Promoting Human Rights & Rule of Law in South Africa
8 March, 2017
By Jessica Fitzgerald, an intern at SALC
Every year, on 8 March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. This International Women’s Day we want to highlight some of the advances in women’s rights which have been achieved throughout the year, and which we are continuing to work on. Although there have been incremental developments on women’s rights in the region, we are still a long way from a world where women live lives free from fear and abuse, are healthy, and have access to education, opportunities and choice. All of the lawyers at SALC work on women’s rights in some way, because women’s rights intersect into all areas of our human rights work, such as health rights, prisoner’s rights, LBGTI rights, sex worker rights, rights of persons with disabilities, property rights, inheritance rights, and sexual and reproductive health rights. Some recent case examples are listed below.
Ending child marriage in Swaziland
SALC and WLSA-Swaziland has recently launched a case in Swaziland to challenge the existence of laws which enable children to be married at 16 years of age where a parent consents, or under 16 years of age where the Minister provides special approval. There is currently no minimum age for women who are contracted into a marriage under customary laws. Ending child marriage practices will entail more than ensuring that legal protections are available, however advocacy efforts and legal protections combined will assist in ensuring that young girls are not subjected to sexual and domestic violence and abuse from husbands, suffer less health complications from pregnancy, and have better chances of completing school. SALC is further supporting advocacy efforts to promote successful judgments on child marriages in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
SALC and the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) recently won a case which challenged laws which police were using to arbitrarily arrest and detain sex workers in Malawi, in order to harass or intimidate them. Specifically the case challenged the incorrect interpretation of the offence of living on the earnings of prostitution, which is not aimed at criminalizing sex work but instead targets those who exploit sex workers. It is not a crime to sell sex in Malawi. These women were often asked for bribes or sexual favours in exchange for their release – however women in Malawi can no longer be arbitrarily arrested under these laws, and SALC and CHREAA is working closely with police to ensure that sex workers are not unlawfully targeted. In addition, SALC and CHREAA has recently obtained a judgment declaring the offence of being a rogue and vagabond unconstitutional. Sex workers were frequently unlawfully arrested under this offence.
SALC is working with Youth Watch Society (YOWSO) to help a poor single woman, Mary Goba, and her widowed mother, Idesi retain the land that they inherited from their deceased father and husband respectively. Mary and her mother have been using the land to grow and sell sugar cane, which is their only source of income for themselves and their families. In April 2012, the Village Headman and some Cane Grower’s Trust seized the land and refuse to return it to them. The case is challenging the legality of the seizure so that the women can return to, and continue to live on their land.
Why we do it
Every case, every campaign brings us closer to a world where women are treated with respect and dignity, where they don’t fear domestic violence, where they have equal access to education, where they are able to own property, to make choices about how they wish to live their lives, and where they have access to basic medical services to ensure their health and those of their families.