Gender activists question whether harsher punishments will solve GBV problem

A trio of bills before Parliament aim to help bring justice to victims and survivors of gender-based violence and femicide.

FILE: Capetonians took to the street to protest against gender-based violence on 4 September 2019. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN

CAPE TOWN - A trio of bills before Parliament aims to help bring justice to victims and survivors of gender-based violence and femicide.

But some organisations and gender activists have raised questions about whether harsher punishments were the way to go.

Two years ago, a national outcry over violence against women saw hundreds of thousands of people put their names to a petition calling for the return of the death penalty in cases of rape and murder.

The protests and the petition showed women’s frustration with spiralling incidents of gender-based violence and femicide and the apparent inability of the police and the criminal justice system to deal with the crisis.

Kayan Leung, policy development and advocacy manager at Sonke Gender Justice, said that the bills before Parliament offered a more victim-centred approach and had good aspects but she said that the general view, that if you put someone in jail for a long time the problem was solved, was incorrect.

"The issue of further imprisonment is really based on the false premise that punishment and control can address the social problems we’re facing, such as poverty, substance dependency, domestic violence and mental health, which are all factors that contribute to gender-based violence.”

Gender activist and researcher at the University of Johannesburg, Lisa Vetten, agreed.

"The massive problem, unfortunately, in that logic is that our conviction rate is lower than 10% so in effect, we’re putting all our resources and all our faith in the endpoint of the system, after somebody has been convicted. And really, what we need to be doing is putting more of our attention into understanding why 90% of cases do not end in a conviction."

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