The international campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, runs from the end of November to the beginning of December, but it’s clear that a lot more than a few days are required to end the scourge of violence against women.
Earlier this month the South African public was shocked by the treatment of alleged rape victim Cheryl Zondi, the first witness in the case against Nigerian Pastor, Timothy Omotoso, in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth. Zondi, 22-year-old university student, has become a symbol of the abuse and humiliation that hundreds of thousands of women are forced to face when they stand up against alleged perpetrators and face the courts and testify against their abusers.
Each day that goes by is marked by a woman being a victim of violence. According to United Nations Women, which promotes Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than one in three women around the world have endured physical violence, one in 10 girls have experienced rape or being sexually assaulted, and even though more than 140 countries criminalise domestic violence, there is weak enforcement of these laws. Some national studies show that up to 70% of women have experienced sexual and/or physical violence from an intimate partner.
Cheryl Zondi, Anene Booysen, Hannah Cornelius, the Dros victim, Iyapha Yamile, the list is endless. And I am often disappointed by the amount of victim-blaming that takes place, which partly contributes to the reasons why most women do not report abuse, sexual assault and/or rape.
Women in this country have been rendered an endangered species, poached and killed like animals. According to a recent report by AfricaCheck, South African women face some of the most violent behaviour in the world with femicide rates reaching four times that of the global average. And yet, the courts are acquitting rapists on a daily basis. When a woman has been raped, and has the courage to report it, she has to face the criticism of police officers and re-traumatize herself by taking on what is deemed to be appropriate behaviour for a rape victim. Avoiding the additional trauma at the police station plays in favour of the perpetrator as it deters women from reporting rape.
The #WhyIDidntReport hashtag is just one of the indicators of the low rates of reporting of rape. Our weak response to women who experience sexual assault and physical abuse must come to an end and we must act to ensure women are granted the justice they desperately need because the statistics and reports that overwhelm us are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the reality of the problem. It should not be accepted as the norm that women are under siege in this country. The two actors that we find as recipients of abuse are women and children, who are the pillars and future of our country, respectively.
And so we must understand that our society is instrumental in the abuse and rape culture that is so rife in our country. When a woman is raped, the first question will not be the intentions of the rapists or how horrible his actions are, the first question will be about what the woman was wearing, where she was when the incident occurred, whether they were intoxicated or why they accepted drinks from men who date-rape women. If a woman goes to lay charges and the rapist in an unlikely case receives the full might of the law, the community will persecute her as a villain who sent somebody’s son to rot in prison. At no point is a rapist shunned for sending somebody’s daughter to an emotional prison that is characterised by unmatched trauma that often affects them for the rest of their lives.
The solution towards rape and woman abuse in this country lies not in equipping women with methods to pre-empt abuse and rape, because while that is a good and much needed intervention, a more long-lasting solution is needed. Rape survivors must be encouraged to report the crime and be supported in the courts. At the end of Women’s Month, Rape Crisis outlined some of the action that is essential to bring an end to the scourge of relentless violence against women. No longer should rape victims be forced to endure brutal and abusive cross-examination, no longer will the streets outside the courthouse be quiet. When there is a rape case we must be there in our numbers, supporting the survivor. They have an important story to tell. We need high conviction rates to send a clear message to perpetrators and we need specialised sexual offences courts.
And we desperately need to remove the burden of work from women. We need a society where women do not need protection to begin with. We need to raise a generation of young men who do not rape, abuse or kill women.
ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is a network of young leaders across the country. In February 2018, ACTIVATE! hosted an Intergenerational Men’s Summit which brought 100 men together to discuss the intricate details of manhood and the role of men in society today. As November is International Men’s Month and the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse, ACTIVATE! will be running a campaign celebrating the outcomes of the Men’s Summit while looking at the role of men in the fight against women and child abuse. In addition to that, ACTIVATE! will wrap up the month with a National Power for Good Imbizo which will bring together over 100 Active Youth Citizens. Follow ACTIVATE! on social media @ActivateZA on twitter and ACTIVATE! Change Drivers on Facebook for updates throughout the month of November.