual respect and non violent strategies for dealing with difficulties
  • Ensure mobilisation of men's groups against gender violence
The Public
  • Identify popular beliefs about causes of gender violence; attitudes of tolerance and acceptance by both men and women
  • Provide information on the prevalence of gender violence in society
  • Supply information on available resources/procedures
  • Make violence a political issue, relevant to all (to ensure that violence against women is not seen as a women's issue but as a developmental issue in which each member of society is implicated)
  • Identify Influential institutions and groups; their mechanisms for affecting social values and attitudes on gender violence;
  • Identify cultural and economic practices that facilitate violence
  • Create joint responsibility amongst government department for solving the problem (including safety & security, justice, education, welfare, housing, labour, health, correctional services, transport etc.)
  • Assist institutions (religious, social etc.) close to victims to provide relevant support
  • Set up structures for state agencies and NGO's to work together to provide adequate services
  • Train medical, legal and other personnel to respond adequately to victim's needs/rights
  • Mandate teamwork amongst state role players and NGO's in apprehending and convicting offenders
  • Cultivate constituencies and allies in key institutions and groups both within ANC and outside
  • Challenge religious, educational and economic authorities to take action
  • Counter negative institutional influences through education, dialogue etc.


Adapted from table 'Seizing the strategic moment' by Margaret A. Schuler


ANC Leadership can

  • refine the ANC's code of conduct to reflect international commitments to uphold the values of gender equality and the eradication of all forms of gender violence and oppression which must be adhered to by all ANC members who hold public office
  • denounce all acts of gender violence committed within society and by its own members
  • ensure that disciplinary action is taken against members of the ANC who abuse wives and ensure that the victim is not blamed
  • condemn customs and traditions which support violence against women
  • ensure adequate allocation of resources to projects which focus on gender violence
  • ensure that violence against women is included in all reports and public statements (main streaming of the issue)
  • support initiatives of NGO's to deal with the problem
  • organise and fund campaigns in schools and children to promote awareness about the issue
  • Specialised Disciplinary committee composed of members, not necessarily from the NEC Members, but knowledgeable on the complexities of gender-related violence
  • the urgent need for the Public Awareness Campaign on Gender-based Violence.

Further Reading

  • Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration: Fourth World conference on Women, United Nations Dept of Public Information
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
  • General Recommendation No. 19 (11th Session, 1992), Violence Against Women
  • SADC Declaration
  • Violence Against Women in South Africa: State response to Domestic Violence and Rape, Human Rights Watch/Africa, 1995
  • Hansard, Violence Against Women and Children, Tuesday 11 March 1997, pg. 482-533
  • Violence Against Women Policy document, Women's Health Project Conference manual, December 1994.
  • Government's CEDAW report submitted to International Committee, 1998
  • Shadow CEDAW report submitted by NGOs to International Committee, 1998
  • The National Crime Prevention Strategy, May 1996
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, It's causes and consequences: A Framework for Model Legislation on Domestic Violence

1. This definition is based on the definition in the Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the South African government at the Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing in 1995.

2. This definition of poverty is taken from the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen.

3. In the cases of President of the Republic of South Africa v Hugo 1997 (6) BCLR 708 CC and the City Council of Pretoria v Walker 1998 (3) BCLR 257 at paragraph 62. Formal equality mandates that everyone should be treated alike, irrespective of his or her starting point is. E.g. All children must do the cross country race . Substantive equality takes into account the different starting points of each person and mandates that in order to treat people equally, different treatment may be needed. E.g. All able-bodied children must do the cross country race, and those who are disabled can be marshals.




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