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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action
from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived
document may not work.
South Africa: Violence against Women
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South Africa: Violence against Women
Date distributed (ymd): 951124
Human Rights Watch
485 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10017-6104
1522 K Street, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20005
TITLE: Violence Against Women in South Africa
FOR RELEASE November 24, 1995
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FINDS MIXED GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO HIGH
RATES OF RAPE AND DOMESTIC ABUSE OF WOMEN IN SOUTH AFRICA
In Violence Against Women in South Africa, released on the
eve of the international "Day of No Violence Against Women,"
Human Rights Watch denounces widespread violence against
women in South Africa and calls on the new government to
significantly step up its response to this endemic problem.
South African women's organizations estimate that perhaps as
many as one in three South African women will be raped and
one in six South African women is in an abusive domestic
relationship, yet the government routinely fails to
investigate, prosecute and punish such violence.
"South African women are not safe in their homes, their
places of work or in the streets," notes Dorothy Q. Thomas,
Director of the Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project.
"Women across the political and racial spectrum condemn the
pervasive nature of domestic violence and rape which often
occur in places where they should be safe and by men they
Women who seek redress for abuse often face police officers
who are indifferent or hostile; medical examiners who are
ill-trained and inaccessible; prosecutors who are
inexperienced and, at times, biased; and judges who doubt
women's credibility as survivors of or witnesses to violence
and therefore hand down lenient sentences to those convicted
of abuse. A dearth of legal and social support services
further exacerbates the effects of violence against South
There are a handful of encouraging government initiatives to
reform the criminal justice system and improve the state's
response to violence against women, including a specialized
sex offenses court and rape reporting centers in some local
police stations. However, the positive effect of these
efforts is undercut by the lack of a coordinated national
strategy to address violence against women and to ensure
that policy changes are implemented throughout the criminal
justice, health and welfare systems.
Human Rights Watch calls on the government of South Africa
to take up the challenge of establishing a coordinated
national strategy to address violence against women. No
progress can be made toward establishing the type of society
the liberation movements pledged to create without
addressing the violence suffered by women the majority of
the population on a daily basis. Human Rights Watch calls
on the government of South Africa to:
-- reform its domestic violence and rape laws to provide
better protection against such abuse
-- train police and judicial authorities to respond fairly
and in a timely manner to crimes of violence against women
-- ratify expeditiously the Convention on the Elimination
of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
-- guarantee South African women equal protection of the
Copies of the 132-page report are available from the
Publications Department, Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth
Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104 for $12 for domestic
shipping and $15 international shipping.
Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization
established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of
internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the
Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of
the Helsinki accords. It is supported by contributions from
private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts
no government funds, directly or indirectly. The staff
includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Cynthia Brown,
program director; Holly J. Burkhalter, advocacy director;
Robert Kimzey, publications director; Jeri Laber, special
advisor; Gara LaMarche, associate director; Lotte Leicht,
Brussels office director; Juan Mendez, general counsel;
Susan Osnos, communications director; Jemera Rone, counsel;
Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative; and
Derrick Wong, finance and administration director. Robert
L. Bernstein is the chair of the board and Adrian W. DeWind
is vice chair.
Its Africa division was established in 1988 to monitor and
promote the observance of internationally recognized human
rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Janet Fleischman is the
Washington director; Alex Vines is the research associate;
Kimberly Mazyck is the associate; Alison DesForges, Bronwen
Manby, Binaifer Nowrojee and Michele Wagner are consultants.
William Carmichael is the chair of the advisory committee
and Alice Brown is the vice chair. Its Women's Rights
Project was established in 1990 to monitor violence against
women and gender discrimination throughout the world.
Dorothy Q. Thomas is the director; Regan Ralph is the staff
attorney; LaShawn Jefferson is the research associate; Robin
Levi is the Orville Schell fellow; Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio is
the Women's Law and Public Policy Fellow; Binaifer Nowrojee
is the consultant; and Evelyn Miah and Kerry McArthur are
the associates. Kathleen Peratis is chair of the advisory
This material is being reposted for wider distribution
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's
primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the
United States around African issues and the U.S. role
in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible
policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a
wide range of groups and individuals. APIC is
affiliated with the Washington Office on Africa (WOA),
a not-for-profit church, trade union and civil rights
group supported organization that works with Congress
on Africa-related legislation.