South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday called a joint sitting of Parliament to tackle the crisis of violence against women.
“I have called this special joint sitting of the houses of Parliament because there is a dark and heavy shadow across our land,” Ramaphosa told MPs at the joint sitting.
There is a very violent and brutal war underway against the women of South Africa, said Ramaphosa.
He described South Africa as one of the most unsafe places in the world for a woman to live in, with levels of violence that are comparable to countries that are at war.
The latest development came amid an increase in femicides which has shocked South Africa in recent days.
Last year, 2,700 women and over 1,000 children died at the hands of another person in South Africa, according to the president.
Every single day the police receive over 100 cases of reported rape, he said.
“This does not count the many more cases of rape and sexual assault that are not reported”.
Figures provided by Statistics South Africa show that one in five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence by a partner.
“While it has its own specific causes and features, gender-based violence reflects a broader crisis of violence in our society,” Ramaphosa said. “To enhance the safety of women we are going to, as a matter of urgency, make the necessary amendments to our laws and policies to ensure that perpetrators of gender-based violence are brought to book,” said the president.
Given the urgency of the situation, the government has developed an emergency action plan, which will be implemented over the next six months.
The plan strengthens existing measures and introduces new interventions in five principal areas — effective prevention of gender-based violence; strengthening of the criminal justice system; enhancement of the legal and policy framework; adequate care, support and healing for victims of violence; and improvement of the economic power of women.
This emergency action plan will be driven by an interim steering committee located in the presidency and co-chaired by the government and civil society organizations, Ramaphosa said.
The government, he said, is also going to launch a mass media campaign that will target communities, public spaces, workplaces, campuses and schools, as well as recreational spaces like taverns.
“I call upon this Parliament to consider these and other emergency measures without delay so that all government departments, agencies and civil society formations can begin with implementation,” Ramaphosa said.
This directive comes after Ramaphosa recently engaged with protesters outside Parliament where he gave women the assurance that the government will intensify action against men who abuse and kill women.
The march to Parliament took place amid a spate of deadly attacks on women and girls in around the country. On Monday, in a keynote address at the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union’s congress in Durban, the president reiterated that “lawlessness would not be tolerated in this country”.
Ramaphosa is also skipping the UN General Assembly meeting, which runs from September 23-26, “to prioritise the implementation of initiatives to tackle gender-based violence and restoring stability to areas affected by recent violence”.