SADC GBV model law aims to curb GBV in the SADC region

October 15th, 2021

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) and SADC Lawyers’ Association (SADC LA) hosted a virtual webinar on the SADC Model Law on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) on 16 August 2021. Secretary General of the SADC-PF, Boemo Sekgoma, in her welcoming speech said that GBV is a significant societal problem in the SADC region. She added that the webinar will build common understanding for the advancement of gender equality for the protection of SADC citizens from violence that is gender related.

Ms Sekgoma pointed out that the reason the SADC-PF is leading this process, is because the SADC model law on GBV is a national outcome emanating from the SADC-PF Strategic Plan 2019 – 2023. She added that the strategic plan enshrined the need for the SADC region to achieve gender equality and, at the same time, to adopt the culture for human rights, which includes the right to physical integrity and the right to health. She said that it is important for the SADC-PF to take part in the fight against GBV and that the forum knows there can be no democracy where issues of GBV have not been solved.

Vice-President of SADC LA, Vimbai Nyemba, said GBV is known to be widespread in the SADC region and it presents a major obstacle to attain gender equality and gender equity. She added that it leads to poverty and stops economy growth of countries. She pointed out that the discussion on GBV is an important subject in the law. She said that when people speak of human rights, they are talking about the rule of law. Ms Nyemba pointed out that the development of the SADC model law complements various programmes that have been taking place in the SADC region to eliminate GBV, despite the existence of these initiatives GBV remains in the SADC and threatens security and achievement of global developmental goals.

Former judge of the International Criminal Court, Justice Sanji Monageng, said that the proposal to develop the GBV model law emanated from the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, during the forums 44th Session of the SADC-PF Plenary Assembly that was held in Maputo, Mozambique in 2018. She pointed out that the motion was adopted in recognition of the endemic nature of GBV, its multi-dimensional effect and its devastating impact on the lives of women, men, boys, and girls in the SADC region. She added that GBV is not only a problem in a private sphere but continues to be a threat to human security, peace, and development. She said GBV has drastic social and economic consequences at a national level.

Justice Monageng pointed out that COVID-19 has exposed the abuse women and children face. She encouraged members of SADC states to use the SADC model law as a yard stick to measure their domestic laws and to be guided by it in dealing with issues of GBV.

Judge of the Court of Appeal in Seychelles, Justice Professor Oagile Key Dingake, pointed out that human rights are accrued to all human beings. He added that this aspect should be non-negotiable. He pointed out that these rights are not given to human beings by mistake. He said humans are not at the mercy of the state to enjoy these right, and that they are accrued to by virtue of being human. He added that the issue of human rights in the global space has long been recognised. But tragically to date there is still a problem where human rights are contested or have struggled to pay the ultimate price for demanding what humans should not be demanding. He said that he has not seen a human rights module on GBV while he was teaching. He added that GBV must find its place in the curriculum.

Justice Dingake added that there are many definitions of GBV but the one that he finds simple, as a working formula, is that it is violence directed at a person because of their gender. It is deeply rooted in gender inequality and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations. It is experienced by most women and men, girls, and boys, but most of the victims are women and girls, as consequence of unequal nations and an unequal power dynamic in many spaces, at homes, at schools, and at work. He pointed out that the woman who is battered, cannot be empowered to participate in discussions of GBV, participate in the community or simply to participate like a human being.

Justice Dingake said in other countries there are laws that deal with issues of GBV, human rights or equality. He added that the constitutions in the SADC protect human rights in varied degrees. He pointed out that some constitutions have more shortfalls and gaps than others, especially when it comes to the definition of gender equality, discrimination and so forth.

The Law Society of South Africa’s House of Constituents’ member, Ugeshnee Naicker, commented that as one of the youngest legal practitioners to be appointed to a law society, she was part of an open discussion regarding the place of young people in the workplace, especial candidate legal practitioners. She said there is a lot of sexual abuse by senior legal practitioners and there is not enough protection within the legal profession and that is shocking. She added that some senior legal practitioners mentoring young legal practitioners will always have the opportunity to sexually abuse them.

GBV advocate in Malawi and survivor of GBV, Beatrice Mateyo, said that in her experience working with other women, she had observed something that could be addressed by law, the issue of psychosocial support, that the survivors be offered psychosocial support, as mostly they focus on the perpetrator in terms of punishment. She pointed out that it should be mandatory that victims receive counselling. She also added on the issues of shelters, that most women go back to the abuser because they have no shelters in their communities.

Ms Mateyo also pointed out that some victims go through informal mechanisms, which work. She suggested that the law should embrace the informal mechanism that victims use to report GBV. She said the other issue is the fact that law enforcement officers accepting the withdrawal of cases because the perpetrator is a breadwinner or the victim or the survivor withdraws the case, and they are not going to be able to survive on their own.

The legal drafter of the SADC-PF GBV model law, Eva Jhala, presented the GBV model law, which she said needs to be mobilised to action. She added that the GBV model law may be used in the legislation. She added that it is designed at the style and form of the legislation in the SADC member states. The design will clearly communicate policy projects and recommendations for the best practices in legislative provisions for GBV. This can be adopted, presented, and included in laws. Ms Jhala added that the GBV model law has been tested and research was done into the contents of GBV legislation at the local level and international level. She pointed out that the model law will be good guidance for SADC member states. GBV model law will encourage legislation to enact GBV laws if they do not exist and where they exist to perform with the model law.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.