Violence against women in rural Southern Cape: exploring access to justice within a feminist jurisprudence framework

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Women in rural and severely underprivileged areas remain one of the most vulnerable groups in South Africa to violence in their communities and in their homes. To date, information on rural women, their experiences with domestic violence and social development is both fragmented and inconsistent. The issue of access to justice for rural women presented in this thesis is based on the premise that violence against women keeps women in conditions of poverty, and fear of poverty keeps women trapped in violent situations. It is also based on feminist theory that argues that historical, legal, cultural and political factors contribute to domestic violence and even with emerging policy and legislation promoting wo1nen's safety and freedom from violence, the criminal justice system has not shed it's predilection of institutionalised sexism. It will be argued that systemic discrimination against rural women has lead to the inadequate implementation of legislation and policy relating to women's fundamental rights to safety and freedom from violence. This research, therefore, takes the challenge of constructing an appropriate framework for an integrated analysis of law, gender, and social development. It does so through a feminist jurisprudence framework. The central aims of the research are to: (i) examine the nature or profile of domestic violence in rural areas; (ii) identify the obstacles which prevent women from accessing justice in the face of domestic violence; (iii) identify support mechanisms within rural communities for victims of domestic violence; (iv) explore current policing, justice and health care responses to rural women who experience domestic violence; (v) examine the nature of secondary victimisation of these women by their communities and the relevant criminal justice departments; (vi) examine the nature of current policy and legislation in relation to violence against women and establish the extent to which they have impact on rural women; (vii) to identify gaps in service delivery in rural areas and (viii) to highlight the unique barriers to justice that rural women face. The issues of access to justice for rural women is introduced in this thesis through a study undertaken in rural areas in the Southern Cape. Access was facilitated to 15 different communities in the Southern Cape and 168 women in total were interviewed on issues of violence against women and access to justice. Another 28 women were interviewed on issues relating to maintenance. The primary data collection technique of this research in the Southern Cape took the form of 19 focus-group interviews through a cross section of community structures. These interviews took the form of 'workshops', in which an active exchange of information between the researcher and the researched took place. The focus-group interviews were held in communities in Knysna, Rheenandal, Kurland Dorp, Plettenberg Bay, Sedgefield, Mossel Bay and George. The results indicate that access to justice for rural women is limited for the following reasons: (i) women in rural areas lack nearby services and the cost of transportation decreases a won1an's ability to leave violent situations or even seek information or assistance to deal with the problem; (ii) Women in small rural communities articulate fears of community gossip or alienation from their communities if they seek assistance; (iii) women in rural areas have little option but to remain in the home with the offender because there are no accessible safe houses or shelters; (iv) women remain powerless over alcoholism within their communities; (v) rural women remain in abusive relationships because they have little access to economic resources; (vi) limited access to state and private health, welfare and justice services results in systemic discrimination by the state in almost every area of rural w0men's lives; (vii) distances to basic public services are great and child care is a problem if travel is necessary; (viii) very few development services exist in rural communities; (ix) there are no or limited taxi and bus services and if they do exist they are expensive; and (x) the combined effects of poverty and violence for rural women in the Southern Cape creates formidable barriers to women's equality, mental and physical health, and their full participation in civil society. In light of these results current South African policy and legislation relating to domestic violence and crime prevention are discussed. The thesis concludes that current law contains systemic inequalities, that state legal structures are inherently discriminatory against women and, more specifically, do not meet the needs of rural women.

Includes bibliographical references.