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“South Africa’s still long walk to free women from the shackles of violence” – UN expert calls for change

Violence against women

15 December 2015

GENEVA (15 December 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, today urged the Government of South Africa to strengthen the fight against gender-based violence through awareness and education at all levels of society. “I have heard on many occasions that violence against women is normalized in South Africa,” she warned stressing the need for change.

“The violence inherited from the apartheid still resonate profoundly in today’s South African society dominated by deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards the role of women in society which makes violence against women and children an  almost accepted social phenomenon” Ms. Šimonović said after her first official visit* to the country from 4 to 11 December.

“Despite an arsenal of progressive laws and policies to deal with gender-based violence put very ably in place, there has been little implementation, hence impact and gender-based violence continue to be pervasive and at the level of systematic women’ human rights violation,” she said. 

The independent expert said that different forms of manifestation of violence against women and girls take place in the country, among which femicides or gender-related killing of women, domestic violence, rapes, gang-rapes which in their most extreme and forms have lethal consequences, and other forms of sexual violence.

In relation to the high number of femicides, she encouraged South Africa to establish a “femicide” or “gender-relating killings” watch through which the number of such killings would be released every year. Such data and information about each case, carefully analysed, is needed to identify any failure of protection in the response’s chain to gender-based violence and would bolster improving and developing further preventive measures. She also called for the conduct of risk assessment and crisis management in the context of domestic violence and application of protection orders that should guarantee immediate protection.

“It was reported to me that, mostly in some rural areas, the practice of Ukuthwala continues,” she said warning that girls as young as eight can be forced into marriage through their abduction, kidnapping, assault and rape associated with such harmful practice. “It needs to be clearly stated that such practice violates the constitutional rights to dignity, freedom and security of the person.” Other harmful practices include virginity testing and accusations of witchcraft.

The human rights expert said that there is insufficient specialized training for all front-line actors involved in the responses to gender-based violence, namely the police, prosecution office, and courts. She called for better awareness of the police’s positive duties to protect women in domestic partnerships who are victims of abuses, to manage the reporting and investigation of sexual offenses and to refer those reporting sexual offenses to medical services.

Ms. Šimonović cautioned about hearings conducted in a non-victim friendly manner, the presence of perpetrators and the lack of security of the victim, all of which leads to secondary traumatization. Victims’ friendly rooms at police stations, while mandated by the Sexual Offenses Act, are lacking.She also highlighted gender stereotyping by magistrates leading to leniency towards the perpetrator and need for gender sensitive education for judiciary.  She expressed concern that there is no established risk assessment and crisis management and protection orders are not immediately available and when issued are often not adequately followed up by police, for lack of human or financial resources.


During its eight-day visit, the expert met with Government officials at the federal and provincial levels, representatives of civil society organizations, academics, including in the townships of Diepsloot and Khayelitsha. She also visited a women’s prison, met with numerous women’s survivor of gender-based violence.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report with her conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:


Ms. Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms. Šimonovićhas been member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia and was the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the UN in New York. She was also Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).She has a PhD in Family Law and published books and articles on human rights and women’s rights. Learn more, log on to:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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