Source: The Department of Correctional Services
Title: SA: Mapisa-Nqakula: Remarks by the Minister of Correctional Services, during the launch of the 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children, Cape Town
Ladies and Gentlemen from the Media
We are indeed grateful that we have this opportunity to participate in this media launch, signaling the start in earnest of this year's campaign for the 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children. For us as the Department of Correctional Services, the issue of the abuse of women has considerable bearing on our work, both in the case of our female officers as well as women and children who are incarcerated in our facilities.
The past decade has seen a significant increase in the number of women incarcerated within our system of corrections. Currently women represent about 2% of our offender population in both the sentenced and remand detention categories.
For us within the system of Corrections, and the criminal justice system as a whole, this increase has meant that we need to think seriously about the issues affecting women who are in conflict with the law.
Independent research has shown that a growing number of women in our correctional centres are either convicted for economic crimes or for violent crimes such as murder. Both these categories of crime, can be directly attributed to the standing of women in society and the difficult choices they have had to make to survive - choices that unfortunately may have landed them into criminality.
As part of our activities during the 16 Days campaign, we commissioned the SABC, through the Special Assignment, to do a human interest series about women who find themselves in conflict with the law as a direct result of having been in abusive relationships or marriages.
A 2005 research by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation acknowledges the complex and dire situation that faces women who murder their spouses as a direct consequence of suffering abuse. This research observes that:
"Domestic homicides committed by women tend to be defensive and victim-precipitated. Typically, battered women who kill do so in response to an attack or following a threat from the abuser to harm another, usually a child. Some kill whilst the abuser sleeps after an attack, convinced that it will continue when he awakens. They kill because they feel there is simply no other way out. After previous failed attempts, they lose hope of escaping. The violence, tension and fear reach a point where death seems inevitable: a choice between suicide and homicide."
Research further indicates, that the majority of these spousal killings take place in instances where such women have been subjected to a long history of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and financial abuse as opposed to isolated instances of abuse.
Although we understand that the mere existence of this research does not resolve the legal and political questions about how the law should deal with such cases, we however felt these women and their stories and experiences, can help other women who find themselves in similarly abusive relationships.
What we are focusing on as the Department of Correctional Services, is how the women who are already incarcerated in our facilities could be play a role in educating other women about the dangers of remaining in such relationships until they are forced to take the law into their own hands.
The message that we need to be sending jointly, not only as government departments, but society as a whole, is "Don't wait until it is too late". It is better to leave an abusive relationship or marriage than to stay until you are killed or you kill you kill your partner and end up in prison.
The first segment of the Special Assignment Program will be aired today.
We also remain concerned about the general conditions under which all women are incarcerated in our facilities. The Ministerial Task Team that has been auditing various categories of offenders and their conditions in our centres has just completed its visits to all of our facilities and will give us a final report at the end of December. However, the various preliminary reports that we receive on a monthly basis indicate that a lot has to be done to improve the conditions under which women in particular are incarcerated in or facilities.
Our facilities remain both structurally and systematically unsuited for the specific needs of women. They were never designed with the incarceration of women in mind and this needs to be addressed. Our current new generation facilities in Kimberly as well as the two PPP model facilities are populated with men while women remain in old dilapidated facilities, at times with very little service.
We have decided therefore that dedicated facilities that cater for women should be created in the current facilities and that any new facilities that are constructed should include such dedicated sections catering for women offenders.
We will be increasing awareness amongst both our officials and offenders about gender violence. Many of our female officials continue to work under dangerous and intimidating conditions, sometimes subjected to levels of abuse similar to those that happen in domestic violence cases. This has been the case with women in all sections of the department, including medical staff, and correctional officers in our centres.
The continued domination of women within the workplace has, at times, resulted in women being threatened with violence, and this is a problem we have to confront head on.
The Criminal Justice System needs to do more to protect women and to deal with all social and political issues affecting women living in abusive conditions. Failure to do so, makes the system an equal perpetrator of injustice.
The continued treatment of abuse cases as private matters that the state cannot intervene in, is not only grossly unfair to women, but against the spirit and letter of our law.
This cluster will continue to work with other social partners to ensure that as society, we find lasting solutions to this problem of the domination of women, the oldest and most widespread form of oppression globally.
We will need to ensure that those systematic and institutional arrangements perpetuating women oppression are removed. We will have to further accelerate our programs aimed at ensuring that women have equal access to education, opportunities and resources in order to ensure empowerment and contribution by women in the development of our country.
We believe that structural, social and cultural changes need to happen in order for there to be improved justice in relation to issues of gender and crime.