Legal centre to tackle the state

Advocate Brownwyn Pithey, of the Womens Legal Centres Violence Against Women Programme and director of the Womens Legal Centre, Seehaam Samaai.

The state is failing women who are reporting cases of domestic or sexual violence, says the Women’s Legal Centre, which, together with other civil rights groups, has started a campaign to do something about that.

The centre, along with the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC), People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), Hlanganisa Institute for Development SA (Hlanganisa) and the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), launched the Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women Campaign last month.

Seehaam Samaai, the centre’s director, said women were losing faith in the state’s capacity to protect them.

“We’ve got the best laws, policies but the problem is with implementation. We are saying that there is a failure to act with due diligence on behalf of the state.

“There is a failure on the part of Parliament with regards to oversight and there a failure from the executive to ensure the implementation of various policies,” she said.

The Sea Point resident said the campaign had been collecting statements from women who had reported being victims of violence and who felt the system had failed them, with a view to mounting a legal challenge.

Ms Samaai said the centre took on 2 400 cases last year of women who needed legal advice and advocate Bronwyn Pithey, of the centre’s Violence Against Women programme, said most of those had dealt with domestic violence and maintenance.

“Very often those are interlinked with each other. That’s one of the reasons why women find themselves in situations where they just can’t afford to leave. I think society is very judgemental of those women. We’ve had various government officials imply that strong women leave.”

The centre gives advice to anyone who comes in and refers cases it doesn’t take.

Late last month, the centre weighed in on the resignation of Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mduduzi Manana, after he admitted assaulting two women at a Johannesburg nightclub, saying it wasn’t enough because he had been allowed to stay on as a member of Parliament.

“We were disappointed that he had to resign before he was dismissed as a minister. We don’t think the appropriate conclusion was a resignation and an apology,” Ms Pithey said.

She said it did not set a good example when public figures got away with abusing women.

“That sends a very clear message to women, that depending on who the abuser is, you may or may not get justice. There is inconsistency with application of the law. Why is it in some cases people get arrested and others don’t? When there isn’t the proper application there are no consequences.

“The only way that we can change it is to consistently challenge it. It is sometimes a difficult situation because we know that under-reporting is massive because people don’t know their rights but also because they know they’re not going to get help.

“We have to encourage women to use the system and access services.”