South Africa: Gender Equality On Essential Operations During COVID-19 Lockdown

press release

As per the Government Gazette no. 43146 of 25 March 2020, issued by the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE/Gender Commission) is listed among the institutions that ought to provide essential services during the national lockdown. In light of the gazetted directive, the mandate of the Gender Commission as per the CGE Act 39 of 1996 (the CGE Act) as well as the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) 04 of 2000 will be executed during the national lockdown, amidst a national disaster that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foremost, the Gender Commission wishes to re-iterate that our country (South Africa) is an open democracy, committed to fundamental human rights which include the right to equality and the inherent dignity of the person. Amidst the declared disaster regulations and various government interventions, we ought to observe and defend these rights. The Gender Commission therefore wishes to convey to members of the public and stakeholders alike that the Commission is available to exercise its legislative role (during the lockdown), in the spirit of co-operative governance, firmly established by the Constitution of South Africa.

It is therefore that during the national lockdown, the Gender Commission will be able to carry out its legislative mandate, with reference to the provisions of Section 11 of the CGE Act which gives us (Gender Commission) an obligation to investigate gender related complaints. In the current climate, the Commission declares its resolve and vigilance on immediate issues on but not limited to;

Child maintenance matters, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and gender-based violence (GBV) matters. To this end, any investigation will take a form within the circumstances of any complaint. For instance, an investigation may entail the monitoring of criminal matters such as Gender Based Violence (GBV). In all its investigations, the Gender Commission is required to remain an impartial Constitutional Body.

Handling of complaints with reference to urgent cases related to GBV and femicide, sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence.

Referral of complaints to relevant authorities, as well as working with law enforcement agencies to ensure effective and timely responses to urgent problems.

The CGE Act specifically requires the Gender Commission to act as a catalyst to- monitor and ensure that all stakeholders that are tasked with rendering services, do so without unreasonable delays. It is therefore advised that;

With specific reference to GBV complaints, the Gender Commission does not provide counselling services, places of safety, or open criminal cases on behalf of complainants nor assist complainants during court proceedings. Even though the Gender Commission does not provide these services, referrals will be made to the relevant institutions that offer these. This means that justice should not be denied for South Africans citizens as a result of possible delays within the justice system.

To this end, when a complainant is referred to the Gender Commission, the Commission will be required to work with the South African Police Services (SAPS) and Department of Social Development (DSD) as key stakeholders in the early stages of an investigation.

Where indicated, the Gender Commission will refer to both SAPS (for processing of a criminal case) and the DSD for places of safety and counselling guided by the nature of the complaints received. The referrals to DSD for psychosocial support is crucial as the national lockdown presents a precarious situation for those who may not feel safe in their homes or are experiencing violence, the Gender Commission will refer those who are in distress to facilitate assistance from the relevant institutions.

The Gender Commission will continue with its mandate as per its Legislative Framework to monitor whether organs of the state (mainly but not limited to SAPS and DSD) as well as the private sector render their services in a reasonable manner, free from violation of any human right.

Where challenges arise, the Gender Commission may engage the Accounting Officer of any institution through the powers entrusted upon it in order to ensure that access to justice is realised.

Furthermore, when necessary, the Gender Commission may engage with the National Prosecuting Authority in order ensure among other things that a fair trial is conducted in certain legal matters. In this case, the Gender Commission will conduct a Watching Brief and perform its monitoring function over GBV cases and examine key issues that may be un-procedural, insensitive conduct by presiding officers, secondary victimisation of survivors of GBV and insensitive cross examination processes. Once such aspects are identified and lifted from the justice system, the Gender Commission will engage relevant institutions to hold persons accountable for possible violations of the rights of South African citizens. Violations in this instance are those related to gender issues.

The Gender Commission will continue to play a catalyst function in order to ensure that access to justice for GBV victims and survivors is realised without hinderance during the national lockdown. When access to justice is hindered in Domestic Violence Courts, the Gender Commission may act on behalf of a complainant. This will only happen in instances where the complainant is unable to get assistance from the courts due to the fact that Domestic Violence Courts are designed to assist complainants without the assistance of a legal representative. It is important to note that even though some court cases have been re-scheduled as a result of the lockdown, urgent matters that pertain to domestic violence and GBV will continue to receive attention through the justice system.

The Gender Commission calls on all citizens to follow the advice and guidance from the Department of Health and work together to ensure we reduce transmission of new COVID-19 infections and flatten the curve.

It should be noted that the Gender Commission has a toll-free number (0800 007 709) which members of the public may use for all complaints that are related to our mandate and in line with the contents of this media release.

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