The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women and in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities.

During the Commission’s annual two-week session, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organisations and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York. They discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women. Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields. 

Methods of Work

The Commission adopts multi-year work programmes to appraise progress and make further recommendations to accelerate the implementation of the Platform for Action. These recommendations take the form of negotiated agreed conclusions on a priority theme. At each session the Commission:

  • Engages in general discussion on the status of gender equality, identifying goals attained, achievements, gaps and challenges in relation to implementation of key commitments;
  • Focuses on one priority theme, based on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly;
  • Holds a high-level roundtable to exchange experiences, lessons learned and good practices on the priority theme;
  • Evaluates progress in implementing agreed conclusions from previous sessions as a review theme;
  • Convenes interactive panel discussions on steps and initiatives to accelerate implementation, and measures to build capacities for mainstreaming gender equality across policies and programmes;
  • Addresses emerging issues that affect gender equality;
  • Considers in closed meeting the report of its Working Group on Communications;
  • Agrees on further actions for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women by adopting agreed conclusions and resolutions;
  • Contributes gender perspectives to the work of other intergovernmental bodies and processes; and
  • Celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March, when it falls within its session.

#CSW63

The sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women is currently taking place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York until 22 March 2019. Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from all regions of the world are expected to attend the session.

This year the priority theme is “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”.

When infrastructure, public services and social protections are lacking, women and girls are often the ones that feel the greatest impact. Their needs must be factored in when policies are designed. Their voices must shape the decisions that affect their lives.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we are interested in the South African government’s promise to roll out specialised sexual offences courts across the country so that all rape survivors have access to the support they need, when they testify against rapists in court. The infrastructure required in these courts can be extensive and include separate entrances, waiting rooms and bathroom facilities for survivors so that they do not interact with the accused rapist and become distressed before they even enter the court room. It also includes Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in court rooms together with a separate intermediary room from which vulnerable rape survivors such as children, survivors suffering extreme trauma and survivors with mental disabilities can testify. Private consulting rooms for rape survivors to meet with a court supporter before they testify must also form part of this court layout. Many courts will need rebuilding to accommodate this kind of infrastructure. Our Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign (RSJC) is designed to make sure our government provides the infrastructure required.

Read our next blog on why CSW63 matters to all of us and join us and share your experiences and ideas about specialised sexual offences courts to make sure that #CSW63 knows and understands this issue. We have put together a social media package to help you.

Social Media Package

  • Check out the RSJC webpage and social media pages on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about this important campaign.
  • Your experiences and ideas matter on social protection, public services and infrastructure. Tell the world how you want to make a difference using #CSW63. Find our selection of Tweets on sexual offences courts in South Africa below and post them throughout the week.
  • Check out CSW’s Facebook Live broadcasts from United Nations HQ at UN CSW.
  • Head over to see CSW’s Instagram Stories at @unwomen for a behind-the-scenes look and interviews.

Social Media Tools

You can copy and paste this selection of Tweets or Facebook posts in support of improved sexual offences court infrastructure into your Twitter feed this week:

  • Sexual offences courts are important as they are sensitive to the survivor and help to get more convictions and send more rapists to jail. We need the #SouthAfricanGovernment to roll out the necessary infrastructure for these courts now! @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63
  • We advocate for specially trained court supporters to be available to rape survivors when they testify. We need the South African government to provide rooms at courts for court support to take place in private. @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63 @CSW63
  • #SouthAfrica has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. This needs to change! We need a strong criminal justice system with specialised courts. @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63 @RapeCrisis
Written by Kathleen Dey
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Get Involved Now.

A new year always provides the opportunity to take on new challenges. Perhaps you are inspired to be more active in bringing about social change, but don’t know how. Our social media followers often ask us how they can get more involved with the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign (RSJC), so we have drafted an easy step-by-step guide:

Ways to be more politically and socially active

  1. The next time you are with family or friends, instead of letting conversation drift to idle chatter or celebrity gossip, discuss a particular cause that is close to your heart or that you feel strongly about.
  2. Stay focussed on one cause. It is fine to take up many causes, but always recognise your main cause.
  3. Find a political magazine, a local newspaper or an online blog and write for them on issues relating to your cause.
  4. Organize a group of four or five people and attend protests together.
  5. Talk to people that are different from you as a way to challenge stereotypes.

(Most of these ideas are from The Activist’s Handbook: 1000 Ways to Politically and Socially Activate Your Life)

Ways to support the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign

  1. Join our social media platforms by hitting “Like” on our Facebook Page and following us on Twitter @RSJCampaign.
  2. Share the posts, tweets and articles with your friends on your own social media platforms and tell people why you support this campaign. This way, our message reaches a wider audience.
  3. When we have public protest actions, join us physically or by sharing our message on social media.
  4. Consider donating to the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign to help us continue to do this work.

The RSJC believes that the South African Government should be held accountable for making sure that all survivors of sexual violence have access to a sexual offences court across the country. By supporting us in one or more of the above ways, we can do this together.

The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign

What is the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign?

We believe that rape survivors who are well supported in court make good witnesses. Good witnesses help achieve convictions and stronger sentencing of rapists. High conviction rates and strong sentences send a clear message to society that sexual violence will not be tolerated. These beliefs uphold and defend the right of all people in South Africa to live free from violence and support improved gender equality in our country.

The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign (RSJC) advocates for the planned and funded rollout of sexual offences courts across South Africa by the government.

The RSJC believes that the South African Government should be held accountable for making sure that all survivors of sexual violence have access to a sexual offences court.

Why is the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign important?

South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. We also have high levels of poverty and a very big difference between rich and poor in our country. These factors mean that rape survivors get very different kinds of support after being a victim of a sexual offence, depending on what community they live in and which police station they report the offence to.

We need more support in the criminal justice system so rape survivors will feel comfortable when reporting a crime.

“We need more support in the criminal justice system so rape survivors will feel comfortable when reporting a crime.”

Police do not always investigate a rape case properly. Even if the perpetrator is arrested, when it gets to court the survivor may be too distressed to answer questions from the prosecutor, magistrate, and defence attorneys.

Many victims find it very difficult to tell their story as they would want it heard. This is one of the biggest reasons why very few perpetrators are actually convicted and sentenced in court. Our research has shown that the government has also identified that improvements in the system are needed. In fact, the Department of Justice has promised to establish sexual offences courts across the country. But will the government make a strong enough effort to make this promise a reality?

Without higher conviction rates and stronger sentencing, the number of rape incidents in our country will never be reduced.

What is a sexual offences court?

Sexual offences courts are special court rooms that only deal with sexual offences such as rape. They provide specialised services to rape survivors and other witnesses.

A 2013 report details the Department of Justice’s new model for sexual offences courts, including the need for specialist personnel including specially trained prosecutors, court supporters and magistrates.

The report also notes requirements on the infrastructure of sexual offences court room layouts so that the survivor does not suffer secondary trauma from being in the court building. For example, it can be very traumatic for a survivor to walk past the perpetrator in one of the corridors. A sexual offences court has a special court room with a separate waiting room for witnesses and rape survivors, as well as a special testifying room with CCTV equipment so that children can testify from a separate room and not have to see the perpetrator while they talk about what happened.

Do we have enough specialised sexual offences courts in South Africa currently?

The South African Government has promised to implement sexual offences courts across the country, however; there are currently not enough of these specialised courts to serve the more than 50 000 survivors of rape that come forward to report their cases each year, let alone the many thousands more that do not.

Why these courts are important:

Sexual offences courts are important as they are sensitive to the survivor and help to:

  • make the trauma of a survivor much less.
  • speed up cases so they are completed more quickly.
  • make better court decisions or judgments because the people working in these courts are experts
    who are skilled and experienced.
  • give more people hope that reporting rape will work out well so more rape survivors will report
    their cases to the police.
  • get more convictions and send more perpetrators to jail.

How can I get involved?

You can get updates about everything that is happening in the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign by following the campaign on Facebook at RSJCampaign. You can also find more information on our website: http://www.rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign

Things that you can do to bring about change in your community:

  1. Join us…

Use social media to help us call for the development of sexual offences courts near you, using this information. Share the campaign’s status updates and photos with your friends and followers.

  1. Talk to a group you are part of about advocating for a sexual offences court near you.

This could be a community group, religious group or a group at your work. Tell them about sexual offences courts and the information in this booklet. If they want to join our campaign, let them know how they can learn more about the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign.

Support us

Support the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign today by scanning the SnapScan code and making a donation.

(SnapScan Mobile App is available to download on Google Play and the Apple App Store)

Donate online: https://rapecrisis.org.za/donate/

Find out more on our website: https://rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign/

Follow us on Facebook at RSJCampaign https://www.facebook.com/RSJCampaign/?ref=bookmarks 

Follow us on Twitter at @RSJCampaign https://twitter.com/RSJCampaign 

Call the Rape Crisis hotline 021 447 9762

Important Terms:

Advocacy: A series of actions that are done to work for change.

Criminal Justice System: A set of role players and processes set up by governments to control crime and to punish those who commit crime.

Download the RSJC booklet: https://bit.ly/2CY16Hw

Progress at the Khayelitsha court

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign has been working for almost two years advocating for the establishment of a sexual offences court at the Khayelitsha court. While the advocacy and engagement process is never easy we feel we have made some steady progress in working towards this goal. As we plan our next protest to advocate for sexual offences courts during the 16 Days of Activism campaign we thought we would reflect on just how far we have come since we started this project in 2016.

Early on in the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign we, together with community members, expressed support for the establishment of a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha. During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence in December 2016 we gathered as a community in front of the Khayelitsha court to demand a dedicated sexual offences court be built. At the end of our protest during 16 Days of Activism, we handed over a memorandum to this effect to the Department of Justice.

The current court supporter office is a container, which is located outside of the Khayelitsha court fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2017 the situation at the Khayelitsha court did not change and we realised that we were going to have to gather there again to voice our demands for a sexual offences court. During the course of 2017 we lobbied the Deputy Minister of Justice to accept our memorandum at our gathering in December 2017. Upon receipt of the memorandum, the Deputy Minister expressed his intention to seriously explore the possibilities of establishing a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha.

As a result of our demands the Deputy Minister asked that the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) include Khayelitsha in their study on improved case outcomes in sexual offences. We offered to assist with this, specifically focusing on the fieldwork at Khayelitsha taking place in January 2018. We also placed the issue of the office space currently occupied by our court supporter on the forefront of the agenda as something that should be addressed.

During our fieldwork, we reviewed more than 100 sexual offence court dockets. The outcome of this will be covered in a report that will be released by the GHJRU.

The Deputy Minister of Justice visited the Khayelitsha court again during February 2018, with the specific aim of improving the infrastructure of the courtroom and surrounding facilities that are used to hear sexual offences cases.

We enlisted the help of architect Tiffany Melles, from Michelle Sandilands Architects, who agreed to work pro-bono to design the improvements for the court. We then drafted a report and sent it to the Regional Head of the Department of Justice setting out the background, problem statement and recommendations. Our advocacy coordinator, court support coordinator, architect, Khayelitsha Court Manager, Area Court Manager and Senior Public Prosecutor at Khayelitsha met on 11 May 2018, so that we could discuss the plans and draft the report with them. They were very enthusiastic about the proposed changes. Following this meeting the plans and report were sent to the Regional Head and Deputy Minister.

This is the courtyard of the Khayelitsha court where we propose two new units for the sexual offences court supporters should be placed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we await the plans to be approved and implemented, the Department of Justice has prepared an interim office for the court supporter by partitioning a section of the intermediary room. This was done for safety purposes as the previous court supporter room was outside of the court security fence.

Our court support coordinator and advocacy coordinator have met with the Regional Head (Hishaam Mohamed) and two of his staff who work on court facilities. We convinced them that the mobile units together with the minor capital works proposed in our report and plans will, in fact, provide them with a long-term solution. Once the Regional Head and his team understood the logic of the plans, they seemed enthusiastic about our plans for the court. We want this court model to be the pilot for the country of the use of mobile units. As we stand now the Department is in the process of getting quotes for the ‘building’ works and we are in the process of getting quotes for the mobile units.

We are so pleased to have had such positive engagement with stakeholders as this project has progressed and look forward to working with the Department of Justice to make our vision for this court a reality.

Download our report: Report on Recommended Changes to Khayelitsha Court Supporter Office. 

Take a look at our proposed plans for the Khayelitsha sexual offences court here: RSJC Khayelitsha Sexual Offences Court plans.