Know your rights – use the law to save a life
- Meokgo Matuba
- 08 Dec 2017 01:18 (South Africa)
How many of us really know the law and understand our rights? We live in a country where inequality has been cited by the South African Human Rights Commission as “one of the rights most violated in South Africa”.
To bridge the gap and to get more people clued up and aware of their rights, the commission visits communities in rural areas.
One thing that they have learned from these excursions is that people do not understand their right to dignity.
“The right to dignity is one of the top two rights in terms of our Bill of Rights and people do not even understand that as human beings in this country, we have a right to be treated with dignity, which is why it is an offence to human rights to be treated in a way that people were treated under apartheid. So, the recognition of dignity as a fundamental human right is very, very significant because it acknowledges our past and the fact that apartheid was not just a political system, or an economic system. But it was also a social system in which people's dignity was impugned with regularity and that was protected by the law. People could do that to certain sectors of the society and they were protected by the law,” said the commission earlier this year.
Whether it is someone who calls you the k-word or you are an abused woman – we don’t really know what we can do or what access we have in terms of recourse, rehabilitation and counselling.
South Africans’ right to dignity is impugned every single day. Violence is a way of life in the republic and levels of abuse and death remain unacceptably and horrifyingly high.
Statistics show that, on average, three women and one child are shot dead in South Africa every day.
One of the biggest threats, if not the biggest threat facing especially women is her partner with a legal gun.
What most people don’t get is that South Africa’s Firearms Control Act (2000) and Domestic Violence Act (1998) give the police and the courts the power to remove guns from abusive and negligent gun owners.
The act also makes provision which prohibits gun ownership by violent and reckless individuals.
Other than gun violence, the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey, conducted by Stats SA in partnership with the South African Medical Research Council, released a report in May reflecting the extent of reported cases of women abuse and sexual violence:
- 21% of women over the age of 18 reported that they had experienced violence at the hands of a partner;
- 8% of these women reported that they had experienced such violence during the past 12 months of taking the survey;
- The Eastern Cape has the highest rate of physical abuse 32%women reporting physical abuse;
- KwaZulu-Natal has the lowest rate of physical abuse (with 14% of women reporting physical abuse); and
- Other figures are: The North West (29,4%); Mpumalanga (26,4%); Free State (21,4%); Western Cape (21,2%) and the Northern Cape (18,7%).
The International 16 Days of Activism campaign which runs from November 25 and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day, is an ideal platform to run an education campaign around the previously mentioned acts.
Gun Free South Africa, for example, have indicated that it is using this year’s 16 Days of Activism to “empower women in abusive relationships to use the law to have guns taken away from their abusers. Friends and relatives of women and children experiencing abuse can also use the law to save a life”.
They have to be commended for this drive, but legislation needs effective policing and for the courts to send a clear message to those who commit acts of violence against women and children.
In speaking about this year’s campaign, UN Women says that violence not only has negative consequences for those who suffer it, but also their families, the community and society at large, and it comes at a high economic cost for society.
“But it is not inevitable—violence against women and girls can be ended with a comprehensive approach that includes the passing and implementation of laws to protect women and girls and boosting efforts to prosecute offenders; prevention that starts at an early age to instil a culture of zero tolerance toward violence; and comprehensive services accessible to all survivors, including medical and psychological support, housing, legal advice, etc…”
It doesn’t need much to lend your help in the fight against this societal malaise: let your voice be heard; speak up and stand up for someone; offer support to victims and help where you can to point out people’s rights.
And while we are being called on to wear ribbons of different hues to show our support and there will no doubt be many reminders of what it is we need to do, we, as a society, as a whole need to care more about each other and take a minute to think of those who may need us. That minute may just change or save someone’s life.
Let us also educate ourselves and each other about our rights and our right to dignity. DM
Meokgo Mutaba is Secretary General of the ANC Women’s League
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