The #MeToo movement began with American activist Tarana Burke and became popularised when women in the media industry spoke out against sexual harassment and violence in the movie industry. But since October 2017 it’s turned into a global movement. The European parliament #MeToo movement opened up a debate of sexual harassment of women in its parliament, and locally activists and survivors have used the #MeToo movement to spur on campaigns such as #TotalShutdown and #TimeisNow.

In the #MeToo and #TotalShutDown era, the conversation has moved beyond numbers, to expose underlying structural, institutional and patriarchal norms that fuel sexist attitudes, harassment and its newest ugly form, cyber misogyny.

At the Gender Based Violence (GBV) Summit in Johannesburg earlier this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa told delegates “We hear you and we will not fail you”. Ramaphosa convened the summit as a response to the demands made by the #TotalShutdown movement. During his address activists staged a silent protest by holding up underwear and emotional testimonies were heard from survivors of sexual violence.

“We cannot, should not, and will not stop until we put an end to this scourge. Our objective must be to bring these high rates to zero, we must aim for a femicide rate of zero per 100 000 women,” said Ramaphosa.

While NGOs, CBOs and donors form social compacts to develop programmes of prevention of violence against women and girls, the United Nations Women in SA, in line with its implementation efforts of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 and as part of its Step it Up Campaign, launched the “Step it up for gender equality media compact” inviting industry, businesses and government to sign up and become gender champions in their reporting.

Together key institutions can shape and implement programmes of action developed to promote a national compact in a key yet neglected and niche sector of our society, the media and creative industries to stop the constant portrayal of gender stereotypes that promotes GBV in our content.

What is required as a key outcome of the Gender Summit is a facilitated and inclusive dialogue towards identifying gaps and requirements in this sector to enable change. One question to be asked is “What can we practically do to achieve real change in SA?”. One project could be working with big industry – to halt the portrayal of gender stereotyped roles in film and advertising.

Glass ceilings: women in SA media houses 2018

Key finding of this nascent but seminal piece of research conducted by GenderLinks and GIZ, introduces a new chapter on Cyber Misogyny which brings to light the growing threat of cyber bullying as well as revenge porn. SA is on the verge of coming to terms with understanding the implications of revenge porn, as seen in the recent Minister Gigaba’s explicit video, intended for his partner which went viral. The Glass Ceilings survey reported that only 6% of official respondents felt cyber misogyny is an issue in South Africa, 30% women and 9% men agreed that women journalists experience cyber violence. The brutal account by Ferial Haffajee, a former chair of SANEF, and one of South Africa’s most senior women editors, is chilling testimony to gender violence in the media. And the most recent attacks by EFF supporters on and offline on prominent journalist Ranjeni Munusamy is yet another case where female journalists are threatened and intimidated.

Cyber misogyny may be emergent, but like the speed of the social media that spawned it, is guaranteed to spiral out of control if not addressed immediately and with intention. One piece of legislation currently in the National Council of Provinces, the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, seeks to criminalise this behaviour and a massive education and awareness campaign will be required to ensure all South Africans are aware of our rights and can seek recourse for cyber bullying.

Fighting violence against women and children is a cross cutting objective for the SA government and requires multiple agencies to work together to create change. In the recent matter of Cheryl Zondi, providing evidence under oath in the Omotoso Rape case, coming under the spotlight once again was the misogynistic cross questioning and vilification of a young survivor through defence lawyer Peter Daubermann’s cross-questioning tactics.

Judge Mandela Makaula allowed Daubermann to request that the survivor explicitly provide evidence on the amount of “centimetres” this alleged perpetrator Omotoso had penetrated Zondi. If this did not send chills through your spine and make secondary rape a reality, imagine the process of calling out perpetrators, finding your way to a police office, swabbing for evidence post a sexual violence incident by policemen and women who are untrained and or apathetic to your cause.

The very depiction or representation of black womanhood comes under scrutiny and is tested in an open media space, the rhetoric reveals suppressive pedagogies, rhetoric of healing and a series of persuasive messaging portrayed on our screens to convince us the consumer – that the young Zondi just may have “wanted it”.

Redressing these structural impediments or preventing crises such as these requires an overhaul of our curriculum for ideological, communicative and behavioural transformation – essential to healing our nation.

As young women are exposed to such content in the media, we learn prescribed attitudes, behaviours and lessons that reinforce conservative gendered ideologies reifying patriarchal construction – vilifying the “victim” and or testing what it is that she did to drive this poor preacher to take advantage of her? Whereas the very court designed to protect her became the site of struggle. The social representation of Zondi holding her own under such directed misogynistic questioning – was a sight to behold and if anything, she has become a current day hero, a role model for every woman who is a survivor – to speak up and speak out.

What we must guard against is for black women’s pain and suffering to not become a commodity or an instructive healing journey – to be captured and exploited by storytellers who will carry out their own agendas into the future.

So when the very spaces and places designed to protect our young women become the spaces for ‘would be’ predators such as Omotoso to prey on young girls, we fundamentally know that we live in a very troubled society and movements or campaigns such as the #Metoo or #TotalShutdown become the only instruments for women to take action and say enough is enough.

Our advocacy organisations know what needs to be done, but key barriers to entry are pooled resources, breaking down blind spots and a concerted effort by all agencies of government to work in concert to achieve change. Sharing resources and halting duplicated events to drive joint advocacy campaigns will take us a long way.

Using a “moment in time” metaphor or debate and placing GBV as a focal issue in our daily work and in mainstream media and on everyone’s agenda is key. The time was never better for an inclusive dialogue and this should be one step towards finding solutions. Violence, it would seem, has become the nation’s twelfth official language.