What do Political Parties Say About Violence Against Women?

Wednesday, 8 April, 2009 - 12:57

The time of honey coated words is upon us as blue light cavalcades take politicians and their campaigns across the country to woo potential voters. Party manifestos declare commitments to human rights, equality and justice. But the sweet words are most often far removed from the policies and practices of parties themselves and manifestos are generally devoid of detail. A recent forum focusing on what political parties have to say about the problem of violence against women went beyond sweet words and fuzzy manifestos.

The time of honey coated words is upon us as blue light cavalcades take politicians and their campaigns across the country to woo potential voters. Party manifestos declare commitments to human rights, equality and justice. But the sweet words are most often far removed from the policies and practices of parties themselves and manifestos are generally devoid of detail. A forum hosted on 2 April 2009 by Women’sNet, the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre and the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand titled “Elections and Paper Promises: What do Political Parties Say About the Problem of Violence Against Women?” went beyond sweet words and fuzzy manifesto statements.

Representatives from women’s organisations, government and other stakeholders examined how political parties understand and frame gender-based violence in their manifestos. The forum highlighted violence against women as a key concern for women, who make the majority of voters in South Africa and provided an opportunity for participants to understand political parties’ positions and responses to gender-based violence.

Parties represented at the forum, which was attended by approximately 120 people included:

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) - Thembela Papu
African National Congress (ANC) - Premier Edna Molewa
Congress of the People (COPE) - Nolitha Vukuza-Linda
Democratic Alliance (DA) - Janet Semple
Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) - Louwretta Jacobs
Independent Democrats (ID) - Rose Gudlhuza
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) - Sibongile Nkomo
United Democratic Movement (UDM) - Thandi Nontenja
Women Forward (WF) - Nana Ngobesi-Nxumalo

The ANC manifesto emphasises that men and women should be equally involved in the fight patriarchy, which it says lead to gender-based violence. Speaking at the forum the party’s Edna Molewa, who is also the premier of the North West province, cited factors such as cultural backgrounds and practices, economic conditions, social behaviour and social trends, as causes of violence. Molewa argued that the current economic conditions in South Africa contribute towards many inequalities in society.

Taking this argument further, Janet Semple, leader of the DA’s Women’s Network and spokesperson on the status of women, pointed out that growing the economy and the creation of more jobs can go a long way in ending gender based violence. She agreed that patriarchy and poverty contribute to gender-based violence.

The FF Plus called on the ANC to listen to opposition parties, if it is serious about addressing gender-based violence. FF Plus’ Louwretta Jacobs said that in 2006 and in 2007, the party’s Gauteng leader appealed to the ANC to do something to address this problem, but no one listened.

The ACDP favours harsher sentences against the perpetrators. It’s representative at the forum Thembela Papu also called on government to ban pornography. Papu pointed out that the ACDP is against pornography on the grounds that people who watch it, eventually become perpetrators. In addition, she argued that people who watch pornography want to practice what they see.

“We want to foster a culture of real men. Real men do not violate women. Real men do not rape women. Men must be taught to respect us,” she said.

The ID’s Rose Gudlhuza warned against political leaders who use the language that justify men’s actions in relation to gender-based violence. Gudlhuza’s comments might be seen as a reference to the utterances made by the ANC youth league president, Julius Malema, that Khwezi had “nice time” with Zuma.

Malema was quoted by the media as saying that, “When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money.”

The IFP urged NGOs not to remain silent especially at the time when women and children are increasingly becoming victims of this form of violence. “Where are the organisations that lobbied government during apartheid,” asked Sibongile Nkomo.

Nkomo argued that it will be difficult for the country to end gender-based violence if organs of state [from national to local] do not have the capacity to implement the current laws.

Another participant slammed political parties for not doing enough to condemn the continued attacks on women who wear pants, HIV positive women and lesbians. She criticised political parties for only calling people to action, and not doing enough themselves, adding that this attitude would mean that their bodies will continue to be “battleground for men”.

UDM’s Thandi Nontenja proposed that the country should have support units which will deal with cases involving gender-based violence. She stated that for government to succeed in ending gender-based violence, other stakeholders such as churches, community organisations, schools, should be directly involved.

According to a review of party manifestos conducted by TLAC:

“… no party has developed a multi-dimensional response to violence against women, although a few parties are thinking beyond the criminal justice system alone. While almost all parties respond to the legal dimensions of violence in a more or less inadequate fashion, responses to the societal, economic and material dimensions are almost entirely absent. No party recognises the unique circumstances and needs of marginalised groups of women experiencing violence, including sex workers, undocumented female migrants and refugees, women with disabilities or lesbians (to name a few). On the strength of the manifestoes, we can also conclude that attention to the political dimensions of the problem are also under-developed.”

Butjwana Seokoma is the information coordinator at SANGONeT.

Women’sNet has established a “Women and 2009 Elections” section on their website which “will provide information to fill the gap in political debates and dialogue, and a platform for communication and engagement in the lead up to the national elections in 2009.” Click here to find out more.

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