A guide to laws that fight gender-based violence and discrimination


South Africans are rightfully enraged and shocked by a string of recent attacks against young girls and women. Many South Africans are at this moment marching to parliament in Cape Town to raise awareness about gender-based violence and to demand immediate action by our government to solve this problem.

We grasp that gender-based violence is a complicated issue and that no simple solution exists to ending it. That being said, we believe that a contribution can be made by informing South Africans about their rights and, in particular, how they can enforce them.

In an attempt to make a small contribution to this goal, we’ve put together a list of the South Africa laws that designed to help protect the rights of women.

This article’s purpose is to serve as a starting point. We hope that it will help direct you to a person or place where you can find the help you need.

Please contact us if you feel we’ve overlooked any essential laws that should form part of this list.

The Starting Point: The Constitution

Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law” - Section 9(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa

“The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.” - Section 9(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa

The Domestic Violence Act

The purpose of this Act is to provide a simple way for people to apply and obtain court-enforceable orders that will protect them from incidents of domestic violence. The Act provides a broad definition of domestic violence to ensure that it covers a variety of situations, namely:

“domestic violence” means,-

(a) physical abuse;

(b) sexual abuse;

(c) emotional, verbal and psychological abuse;

(d) economic abuse;

(c) intimidation;

(f) harassment:

(g) stalking;

(h) damage to property:

(i) entry into the complainant’s residence without consent, where the parties

do not share the same residence; or

(j) any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant,

where such conduct harms, or may cause imminent harm to, the safety. health

or wellbeing of the complainant;

The process to apply for an order is simple, and most local courts will have a clerk or two who are responsible for assisting applicants with their applicaiton for a protection order. Once an order is obtained, it is a criminal offence to act contrary to the terms thereof. A person can go to prison for up to five years for doing so.

You can download the entire Domestic Violence Act by clicking here.

The Maintenance Act

The Act’s primary goal is to protect the rights of children, but spousal maintenance also falls within its ambit. It’s also an essential legal mechanism to help protect the financial security of single parents, often women.

“maintenance order” means any order for the payment, including the periodical payment, of sums of money towards the maintenance of any person issued by any court in the Republic (of South Africa)”

Once again, the process to apply for a maintenance order is simple, and most local courts will have a clerk responsible for assisting applicants when they apply for a maintenance order.

Download the entire Maintenance Act by clicking here.

Employment Equity Act

The preamble concisely and clearly summaries the goal of the Employment Equity Act:

Recognising that as a result of apartheid and other discriminatory laws and practices, there are disparities in employment, occupation and income within the national labour market; and

that those disparities create such pronounced disadvantages for certain categories of people that they cannot be redressed simply by repealing discriminatory laws,

The Act creates a range of mechanisms to prevent discrimination in the workplace. The Act has various specific provisions that deal with gender/sexual discrimintation. Download it by clicking here.

Other important statutes

As mentioned at the start, this article is merely a starting point and is by no means an exhaustive list of all the relevant legislation that deals with gender-based violence and discrimination. A few examples of other statutes that also directly relate to gender-based violence and discrimination are:

  • The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000;

  • The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998;

  • The Children’s Act 38 of 2005;

Useful links:


Bertus Snyman