On 30 September 2022, the Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities published the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill (Bill). The Bill seeks to establish an independent, multi-sectoral national council (National Council) to coordinate and implement a coherent national strategic plan to end gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide.
This follows the Presidential Summit Declaration against GBV and Femicide of 2018 to prevent and eliminate the endemic abuse and murder of South African women. The Bill defines GBV as:
"violence associated with gender, which includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, economic, educational or psychological abuse or threats of such acts of abuse in public or private life;"
and "femicide" is defined as:
"the killing of a female person or perceived female person on the basis of gender identity, whether committed by a person within a domestic relationship, interpersonal relationship or by any other person, or whether perpetrated or tolerated by the State or its agents and private sources"
The objects of the National Council are to manage an approach to GBV and femicide in collaboration with relevant stakeholders that include short, medium and long term priorities that are aligned with various national frameworks. The National Council must also ensure that information on best practices regarding the prevention and elimination of GBV is available and accessible. The 'stakeholders' are not defined in the Bill and this may be a topic interested entities wish to comment on when the Bill is before the NCOP, as set out below.
The National Strategic Plan must be developed and implemented within six months of the National Council being established with regular reports on the progress of its implementation to an Inter-Ministerial Committee on GBV and femicide. The plan must be reviewed every five years thereafter. In addition, the National Council will be required to ensure that there are adequate resources available to deal with GBV and femicide, develop education and training programmes on combatting GBV and establish multi-sectoral structures to jointly prevent and respond to it.
The National Council will consist of a board of no more than 13 members who shall be appointed with civil society participation. Of significance, the board must consist of at least 80% female representation. Seven members shall be appointed from civil society organisations and the remaining six will represent various government departments and the South African Police Services.
The Minister will introduce the Bill in parliament and tabled before the National Assembly (NA) to be debated and voted on. If the Bill is passed in the NA, it is referred to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The NCOP will call for presentations by interested parties and may accept or reject the Bill or propose amendments to it. If the NCOP passes the Bill without amendments, the President is called upon to assent and sign the Bill whereupon the Bill will become law and take effect on a date determined by the President. If the NCOP proposes amendments to the Bill or rejects it, the Bill will be referred back to the NA for reconsideration. There is no prescribed timeframe ascribed to the legislative process, as such the implementation date is yet unknown. Webber Wentzel is available to assist interested parties in making presentations to the NCOP when called upon to do so.
The establishment of the National Council is a small step in the face of an overwhelming social ill. The controls that need to be put in place to protect women from GBV and femicide require that programmes and policies are strategically and diligently implemented over a long period of time to entrench the unambiguous message in our application of law that GBV and femicide are not tolerated.