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Victim Empowerment Programme, Durban PDF Print E-mail

18 to 20 August 2008

The Department of Social Development in partnership with the European Commission and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime is hosting a conference at ICC, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal Province from 18 to 20 August 2008, to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of the Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP). The theme of the conference is: Victim Empowerment in South Africa.

The Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) was officially launched in August 1998 as one of the key programmes under pillars one of the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). It is inter-sectoral and inter-departmental in nature to holistically address the diverse needs of victims of crime and violence. Representation on the VEP comprises of the following core NCPS government departments, namely, Social Development, as the lead and co-ordinating department; Health; Correctional Services; Education; Justice and Constitutional Development; South African Police Services; and Community Safety.


VEP aims to promote and implement a victim-centred approach to crime prevention focusing on minimizing the negative impact of crime on victims and on breaking the cycle of violence as well as creating a victim friendly criminal justice system.

The approach of the VEP is strongly based on building and maintaining partnerships between government and civil society organizations, volunteers, research institutions, academics and business sector.  

The Victim Empowerment Conference will be used as a vehicle to reflect on progress with regard to achievements, challenges and limitations of the VEP since its inception in 1998. The deliberations at the conference will also assist future planning.

Presentation of Gender DynamiX

by Liesl Theron

Gender DynamiX is a Human Rights organisation promoting freedom of expression, focussing on gender non-conforming, transsexual and transgender matters.

I will begin, by explaining the difference between transgender and transsexual. A transgender person is a person whose self identity of gender and the way they feel comfortable to present themselves does not correspond to what other people expect of them, according to their sex at birth. This is usually due to the strict binary system adopted by people in general. A transsexual person is a person who decided at some stage in their life that they would actively take some steps to align their body and self presentation in a manner to resemble the way they feel.

Transitioning can be acquired, following different methods for example in a medical way by using hormones or surgically. It is very important to note, that a person is not only transsexual once they use hormones or have surgery performed on them. Due to medical risk, high costs, access to medical and professional help and lack of resources many South African transsexual people cannot transition.
Transgender is an umbrella term, including transsexuals, cross dressers, drag queens, gender non-conforming and people who call themselves the larger term transgender and many more.

When speaking about gender non-conforming we refer to people who might be androgynous, in transition, transgender or for various reason do not prescribe to the gender binary. A very good example of a gender non-conforming case, which became a victim of social norms and prescriptions of gender, was the woman in rural Kwa Zulu Natal who faced harassment, was stripped by men in her community and had her shack burned down because she wore trousers. In her case, it had nothing to do with her sexual orientation. It was a matter of gender prescriptions, dictated by rigid views of gender binary. That is what we see as gender non-conforming, when, like in this case she was been viewed as not conforming to prescriptions of her gender. She was not transgender or transsexual. Her gender role was prescribed by a patriarchal society as we are still experiencing very real patriarchy constructs in South Africa, and more definitely lived by people in rural or isolated communities.

The transgender or transsexual status of a person deals with a person’s Gender identity. The gender they feel themselves to be comfortable in. A person’s sexual orientation determines if the person will be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual. A transgender or transsexual person therefore can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual.

Intersex people (sometimes called “hermaphrodites”, to use a term many intersex activists prefer to avoid) are people whose physical sexual differentiation at birth is not typical. This may involve chromosomal patterns which are not typical, and often – though by no means always – involves ambiguous genitalia.  Genital surgery is often imposed on intersex infants as soon after birth as possible, though there is mounting evidence that this practice is harmful.  Some intersex people develop gender identity issues later on in life.

In this presentation I will high light cases reported to Gender DynamiX where the person fell victim to violence, discrimination or prejudice. These cases should not only be viewed as gaps or shortfalls in the key departments which are partners in the Victim Empowerment Programme, but rather as an opportunity for future collaboration with Gender DynamiX and an offer of partnership.

Medical aids in South Africa do not contribute to any medical costs for transsexual people to assist them in transitioning. According to publicly known statistics no surgeries were performed in Government hospitals in the last three years. This is problematic and affects all transsexual people as private costs of surgeries are extremely expensive.  With the huge unemployment rate in South Africa one can safely assume that two thirds of South African transsexuals do not have any income.

It is argued that medical costs of a person who is diagnosed with Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID) and not treated can easily be much higher than a person who receives medical and surgical treatment. The distress of not being treated leads to depression and many times numerous attempts to suicide.

It is really hard to obtain any statistics. One must also take into account that our own statistics which currently rely mostly on either people who self report, or who make use of our website. In both events, it is not a true reflection of real statistics as only people who have access to internet (and have income or employment) contact us via internet.

Furthermore many transsexuals and transgender people still face discrimination today, in that they either gets dismissed at work when information about their gender status becomes known or it is extremely difficult to attempt an interview with an Identity Document which does not correspond with the way the person presents.

Life with the wrong Identification Documents are experienced from mildly frustrating to very difficult. Without legal identification a person cannot open a bank account, change any bank details or take part in any financial transactions like selling or buying a house or car, renting accommodation, loan money, verify FICA status at the bank, vote or travel. Credit card transactions and general usage of any payment methods other than cash becomes impossible or creates awkward situations.

A while ago a trans woman reported she lost her job because her employer learned about her transsexual status. Not long thereafter her family harassed her and it went over in a violent attack where her in-law family beat her severely, doctors feared she might lose her eyesight in her one eye. Another trans woman’s previous spouse’ family first petrol bombed her business and a few months later her house, while she was sleeping in it. This was because she is transsexual.

One trans man reports that in the smallest ways possible his life is inconvenient, as he fears situations where he has to deal with humiliation or being arrested for the “wrong reasons” as his driver’s licence does not correspond with the way he looks. He tries to avoid main routes and mostly uses small, back roads. His fear was supported by a previous incident of another trans man who was arrested and taken to a holding cell because of this same reason. He spent the night in jail. In another report an intersex woman was taken to a police station in Alexandra, Johannesburg and was body searched by just about every officer in the station – most possible only out of curiosity as she was initially only taken in for a small traffic offence when the officer doubted the legitimacy of her Identity Document – which really should not require stripped body searches. In another case a trans woman in Cape Town reported she was in a house which was raided by police for drugs and she was (not guilty of any drug dealing or even used any) kept longer in the holding cells than any of the other suspects, body searched by all officers, humiliated and questioned – not relating to any possible drug charges but because of her transgender status.

Another area of concern is when a trans person is arrested and awaiting trial or bail hearing. It is a never ending challenge to decide in which holding cells the person should be. In a report earlier in 2008 a trans woman was highly distressed while awaiting her bail hearing, above reasons which will be stressful to any person, she also had to deal with a state assigned attorney who was openly prejudiced against her, which resulted in her case to be jeopardized.

In all these cases, regardless of the person’s state of being guilty or not, transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming people should have the same opportunity to fair trail and equal justice.
Transgender and transsexual people are very vulnerable for secondary victimisation, being ignored when they want to lay charges, or been traumatised a second time when service providers blame them by accusations such as: “You looked for it” “You deserved it” or being told they are perverts.

On the 2nd of June 2008, Daisy Dube an open drag queen died at the scene where she was shot. She and friends went out for an evening and three men targeted them, shouting remarks. Daisy challenged them, telling them to stop calling her and her friends “izitabane”. A few minutes later one of the three men pulled out a gun and started shooting. This cold blooded murder was to “teach Daisy and her friends a lesson”, because they were not willing to subject themselves to rigid gender roles, nor were they willing to be ridiculed. A close friend of the victim, who was also at the scene, affirms that the motivation was because of their gender identity.

The most crucial partnering department in the Victim Empowerment Programme to work with will be the Department of Health. Many areas of collaboration can be established, beyond accessibility to surgery. It will be in the long term extremely important to see to the inclusion of transgender information in the training curriculums of medical staff.  Administrative staff should also be informed during induction period with regards to policies and procedures when admitting transgender patients. Day clinics and out patients should be able to assist transgender patients, not only with regards to transgender related medical care, but also in their day to day medical requirements without prejudice.

Many transgender learners do not perform to their fullest ability as they are challenged on a daily basis by co learners and educators. From early childhood it is difficult for transgender pupils to fully participate. Even events such as sport present difficulty. School projects and activities are divided between “boys and girls” and what might seem as part of daily life, causes distress to transgender adolescents. Many transgender people leave school at an early age because they were denied entrance if they came with what school or teachers view as the wrong uniform for that child. 

In this regard it is quite problematic that it is compulsory to attend school only between the ages of 7 – 15. Most trans people, when reflecting to their lives will tell that years of adolescence was the most difficult years. It is the time of a person when a lot of bodily changes take place, when a child wants to wear the school uniform of their choice. If it does not suit the school or the child anymore, the child just leaves. This result in a huge amount of trans children across all cultures who are only educated to the very minimum level acceptable in our country, and not because of mental capacity reasons, but because of their gender identity.

As part of the “Safer Schools” programme of the Department of Education, full inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity should be part of life skills at schools. We are living in a heteronormative world which marginalise transgender learners in schools as much as they are faced with prejudice and discrimination in all other areas of life. Many of these very real issues can be addressed with the anti-bully initiatives.

Gender DynamiX wants to make use of this opportunity to invite all Departments in the Victim Empowerment Programme for partnership in projects.

Visit our Download section for the PowerPoint Presentation


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Gender DynamiX South Africa: The first African organisation solely for the transgender communtity. Committed to provide resources, information and support to transgender people, their partners, family, employers and the public.