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The GendV Project

Urban Transformation and Gendered Violence in India and South Africa

The GendV Project’s Lisa Vetten has recently contributed some recommendations to South Africa’s Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, 2020. The recommendations from Lisa and her colleagues cover a range of definitions as well as the need to include new terms, services and mechanisms for the safety and wellbeing of people affected by domestic violence.

Some of the definitional changes proposed are for example that the term ‘courts’ in the Bill should explicitly clarify that ‘traditional courts’ do not count. Traditional leadership is highly patriarchal. Women cannot represent themselves in traditional courts; a male relative must appear on their behalf. It is also extremely unusual for women to participate in the structures that hear disputes in traditional courts - let alone head those structures. Many rural women do not see the courts as being able to deal fairly with their concerns. On this basis the group recommended that it be made clear that traditional courts are not authorised to receive applications or grant protection orders in terms of the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, 2020.

Likewise, another definitional change that is recommended is around the clause ‘damage to property’.  The group recommends that livestock and domesticated animals be involved in this understanding of property. According to the group, abusers often threaten or cause damage to livestock in an attempt to wield further control over women. Particularly in the rural South African context where women depend on livestock for their livelihoods, this inclusion is important in the Bill. 

Similarly, Ukuthwala or the abduction of women and girls with the intention of forcing them into marriage is also recommended by the group to be included in the conceptualisation of domestic violence. The group explains that ukuthwala and other similar practices of forced marriages in South Africa contravene the rights of women and girls and need further legislation.

The recommendations from Lisa and her colleagues also suggests the removal of mandatory reporting on issues of domestic violence. The team explains that mandatory reporting is not recommended by the WHO and it is often not desired by domestic violence complainants. They explain in the submission that

Taking away complainants’ ability to act in their own interests, or exercise choice, is a characteristic feature of abusive relationships – indeed, this is recognized by legislators’ definition of controlling behaviour as including the regulation of everyday behaviour. This provision may be well-intentioned but it too denies adult complainants’ control over key decisions that affect their lives. Further, it implies that complainants’ assessments of their circumstances, as well as their choices, cannot be trusted and that others understand their situations and options better than they do.”

Hence they argue that the decision on when to report, who to report to, under what circumstances, must be left to complainants.

These as well as many other important recommendations have been submitted to South Africa’s Department of Justice and Correctional Services. The hope remains that all of these recommendations are accepted and applied fully and promptly. 


By Shannon Philip and Lisa Vetten
Image: Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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