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On the final day of their seven-day participation at the 62nd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Parliament’s delegation attended a discussion on “empowering women living in rural villages as key to achieving gender equality”.
The CSW is the largest world gathering on gender equality and several non-governmental organisations also attend and hold dialogues on the sidelines of the main event. The discussion on empowering women living in rural villages was one of these. It was organised by Ilitha Labantu, a leading South African non-governmental organisation, which campaigns to end violence – particularly domestic violence - against women and children, and drew several international CSW participants.
Delegation leader, National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Chairperson, Ms Thandi Modise also met UN Women Executive Director Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
In her contribution to the discussion, Ms Modise stressed that violence against women and girls was one of the most widespread worldwide forms of abuse. “The World Health Organisation estimates that one in three women worldwide will experience either physical or sexual violence in her lifetime before the age of 15. In fact, for many women their first sexual encounter will be a forced one. This is scary,” she said.
Ms Modise reminded delegates that globally, the number of women murdered by their partners was continuing to rise and currently had increased to 55 percent. Violence against women, she said, took many forms, ranging from psychological abuse to rape. “Current understanding suggests that women’s experiences of violence are associated with an array of complex individual, family and societal influences. Cultural values and beliefs are possible contributors to violence against women. Factors, such as, masculinity being associated with dominance, male entitlement and ‘ownership’ of women and approval of chastisement of women are some of the practices putting women at risk,” she said.
Ms Modise said that, while South Africa has laws that protect women and crimes against women and children were being prosecuted, we still had a long way to go. “Much has been said about the practice of ukuthwala and its effects on the girl child. Similar customs of ‘bridal abduction’ exist elsewhere, most notably in Kyrgyzstan, where it is known as ala kachuu. These practices tend to perpetuate a form of gender-based violence and entrench patriarchal power.
We have seen the law taking its course with a perpetrator convicted in the first ukuthwala case in the Western Cape in 2015 and sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment. It’s baby steps but we will get there. Our rich cultural diversity is acknowledged and considered in Sections 30 and 31 of the South African Constitution of 1996 with certain provisions suggesting that customary law should be accommodated in South African law, that the specific rules or provisions are not in conflict with the Constitution. We must distinguish between ukuthwala in its traditional form and the harmful and somewhat distorted practice currently occurring. We know that ukuthwala is an old custom that is now being wrongly practised or hijacked by sexual predators.”
As the South African Parliament’s delegates ended their participation at the CSW, they remained optimistic that Parliaments worldwide would implement the issues raised and agreed to speed up gender equality.
The parliamentary delegation, led by Ms Modise, included NCOP House Chairperson Ms Masefako Dikgale, Ms Nthabiseng Khunou, Ms Grace Tseke, Ms Denise Robinson and Ms Delisile Ngwenya. The delegation was part of the South Africa country delegation to the CSW Session and also took part in a number of roundtables and bilateral meetings with fellow parliamentarians.
Issued by Parliament of the Republic of South Africa