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article imagePistorius trial: Gender-based violence South Africa in spotlights Special

By Miriam Mannak     Mar 4, 2014 in World
Cape Town - The trial against paralympian Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his girlfriend, is expected to put violence against women in South Africa back in the spotlight. Stats show that in the Rainbow Nation a woman is killed by her partner every eight hours.
"The trial against Oscar Pistorius will increase local and international awareness around violence against women in South Africa. The question is whether this awareness will translate into action from the government," says Dean Peacock, director of the Sonke Gender Justice, one of South Africa's most prominent gender-rights organisations.
"Every year we hear stories that capture the attention of the public, media and politicians," he continues. "In 2012, we had Anene Booysen, who was left for dead after being gang raped and disemboweled by a group of men. She died later in hospital. We recently had a little girl from Delft who was raped and set alight."
Awareness without action
"In other words, there is no shortage of stories of and attention for violence against women and children," Peacock says. "The response from government however, has been the same every year. Officials show up and make promises, without taking action. The national Council on Gender-Based Violence for instance, hasn't done anything substantial since it was established."
The council was founded in 2012 with the task to lead and implement a 365 Days Plan of Action against gender-based violence and violence against children, which is a high level, multi-sectoral national response to the problem.
"Nothing has happened in the last 18 months. The response against gender-based violence in South Africa is generally inadequate when compared to other issues," Peacock says, adding that the problem should receive the same treatment as for instance HIV. "Ten years ago, no one in South Africa had access to HIV treatment and today 2,5 million people are on antiretroviral drugs that help prolong their lives. That is huge and the government should be applauded for that. Violence against women and children deserves a similar approach, but isn't getting that."
"175 reported rapes per day"
The statistics don't leave anything to the imagination. Last year, 66196 rape cases were reported to the police. Reality is likely to be far worse: only the minority of rapes — one in nine cases — end up in a police file. This makes rape one of the most under-reported crimes in South Africa. In addition, only 7 percent of reported rapes lead to conviction.
"Every day of the trial, 175 women will report being raped to the police," says Peacock. "This is just a fraction of the number of rapes that will actually have taken place."
When it comes to murder, the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) estimates that a South African woman is killed by her intimate partner every eight hours. The organisation estimates that 58 percent of murders against women are committed by the victim's boyfriend or husband. This means that, by the end of the first week of the Pistorius trial, around 21 South African women will have been killed at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands.
This number could be much higher: statistics show that in 20 percent of killings no perpetrator can be identified.
Failing women
This is not a new development. For the past decades, women and children have been in the line of fire. "There is no political commitment to change things. NGOs are on the forefront to help victims, but they are not getting the state funding they need — whilst they are doing the job government is supposed to do," Peacock continues. "Government has the responsibility to meet the needs of victims whilst developing strategies to prevent gender-based violence."
One of the priorities to keep victims safe, says Peacock, is to strengthen the criminal justice system and to ensure that every woman gets the help she needs. "We hear many stories of women who were failed by the system. Many women continue to be harassed, stalked and assaulted by their partner after getting a restraining order against him," Peacock notes.
"Not too long, a woman from the rural part of the Eastern Cape province was killed by her boyfriend on the same day she got a restraining order against him. The suspect stabbed her in public, and was later released on bail, without restrictions. The laws are not implemented correctly. The police should be trained in dealing with these matters properly."
More about Oscar pistorius, oscar pistorius trial, gender based violence, Violence against women, Reeva Steenkamp
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