The current global financial crisis will have harmful effects on the well-being of women and children, Minister in the Presidency Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said on Monday.
It was widely acknowledged that economic inequality was a cause of violence against women and children, she told a Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) seminar in Pretoria.
Economic trends created or exacerbated the enabling conditions for violence. "Women's poverty and economic inequalities, concomitant with the discrimination and gender inequalities they face, reduce women's capacity to act and take informed and considered decisions."
She said this also correlated with their increased vulnerability to harmful traditional practices. "This [economic crisis] will impact negatively in the sense that it will increase their vulnerability to acts such as abductions, forced and early marriages, trafficking in women and girls for sexual and economic exploitation, among others."
She said harmful traditional practices were recognised as the manifestation of gender inequality and this was deeply entrenched and rooted in social, economic and political structures and practices.
It perpetuated normative gender roles that were unequal and harmful to women. She said research - undertaken in conjunction with the Austrian government under the auspices of CEDAW - needed to consider the geographical locations of the various harmful practices.
Some practices violate human rights
The poverty levels in these areas also needed to be taken into account. The harmful practices were without question supported by both men and women and anyone departing from the norms may face condemnation, harassment and ostracism, she said.
"Some of the practices are social conventions governed by rewards and punishments, which are a powerful force for continuing the practice." Some were also equated with culture and custom, which they were not: "In fact they are tantamount to the gross violation of human rights," said Tshabalala-Msimang.
She said a recent report - spanning the period 1998 to 2008 - also highlighted witchcraft and female genital mutilation.
While the latter practice was not as widespread, it was occurring in South Africa. "Perhaps much of it is being imported from the rest of Africa through migration and refugees," she said, adding that further studies needed to be conducted. – (Sapa, March 2009)
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