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Is it really a happy human rights day?

The Purpose of Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre that took place on the 21 of March 1960, where apartheid police killed 69 anti-apartheid protesters. Human Rights Day also honours the 35 people who were killed on 21 March 1985, when apartheid police targeted community members after a funeral that was held in Uitenhage at Langa Square. As part of the democratic dispensation, South Africa observes March as Human Rights month to promote respect for basic human rights for all and restore and uphold human dignity in line with the Bill of Rights. Key to these human rights is safety, and bodily security.

The National Strategic Plan on GBVF

In 2020, the Government launched a National Strategic Plan on Gender - Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) which is a comprehensive strategy for tackling all forms of violence and abuse against women and children. Since the launch of the strategic plan in 2020, several new interventions have also been implemented.

● Extensive legal reform

● Support for survivors through the provision of evidence kits at police stations

● Psychological and social services

● The establishment of a GBVF Response Fund

● Support for Thuthuzela and Khuseleka Care Centres, which provide vital services for GBV survivors

● The economic empowerment of women

Approximately R21 billion has been dedicated over the medium-term to the implementation of the six pillars of the plan.

Extensive Legal Reform (Women's Rights)

At first glance, the women’s rights context in South Africa seems to be improving, at least in terms of available laws. The government passed new laws, such as the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, the Domestic Violence Amendment Act, and the Criminal Law (Forensics Procedures) Amendment Act, to work against the high number of gender-based violence cases in the country. According to Human Rights Watch however, despite these new laws between April and June 2022, 855 women were killed, and over 11,855 cases of gender-based violence against women were reported, including 9,516 cases of rape.

Financial Commitments to the Fight against GBVF

It is notable that the President of South Africa launched a GBVF response fund in 2021, where to date, R162 million has been pledged and according to the State of the Nation website 75% of the amount has been collected.


As we celebrate Human Rights day today and reflect on Human Rights month, it becomes difficult to celebrate the gains, when the GBVF numbers continue to rise. It begs the question of whether the efforts that are in place, however noble and needed, are enough? The rising deaths and violent attacks on women suggest that more needs to be done by government and civil society broadly. It cannot be a happy Human Rights Day for all if the rights of some continue to be violated.

Remember, working together we can overcome the scourge of GBVF!

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