No progress on GBV council after more than R120mn donated, parliament told

Furious members of the portfolio committee on women, youth and persons with disabilities rejected the Commission for Gender Equality’s report presented in parliament on Tuesday.

One member went as far as to ask the commission why they were wasting parliament’s time. 

The commission’s chief executive and chairperson had different stories to tell the committee about whether the council on gender-based violence exists or “maybe doesn’t exist”. This council is meant to implement the National Strategic Plan on Gender-based Violence and Femide 2020-2030.

And it was meant to provide a report on the progress of this plan, the appointment of a council and show whether government interventions were working. 

But there were many inconsistencies, which incited the rage of parliamentarians given that about 100 rape cases were reported to police stations every day between April and June this year.

The commission’s report found that over a period of six months the government only achieved 17 out of 81 targets relating to programmes to counter gender-based violence and femicide, while 12 targets were partially achieved. 

The portfolio committee made the commission withdraw this report. 

“Let us give you a chance to finalise it so that when you come to parliament you present a final product, not the raw one,” said the chairperson, Claudia Ndaba. “Let’s give you an opportunity to go back and verify information, things that you are not sure of. Let your researchers give you a right and accurate report.”

Ndaba was responding to the report the commission’s chief executive, Jamela Robertson, presented to them. Described as a raw document that still needs to be finalised, the report could not confirm whether a national coordinating structure to address gender-based violence was established. 

Some of the inaccuracies pointed out by parliamentarians were that Robertson said the multisectoral body had not been established yet a 15-member board was in place. The commission is yet to see the list of board members. 

Ndaba said parliament was unaware of a board or council and “there’s no way that we will let people who are not a legitimate structure to be handling or managing public money on behalf of [the] government”.

Parliamentarians expressed their concern about transparency and how this board will be held accountable if parliament is not aware of it. 

“We can’t have a 15 member fly-by-night board. We don’t even know how this board was established and how do we hold this board to account on a matter that is so serious?” asked MP Natasha Ntlangwi. 

In her response, the chairperson of the commission, Tamara Mathebula, said there was no “definite assurance” that a council was put together.  

She said they were still waiting for a document before the treasury, which would approve the structure, “so this information is not definite”.

She blamed the inaccuracies on researchers.

Mathebula apologised for referring to the report as a raw document but dismissed claims that they do not see the work of parliament as serious by presenting a report based on unconfirmed information. 

She proposed that information should be directly retrieved from the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities. 

The struggle to appoint a national council on gender-based violence and femicide

The Mail & Guardian previously reported that a R21-billion Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Response Fund has been established to implement the 2020 national strategic plan on gender-based violence and femicide over a period of 10 years. This plan was the outcome of the presidential summit against gender-based violence and femicide in 2018.

A council — or multi-sectoral structure — was to be set up to steer the plan. An interim steering committee was tasked with setting up the permanent structure. They were given six months from March this year. 

In March the Commission on Gender Equality informed parliament that one of reasons for the delay was that the interim steering committee’s activities were not contained in the summit declaration. 

In its now-withdrawn September report, the commission found, together with the possibility of an undetermined 15-member structure, that the process of establishing the council was halted until “the Bill that regulates the mandate and operations of the council is put in place”. 

The M&G reported in March that the Gender-based Violence Response Fund has received R128-million in support from the private sector since its launch on 4 February.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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