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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Violence against women affects women all over the world and all over South Africa, whether they are rich or poor, young or old, black or white.


Rape is when a woman is forced to have sex when she does not want to. Even when it is the woman's boyfriend or husband who forces her, it is still rape. It is also rape, even if the woman has flirted with the man, or she has been wearing short skirts. Flirting and wearing short skirts does not mean she has agreed to have sex.

Rape is painful and violent and it hurts women.

Many women feel guilty after being raped, and blame themselves. They are frightened for a long time afterwards, and can become depressed and lose their confidence. They may find it hard to trust men or be alone with them after being raped.

Sexual harassment

This is when someone touches or talks to a woman in a sexual way and she does not want it. She feels that she cannot tell him that he should stop, and she feels that he can make her suffer if she does not accept the attention. Usually, the man is in a position of power over the woman, like her boss at work, or a teacher at her school.

Sexual harassment is unwanted - it is not a way of showing appreciation for women, and it has nothing to do with mutual attraction or friendship.

Sexual harassment happens very frequently in workplaces. Many cases are not reported or recorded because the women victims are scared to speak out in case they lose their job or because they believe they will not be taken seriously.

Domestic violence

This happens when a husband or boyfriend tries to control his wife or girlfriend with violence. Sometimes women are even killed. There are different kinds of domestic violence:

  • Physical violence when a man hurts a woman's body.

  • Verbal and emotional abuse, when a man insults a woman, shames her in front of other people, or tries to control where she goes and who she sees.

  • It is also abuse when a man follows a woman wherever she goes, or breaks her things.

  • Sexual abuse, when a man rapes a woman. It is also abuse when a man forces a woman to use pills or herbs to dry the vagina before sex. It makes sex very painful and makes it easier for women to get sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

  • Economic or financial abuse when a man controls all the money and does not allow his wife or girlfriend to make any decisions about how to spend it.

Reasons why men are violent to women

Men are brought up to be tough, to fight and not to show any soft feelings - they are told "boys don't cry" from a very early age. Many children see their father hit their mother as they are growing up. When they are adults, men are expected to be in charge of the family.

Also, because of gender oppression, women do not have the same value as men in society - most men and women believe that men are better than women, so this makes them think that they have a right to beat women.

Culture and religion is often used as an excuse for men to dominate women and even to beat them.

The shopsteward's role

As a leader in the union, you should take action to stop violence against women. You should:

  • Educate your members about violence against women.

  • Take up sexual harassment cases with management on behalf of your members.

  • Ensure that there are procedures for dealing with sexual harassment included in the terms and conditions of employment of your workplace.

  • Develop a code of conduct on sexual harassment together with your employers.

  • Talk to a worker who you know is abusing his wife or girlfriend - tell him that what he is doing is wrong and that he will not be respected for it.

  • Help any woman worker who is being abused - explain her rights and listen to her story. Do not tell her what to do - explain the choices she has, then she must decide. Take her to a clinic or hospital, a doctor, the police station or a legal clinic.

  • Participate in developing policies in your workplace to deal with sexual harassment and domestic violence.

  • Ensure that women are able to reach their transport safely after work.

  • Ensure that abused women are given time off to go to court or to move their children and belongings to somewhere safe.

  • Help abused women to negotiate a transfer to another town or city to escape.

  • Invite women leaders or other women's organisations to speak at the workplace so that more workers understand and stop violence against women.

  • Ensure that the Employment Equity Act is implemented and more women are employed - this will help them to be financially independent and more able to leave men who abuse them.

  • Negotiate with your employer to provide childcare so that more women can work.

  • Know the rights that women have so that you can advise them and assist them.

Women's rights

The Bill of Rights is part of South Africa's Constitution. It says:

  • Women have the right to be treated equally to men;

  • Women have the right to freedom, safety and dignity;

  • Women have the right to be healthy, and free from all forms of violence at home and in public;

  • No one has the right to treat women ina cruel way;

  • No one has the right to discriminate against women at home or at work.

The law protects people from abuse. If you are abused you can lay a criminal charge against the abuser at the police station. You can lay charges of:

  • Assault or attempted murder;

  • Pointing a firearm;

  • Disturbing the peace;

  • Damage to your property.

If you have been hurt, the police should take you to a doctor, who should fill in J-88 report which will be used in court.

The police will take a statement which is your story in your own words and in your own language. You should only sign when you agree with everything that is written down. The police must now investigate your case.

You can also get:

  • A Protection Order from the magistrate's court;

  • A Peace Order from the magistrate's court;

  • An Eviction Order that forces the abuser to leave your house;

  • A divorce.

Domestic Violence Act

This Act will be passed on December 15 1999. It can help you get protection from the police and the courts against abuse. If you are being abused, you can apply for a Protection Order from a Magistrate's Court or High Court.

A Protection Order:

  • is an order from the court telling your abuser to stop abusing you;

  • can order the police to take away any dangerous weapon from your abuser;

  • can order a police officer to go with you to collect your things;

  • can force the abuser to help you with money to survive.

The Protection Order can protect you against any person who is abusing you - your husband or boyfriend, someone you went out with or had sex with, or someone who thinks you have a relationship, even if you do not.

To get a Protection Order, you must go to the court close to where you or your abuser lives or works, or you can send someone else to get it for you with a letter of permission. If you are under 21 years old, mentally disabled or unconscious, somebody else can get it for you without a letter. You will be given the date when you must go to court, but you can get an "Interim Protection Order" which will protect you until the court date.

On the court date, the abuser must also go to court, and he will get a chance to say if he thinks the Order is unfair. The court will decide. If he doesn't come to court, you will get a "Final Protection Order" and a Suspended Warrant for Arrest. The court or police will give a copy of the Order to your abuser ,and a copy to a police station of your choice. You also have a right to lay a charge against the abuser.

If the abuser does not obey the Protection Order, you must go to any police officer with the Suspended Warrant for Arrest and explain how the abuser has not obeyed the Order. The police will charge him with breaking the Order, and must arrest him if you are in danger. He will be kept in jail until he goes to court. If he is found guilty, he will be fined or sent to jail.

The Act says the police must help you by explaining your rights in a language you understand, by telling you what protection you can get and by finding you a safe place to stay and taking you to a health worker if you need one. If they do not help you, you can report them to:

Labour Relations Act

This Act recognises sexual harassment as an unfair labour practice. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) deals with disputes in the workplace, including cases of sexual harassment.

Maintenance Act

The law says fathers and mothers must give money for their children each month. You can get maintenance even if you are not married. If the father stops the maintenance payments, you must report this to the maintenance court. The court can order the money to be deducted from his salary and come straight to you.The Occupational Health and Safety Act says that employers must create a safe working environment

Take action in the community

You are leaders in the union and the workplace, and therefore it is important that you take a lead in your community as well:

  • Don't ignore women who call for help - call the police, make a noise or stop the man if you can;

  • Help arrange safe places for women to stay in your community;

  • Teach your children that violence against women is wrong

  • Invite women's organisations to talk at your school, church etc;

  • Speak out against violence against women, and get religious and traditional leaders to do the same;

  • Don't look down on women who divorce or leave partners who abuse them. They have a right to be happy.

Places to help you

National Organisations
Toll-free Helpline 0800 150 150  
Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) (011) 377 6600 / 6883 gauteng@ccma.org.za
Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) (011) 403 7182 cgeinfo@cge.org.za
Human Rights Commission (HRC) (011) 484 8300 sahrcinfo@jhb.sahrc.org.za
Independent Complaints' Directorate (ICD) (011) 838 2875 abooyens@icd.pwv.gov.za
National Family Maintenance Forum (011) 658 0455  
National Network on Violence against Women (012) 348 1231 / 4  
Life Line (011) 781 2337 llinejhb@iafrica.com
Provincial Organisations
Eastern Cape
Advice Centre - Matatiele (0373) 737 4131  
Ihwezi Women's Support Centre, Cathcart (045) 843 2110  
Ilitha Project Community Services, Queenstown (047) 873 1974  
Rhodes University Law Clinic (0466) 22 9301  
University of Port Elizabeth Law Clinic (041) 57 3388  
Free State
Befrienders, Bloemfontein (051) 448 3000  
FAMSA, Bloemfontein (051) 525 2395  
NICRO, Bloemfontein (051) 447 6678  
Oranje Vroue Vereniging, Bloemfontein (051) 447 4845  
Thusanang Advice Centre, Quaqua (058) 713 6074  
University of the Free State Law Clinic (051) 447 9915  
FAMSA, Johannesburg (011) 975 7106  
NISAA, Johannesburg (011) 845 5804 / 5  
People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA), Johannesburg (011) 642 4345  
Women Against Women Abuse (WAWA), Johannesburg (011) 945 5531  
People Against Human Abuse (PAHA), Pretoria (012) 805 7416 powa1@wn.apc.org
Pretoria University Law Clinic (012) 420 4155 scloete@hakuna.up.ac.za
KwaZulu - Natal
FAMSA, Pietermaritzburg (0331) 42 4945  
Survivors of Violence, Pietermaritzburg (0331) 42 1378  
Office of the Status of Women (OSW), Nelspruit (013) 759 3735 / 54  
Ukhuthula Advice Office, Nelspruit (013) 986 1160  
Victim Support Centre, Nelspruit (013) 947 2238  
North West
Life Line, Mmabatho (018) 381 0976 / 4263  
Potchefstroom University Law Clinic (018) 293 1145  
Women Against Women Abuse (WAWA), Mogwase (014) 555 6785  
Northern Cape
FAMSA, Kimberley (053) 831 2368  
NICRO, Kimberley (053) 831 1715  
Women Against Women Abuse (WAWA), Warrenton (053) 33 3903  
Women's Institute for Leadership, Development & Democracy (WILDD), Kimberley (053) 871 4083  
Northern Province
FAMSA, Tzaneen (015) 307 4833  
University of the North Law Clinic (015) 268 2506  
Western Cape
Rape Crisis, Cape Town (021) 447 9762
083 222 5158
Life Line, Cape Town (021) 461 1111 lifeline@iafrica.com
NICRO Women's Support Centre, Cape Town (021) 422 1690  
University of the Western Cape Law Clinic (021) 959 2756  

Toll-free Helpline:    0800 150 150