Amid a surge in gender-based violence, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday tried to mobilize the whole society to curb the scourge.
“The struggle to end gender-based violence and femicide succeeds only if society as a whole is mobilized and organized behind a common program of action,” Ramaphosa said in a virtual Q&A session in Parliament.
Despite national efforts to curb gender-based violence in light with the National Strategic Plan which took effect in May this year, the country has to confront the reality that the violence perpetrated by men against women and children has become a national emergency that required urgent and decisive action, the president said.
South Africa has seen a sharp rise in murder cases of women and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the COVID-19 lockdown in late March this year, dozens of women have been murdered, most of them died at the hands of their intimate partners.
This has prompted the government to implement the Emergency Response Action Plan, which was presented to a joint sitting of Parliament in September last year.
While lamenting the surge in gender-based violence, the president hailed the progress in curbing the scourge.
Through the reprioritization of resources, the government has been able to allocate around 1.6 billion rand (about 95 million U.S. dollars) to implement the plan in the remaining months of the financial year, according to Ramaphosa.
“Working with our partners in civil society, we have managed to improve access to justice for victims and survivors and have improved our capacity to investigate and prosecute gender-based violence perpetrators,” said Ramaphosa.
These include the upgrading of 11 sexual offences courts and implementation of a system to track the processing of related cases, he said.
The supply of sexual assault evidence kits, which are now available in all police stations, has been improved, Ramaphosa said.
Three amendment bills intended to strengthen the response of the criminal justice system have been approved by the cabinet and are in the process of being introduced into Parliament, according to the president.
These bills aim to tighten bail conditions for perpetrators of sexual offences, strengthen parole conditions and increase minimum sentences, and ensure more severe consequences for contravening a protection order.
At the same time, a major focus of work has been on changing norms and behaviour through high-level prevention efforts, such as a mass media campaign and engagements with men’s groups, offenders in prison and youth at risk, he said.