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An incomplete transition? Explaining the ongoing prevalence of violence against women in post-apartheid South Africa

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Twenty years after its transition from apartheid to democracy, South Africa is seen in the international community as a regional bastion of democratic, economic and social rebirth. Yet despite its many successes, rates of violence against women in South Africa remain endemically high. This paper examines the diffusion of norms of nonviolence and gender equality from the international community into South African law and society and the subsequent feedback of those norms, to measure South Africa’s compliance with international human rights standards. To inform the discussion, this paper introduces a model outlining the institutions and social processes operating at three levels: macro (i.e., international), meso (i.e., national) and micro (i.e., community/individual). The model highlights six ways in which norms are weakened or blocked: accessibility, apparent compliance, institutional weakness, divergent priorities, silencing and norm violation fatigue. Each of these factors is examined in turn to explain why women in South Africa continue to experience high rates of violence and why South Africa cannot be said to have made a ‘complete' transition to a peaceful democratic state.
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