Women’s Month: A Sham

It’s an annual play and we have all seen it before….

Every year in South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Month to commemorate the thousands of women who fought so bravely for equality during apartheid.

But it has become a month of lip service. Government departments praise their programs to end the scourge of gender based violence and spew dialogue about the initiatives that exist which put the needs of South African women first.

But let’s look at a more accurate test. The importance placed on women’s rights can be measured when a political figure is involved in the act of violating women. Enter, former deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana.

Mduduzi Manana

Former deputy Higher Education Minister, Mduduzi Manana. CC Image courtesy of Agência Brasil Fotografias on Flickr. 

For most of this month, South Africans have been consumed with the story of Manana, after a video was released on social media, showing him beating a young woman as the men around him watched this. He later, in an audio clip, admits he slapped this woman. The media feasts on this story and it makes headlines everywhere.

And then came the grand moment when the ANC Women’s League had the stage to condemn this violence and represent the voice of all women in the country.

And all I can do is sigh as I write this…..

Questions are posed to the ANCWL President,  Bathabile Dlamini, on the Manana incident. An audio interview with the Sunday Times newspaper is published. This is what she says:

“Don’t start from him. If we want to say everyone who occupies a senior position in government we must know his track record because there are people who are worse than him….”

So this makes his actions okay then, because it’s just assault?

“As ANCWL it is our role to fight about issues of gender based violence. I don’t want to be part of those games of saying whether he should resign or not. In other parties there is sexual harassment and it is not treated the way it is treated in the ANC. I refuse that this issue be made a political tool. It is not a political tool….For now we have been saying Umuntu is innocent until proven guilty…”

Dlamini refuses to take a stand on the issue. She has disappointed thousands of South African women yet again. Many of us begin to have flash backs of the Jacob Zuma rape trial and the manner in which Khwezi was vilified.

On the one hand we have Dlamini saying she will not be dragged into this case which directly involves violence against women. On the other hand, you have her preaching that South Africa is ready for a female president as she announces that Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma will be one of the candidates running for the ANC presidency.

In an address where she announced  Dlamini -Zuma as the candidate backed by ANCWL, she says, “We need to be very vigilant…If people respect us, they must stop doing clandestine things during our month. Every year in parliament, we discuss women’s issues during this month….South African is a patriarchal country even the storyline is meant to use us as weapons or objects.”

Now let’s get back to Manana, who resigns from government.

In his carefully crafted PR statement, he apologises for his actions. “There is no excuse in the world that can justify what I have done and as much as I am utterly and completely shameful of the act, it’s not even about me,” he says.

But Manana’s resignation brings no justice for the woman who was slapped or for South African women who are constantly fighting against violence. It is merely an act, which was as a result of mounting public pressure and because of the impact it would have on the ruling party. Ultimately it was about saving face in a country where politics always takes precedence.

For me it’s just another reminder of how little we value women and their rights in our country. There is no political accountability for the actions of elected officials, from Bathabile Dlamini to Mduduzi Manana and many others.

Something else that gives me sleepless nights is the tendency of political heads to show more concern in Women’s Month. Why is it that if something is committed in this month it is made out to be ten times worse? Beating a woman is a horrific and an unjustifiable crime, whether it happens in January or in August. It shouldn’t be happening. Nor should we leave issues of women to be discussed in this month only.

What was once a month of celebrating women, is now a month for opportunists to express outcry and outrage.

I am glad it’s almost over. Because the truth is that once the month is over people go about and continue to violate the rights of women.

 

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TheJusticeLady

TheJusticeLady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.

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Sexuality amongst minors, how young is too young?

Sexuality amongst minors, how young is too young?

By Jen Thorpe

I went to a thrilling dialogue at the Commission for Gender Equality last week. The topic was the ages of consent for sex, in terms of our legislation, and the complications that the current legislation has.

At the moment the law (the Sexual Offences Act) says that if you are sixteen years and older you can consent to sex.  This means that if you are sixteen and older, and having sex with someone 16 years and older, and the sex is consensual, then in terms of our law all is fine and well. It also means that from 16 years and older, if someone has sex with you (including oral sex) without your consent, and you report it they will be charged with rape.

If you are younger than 12 years old (i.e. up to 11 years 11 months and 31 days old) in terms of the law, you are too young to consent to sex, and any person that forces you to have sex with them or to engage in sexual acts is committing rape or sexual assault. This applies even if you have told them that you would like to do this, or agreed to perform the sexual act.  Despite your agreement or willing participation, the law says that you are too young to agree, and so what they are doing is rape. What this also means is that two children who are younger than twelve who have sex with one another are technically breaking the law. However, the Child Justice Act deems these two below the age of criminal capacity, and so alternative justice processes such as diversion programmes must be pursued.

Therefore according to the law, if you’re younger than 12 you can’t say yes, and if you’re 16 and older you can. What about if you’re between 12 and 15 years, 11 months and 31 days? What does the law say about this age group? Well, it’s quite complicated.

If you are between 12 and 15yrs, 11 months and 31 days you are still legally too young to consent to sex, and yet according to research done on children, sexuality is part of normal childhood growth. Indeed most South Africans have their first sexual experience in adolescence. What our law says is that anyone older who has consensual sex, or commits sexual acts, with someone between 12 and 15yrs, 11 months and 31 days is committing statutory rape or statutory sexual assault.  The complexity arises if the two people having sex fall within this age bracket.  Technically they can both be charged with statutory rape or assault, even if they have both consented to sex or the sexual acts (including kissing as defined under our law).  If they are convicted of this crime, then they will never ever be able to work in a position that allows them contact with children.

The legislation as it stands was formulated with the intention of protecting children from sexual predators, however the unintended consequence of this legislation is that it criminalises consensual sexual activity between adolescents. Even more problematic are further clauses in legislation that aim to increase the reporting of the abuse of children.

The Sexual Offences Act says that any person must report knowledge of a sexual offences to the SAPS. The Children’s Act says that certain professionals (specified in the law, social and health care workers for example) must report a reasonable belief to a choice of org from a range of people (DSD, SAPS, Child services). In addition, The Constitution says that all measures in response to child abuse must be performed with the best interest of the child in mind. At the same time we have other legislation that entitles adolescents to termination of pregnancy and condom access, without the health care workers being legally required to tell those seeking access’ parents. It is all a bit murky when it comes to this age group.

It was for this reason that the CGE held the dialogue in the first place. At present the Teddy Bear Clinic and RAPCAN are working with the Centre for Child Law are working on a test case that will attempt to illustrate the legal difficulty with this section of the law. Keep your eyes out in the media for more on this case.