The implications of a relational feminist interpretation of socio-economic rights for cohabiting partners

Bannister, Tarryn (2016-12)

Thesis (LLD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : Within South Africa, it is disproportionately women and children who bear the socio-economic burdens of divorce and family dissolution. While all family relationships need to be effectively regulated so as to protect the socio-economic needs of its members, women who are cohabiting remain particularly vulnerable. This is due to the fact that their status is governed by a patchwork of laws that do not express a coherent set of family law rules. Upon the termination of these relationships, whether initiated by one of the partners or upon a partner’s death, these women tend to fall between the cracks of the legal system. As a result of this, they often face eviction and destitution. This stands in sharp contrast to South Africa’s progressive constitutional framework which appears highly conducive to combating gender inequality and poverty. For example, the Constitution protects the right to equality (section 9), human dignity (section 10), the right to have access to adequate housing (section 26) and the right to have access to health care services, food, water and social security (section 27). The Constitution also provides for the horizontal application of the Bill of Rights through sections 8 and 39 of the Constitution. The Constitution’s commitment to founding a society based on human dignity, equality and human rights and freedoms, therefore extends to private relations. In spite of these provisions, the family law regime is primarily perceived through a private law lens informed by liberal conceptions of choice, contractual autonomy and marriage fundamentalism. This dissertation examines the potential of a relational feminist framework to guide the horizontal application of socio-economic rights between cohabitants so as to guide both common law and legislative reform in this area. This horizontal application is primarily through the vehicles of sections 8 and 39 of the Constitution. Progressive foreign law developments pertaining to the protection of unmarried cohabitants are then analysed to determine whether they can inform the development of the South African family law regime. This dissertation thus analyses how existing family law rules and doctrines can be transformed so as to be more responsive to the lived realities and needs of female cohabitants.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : In Suid-Afrika is dit vrouens en kinders wat buite verhouding die gevolge dra van egskeiding en die beëindiging van gesinsverhoudings. Terwyl alle gesinsverhoudings effektief gereguleer moet word om sodoende die sosio-ekonomiese behoeftes van gesinslede te beskerm, bly veral vrouens in saamwoonverhoudings besonder kwesbaar. Dit kan toegeskryf word daaraan dat hul status nie deur ʼn samehangende stel familiereg reëls gereguleer word nie, maar eerder op ʼn lukrake wyse deur wetgewing. By die beëindiging van hierdie verhoudings, hetsy geïnisieer deur een van die partye of deur die dood van ʼn party, is dit veral vrouens wat geneig is om tussen die krake in die regstelsel te val. As gevolg hiervan word hulle dikwels deur uitsetting en ontbering gekonfronteer. Dit is ʼn teenstelling met Suid-Afrika se progressiewe grondwetlike raamwerk wat meewerk tot die bekamping van geslagsongelykheid en armoede. Die Grondwet verskans byvoorbeeld die reg op gelykheid (artikel 9), die reg op menswaardigheid (artikel 10), die reg op toegang tot geskikte behuising (artikel 26) en die reg op toegang tot gesondheidsorg, voedsel, water en maatskaplike sekerheid (artikel 27). Die Grondwet maak ook voorsiening vir die horisontale toepassing van die Handves van Regte op grond van artikels 8 en 39 van die Grondwet. Die Grondwet se verbintenis tot die daarstel van ʼn samelewing wat op menswaardigheid, gelykheid, menseregte en vryhede gegrond is, strek dus tot privaat verhoudings. Ten spyte van hierdie bepalings, word die familieregstelsel hoofsaaklik deur ʼn privaatreglens waargeneem, wat deur liberale opvattings van keuse, kontraktuele outonomie en huweliksfundamentalisme informeer word. Hierdie proefskrif ondersoek dus die potensiaal van ʼn sogenaamde “relational feminist” om die weg te baan vir die horisontale toepassing van sosio-ekonomiese regte tussen persone in saamwoonverhoudings. Die horisontale toepassing vind hoofsaaklik in gevolge artikel 8 en 39 van die Grondwet plaas. Progressiewe ontwikkelings in ander jurisdiksie ten opsigte van die beskerming van ongetroude persone in saamwoonverhoudings word ontleed ten einde te bepaal in watter mate dit kan bydrae tot die ontwikkeling van ʼn Suid-Afrikaanse familiereg regime. Die proefskrif ontleed dus die wyse waarop bestaande familiereg reëls en doktrines getransformeer kan word ten einde meer ontvanklik en sensitief te wees vir die leefwêreld en behoeftes van vrouens in saamwoonverhoudings.

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