LAW

Triangle Project needs your help in fixing the Civil Union Act

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On 28 April, the window for comments on the Civil Union Amendment Act closes. The amendment act, put forward by COPE’s Deirdre Carter, aims to remove a provision allowing government marriage officers to discriminate against same-sex couples. More info on the bill can be found here.

So far, very few positive submission have been received. It is essential that we support this amendment and fix this broken piece of legislation once and for all.

We need YOU to make a submission.

Here’s a helpful template to write your own, and Triangle’s submission to guide you.

Together, we can make our voices heard!

Thank you,

Triangle Project

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EVENTS, GENDER POLITICS, LAW

Event: Developing Court Models in South Africa

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The Centre for Law and Society (UCT) in partnership with the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign takes great pleasure in inviting you to the panel on Developing Relevant Models for Specialised Sexual Offences Courts in South Africa.
The event will be presented under the CLS Hub, which aims to offer supportive spaces for engaged debates around critical socio-legal issues, and regularly hosts events, targeted at students, activists, academics and legal practitioners, that engage with critical issues in law and society.
The panelists will be Lisa Vetten (WITS City Institute), Aisling Heath (Gender Health and Justice Research Unit, UCT) and Karen Hollely (The Child Witness Institute). They will be presenting a summary of findings from their recent research on the sexual offences courts for an audience in which stakeholders from within the criminal justice system will be invited to play an active role when it comes to question time. The audience will also comprise Western Cape based NGO partners and activists as well as students and academics.
The event details are as follows:
Date: 26 April 2018
Time: 5:30 for 6:00 pm
Venue: Kramer Lecture Theatre 2, Level 2, Wilfred and Jules Kramer Law Building
Register for free and RSVP for catering at pbl-cls@uct.ac.za.
GENDER POLITICS, LAW, Uncategorized

Bad law is dangerous, not sex work

By Jen Thorpe

Today I learnt that the South African Law Reform Commissions (SALRC) is going to publish its report regarding sex work. Late last year, the SALRC and the Deputy Minister of Justice presented in Parliament, after several consecutive Women’s Parliament reports have demanded the decriminalisation of sex work.

This report released today is a result of a process that started 20 years ago. Twenty years ago our law reflected a fledgeling democracy, finding its feet and trying to redress past discrimination. During these twenty years the SALRC research team on the project has changed, and so has our legal framework.

Many laws have been passed advancing human rights, respecting women’s rights to make choices about their bodies and reproduction, and providing for the protection of LGBTIQ+ people.

But, the SALRC report does not reflect these advancements. The presentation in Parliament months ago reflected sexism in the state’s analysis if issues, and cast women as victims. The bottom line is that a law is not going to stop sex work from happening, but a law can decriminalise sex work, making it safer for sex workers to report abuses against them, and safer for sex workers to seek the healthcare they need so that they and their clients can remain healthy.

It was clear at that time that the SALRC was leaning towards remaining with full criminalisation, or partial decriminalisation. This is despite many presentations from sex workers and sex workers organisations saying that the law in its current form:

  • legitimises harassment of sex workers by police,
  • restricts their access to make choices about their careers and bodies,
  • restricts sex workers access to healthcare,
  • makes it more dangerous to practice sex work and thus increases the vulnerability of sex workers to gender based violence, and
  • serves as an arbitrary form of labour discrimination.

Our democracy is supposed to hear the voices of those affected by law, and to take those voices into account when making and amending legislation. Our government claims it wants to protect women from violence, and prevent the norms that encourage violence.

But it appears that the Department of Justice and the SALRC are deaf to the voices of sex workers. It appears that they are fine with the abuses that sex workers continue to endure because of bad law. There seems to be no other explanation for the decision of the SALRC to ignore research that shows the evidence that decriminalisation is the right choice for South Africa.

I support law that protects women and vulnerable groups from abuse, promotes their right to access basic services and human rights. A law that does not advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work does not do this. The duty of our law is to guide us towards the values of the Constitution – respect for dignity, respect for women, respect for LGBTIQ+ people, respect for choice. The duty of our law is not to make judgements about people’s choices, unless those choices cause direct harm to others.

I have explained before that I support sex work decriminalisation in order to respect the right to dignity of sex workers in South Africa. I support it from an informed perspective from sex work led organisations, and also from the evidence of research, and a commitment to human rights.

There is no evidence to suggest that partial criminalisation works. What is known is that it endangers women further by driving sex work underground, enables violence against women and girls and decreased access to health care.

Hundreds of sex workers have died whilst the SALRC and the Department of Justice have taken their time preparing this report. These deaths occur because the law does not protect sex workers.

I along with many organisations and sex workers across the country, call on the Department of Justice to review this decision and to listen to South African sex workers requests for the decriminalisation of sex work.

#decrimsexwork #sexworkiswork

 

 

GENDER POLITICS, LAW

Combine the Chapter 9s? How about some time?

By Jen Thorpe

Yesterday I noticed a call from Parliament’s website to comment on the Feasibility of Establishing a Single Human Rights Body. The call notes that in 2006, Parliament appointed an Ad Hoc Committee to undertake a Review of Chapter Nine and Associated Institutions.

One of the key recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee was the establishment of a “Single Human Rights Body”, amalgamating the following institutions:

  • The National Youth Development Agency,
  • The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities,
  • The Commission for Gender Equality,
  • The Pan South African Language Board, and
  • The South African Human Rights Commission.

The aim of doing this would be to avoid duplicated effort, use resources (human and financial) efficiently, and improve public access by having a coordinated approach. Parliament then invited submissions by the 25th of May 2017, just ten days after the announcement appeared online.

Now, surely the matter of doing away with some of our critical democratic institutions is not a matter to be easily decided. There doesn’t seem to be any merit in rushing a submission or comment on this.

It’s true that the Chapter 9 Institutions have become increasingly weakened over the past decade by poor allocation of financial resources (with the exception of the NYDA that is just rolling in dosh), the requirements of sticking to reporting on international treaties sometimes at the expense of pursuing local interests, the decreasing respect / value accorded to these institutions in political spaces, and the lack of follow up on the recommendations they make.

But, these institutions are Constitutionally created and protected.

The Constitution, Chapter 9, Section 181 (2) provides for the independence and impartiality of of Institutions Strengthening Constitutional Democracy, and states that they must “exercise their powers and perform their functions without fear, favour or prejudice.” Section 181 (3) states that “Other organs of state, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect these institutions to ensure the independence, impartiality, dignity, and effectiveness of these institutions.” Section 181 (4) states that “No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of these institutions.” Finally, Section 181 (5) states that “These institutions are accountable to the National Assembly, and must report on their activities and the performance of their functions to the Assembly at least once a year.”

To me then, this sudden call for a review of the powers functioning of some of these organisations raises a number of questions:

1. Has the State assisted and protected these institutions as it is Constitutionally required to do?

2. When these institutions have reported to the National Assembly annually, has Parliament taken up its own role in making sure that any inefficiencies, duplications, or uncertainties around their functions, are addressed?

3. Given that these institutions play an important role in promoting equality and protecting the human rights of South Africans, particularly vulnerable groups, why is there a ten day deadline in which to comment?

To me, the first and second questions have easy answers – No.  A quick budgetary analysis will show that under-resourcing of these institutions is significant. Each year, for example, the CGE reports to Parliament quarterly through the Portfolio Committee on Women. And each year that Committee reflects on the smaller and smaller budget, and recommends that this is addressed to improve the functions, and each year…nothing happens. So Parliament is failing to ensure that its recommendations to Treasury and to the CGE are enforced.

But the answer to the third question is less clear. Why not allow more time for meaningful engagement both from the Chapter 9s themselves and from civil society? Why try to rush a process that could have significant effects on the lives of South Africans, and that would affect the nature of the Constitution, Section 189? The answer can’t be because a parliamentary report in 2006 recommended it, because there are hundreds of reports that go through Parliament each year that make recommendations and aren’t upheld (cough, cough, um electoral reform?)

There does not seem to be any clear reason for the limited time frame. A more reasonable time frame would be to allow at least one month, ideally two for civil society organisations supporting democracy to prepare their submissions on the matter. Anything less, in my view, casts a question on whether Parliament wants to uphold Section 189 (3) (4) of the Constitution.

If you agree, write to the Office of the Institutions Supporting Democracy, here oisd@parliament.gov.za, asking for an extension to at least mid-July.

CURRENT AFFAIRS, GENDER POLITICS, LAW, SEX AND SEXUALITY

Keeping women “safe” can be dangerous

Joy Watson
Joy Watson

by Joy Watson

 

Rape stats not improving, court stats even worse

The recently released crime statistics indicate a slight drop in the number of reported cases of sexual offences, from 66 387 in 2012/13 to 62 649 in 2013/14. Over the course of the past few years, the trend has been to drop, then increase again and then drop again at different points in time. In 2004/05, for example, there were 69 117 reported cases. By 2007/08, this had dropped to 63 818. In 2008/09, it increased again to 70 514, dropped to 64 514 in 2011/12 and then increased to 66 387 in 2012/13.

The pattern that emerges is not one of a steady decline as a result of a coherent, targeted strategy to eradicate sexual offences. Equally concerning, is the fact a small fraction of the total number of reported cases eventually go to court. In 2007/08, 6.8% of the total number of sexual offences went to court. Of the total number of cases reported to the police, 4.5% resulted in convictions. This improved marginally in 2008/09, when 7.5% of the total cases reported went to court and 5% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. For the next two years, there was no reporting on the related statistics. In 2011/12, there was a marginal improvement with 10.7% of the total number of reported cases going to court and 6.97% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. The subliminal message is abundantly clear – a rapist has to be extremely unlucky to get convicted.

The reasons for the vast majority of sexual offences cases not going to court varies. Some cases are eventually withdrawn by the victim, largely as a result of secondary victimisation in the criminal justice system. In other instances, the National Prosecuting Authority will drop a case if it seems as if though there is not enough evidence to support it. This is a contentious matter as forensic evidence is an important part of deciding whether or not a case can potentially be won in court.  Yet, there are significant delays in securing forensic evidence and even where it is secured, the accused can argue that sex was consensual.

We need new strategies

The fact that there is no coherent, inter-departmental strategy on the part of the state to deal with rape is one of the main reasons why we see no real improvement in addressing the issue of rape.

Much of the state and media discourse in this regard has focused on the notion of protectionism, namely, that women need to be kept safe from harm and navigate their way cautiously in public spaces, particularly at night. Embedded within this narrative of danger is the underlying view that “bad” women ask for trouble, and that women who conform to the tacit rules of how to dress, where to walk, when to be out etc., will be “safe”. Restrictions on women’s mobility are therefore sanctioned by rationalizing that it is in the interest of their safety.

Yet, rape has confounded this myth. Even “good” women who conform to the rules have been raped and the disproportionate focus on the danger to women in public spaces appears to ignore the reality that women seem to face more violence in private rather than public spaces.

Furthermore, the language of protection and safety is couched within a problematic framework of concern for women’s sexual virtue. It obliterates the fact that the everyday acts of violence such as catcalls and comments directed at women on the streets are linked to more brutal forms of violence such as rape. These daily, repetitive acts of intrusion and harassment which women are expected to take in their stride, creates the kind of social context where more brutal forms of harassment can take place.

In the longer term, the better strategy is for women to enhance their claim to public spaces as notions of protectionism and keeping women safe ultimately limit life choices and restrict mobility. This in itself can be seen as a form of violence. In the process of doing this, violence is something that needs to be contended with and addressed at its roots, that of structural social inequity. This will require that we think differently about violence against women – placing it not in opposition to risk and pleasure, but alongside them and understanding what these terms mean in their own right and when connected to each other.