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Parliament, Cape Town - South Africa is a “failing state that is failing our women”.
This was just one of the accusations flung at the government yesterday during a debate in Parliament on International Women’s Day, to be marked on Thursday under the theme “the gender agenda; gaining momentum”.
Against the backdrop of national horror at incidents like the rape and mutilation of Bredasdorp teenager Anene Booysen, opposition MPs said the ANC government had taken “outrageous decisions”, allowed a shortage of crucial rape kits to jeopardise cases and focused instead on “frills” and “nice-to-haves”.
Cope MP Deidre Carter said “shocking events in our country that have reverberated around the world and that have shocked the very core of our nation make it clear that, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we must acknowledge that our state, our government, its executive and its ministries have failed our nation”.
While 144 women reported rape to the police every day, the Medical Research Council had found only one in 25 women raped in Gauteng reported it.
“That means that if the estimated rape of 3 600 women a day is correct, 144 women report it and only 29 (rapists) are convicted out of 3 600,” she said.
She asked whether this could be the result of insensitive questions asked in gathering information, intimidation, the lack of confidence in the police or the low conviction rate.
The DA’s Mike Waters pointed out that while the country “grapples with a rape crisis, the minister of women, children and persons with disabilities is in New York, again”.
He said minister Lulu Xingwana’s “allergy to hard work is well documented: she is hardly in Parliament for key debates, and she cannot spend her budget on items that fulfil her mandate”.
“What she is very good at is spending her money on luxury items like five-star hotels, first-class flights and fancy office furniture,” he said, referring to her department’s high travel costs and reported spending of R2.1m on redecorating its head office.
“We need to reprioritise our spending, forget about the frills and the nice-to-haves, and let us start funding and training on critical legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act. That would be real empowerment of women,” he said.
He quoted reports saying there was a shortage of rape kits for grown women which doctors used to collect evidence from rape victims.
IFP MP Constance Zikalala said for the “gender agenda” to truly gain momentum “we must transform our ideals into commitments and our words into action”.
“We see the ravages of a growing moral decay abounding in our streets. We see brutal and flagrant disrespect and violent behaviour perpetrated against women. We see a breakdown in core family values. We see a dismantling of everything that is good, true and beautiful in our society,” Zikalala said.
She said the government had taken “outrageous decisions” like dismantling the family violence and child protection units and suspending sexual offences courts and then “stood on the sidelines in silence while community based organisations like Rape Crisis struggled to keep their doors open for lack of funding”.
Acting ANC deputy chief whip Mmamoloko Kubayi said studies had shown that increased education and participation of women in the labour force was associated with greater economic development
“Women usually invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities than men,” Kubayi said.
Yet they remained “on the outskirts of the economy”, with only 16 percent of directors in 2011 being women.