In the pursuit of happiness? Try feminism

In returning after my rest, I have been surprised daily by happiness. Not the light, fluffy, sparkly kind but a more profound and abiding mood rather than feeling: a wellspring that seeps into me and make my whole world richer. I have read the stats and done the various happiness tests that sprinkle the internet while trying to understand what this happiness is all about. The theories suggest that a sense of meaning, optimism and the desire to and acknowledgement of having an impact that improves the world in some small way are all factors that lead to a more lasting and deeper sense of happiness, and perhaps that’s true.

What I know is that as a feminist activist and trauma counsellor my life is once again submersed not only in the harms of the world, but also in its transformation. As an activist and counsellor, I get to hear the hope in someone’s voice when they tell me that they have slept through the night for the first time in years, that they have just experience a week without fear, that they feel good or normal again, that they have hope that they will teach others in need what they have learnt…and how can you not experience joy or happiness in these things?

I received a photograph (from a genocide survivor who had once thought happiness frivolous, pointless and stupid) where she was running toward happiness with her arms as wide open as her smile: her world connected again with love and life and the possibilities that in truth surround us all. Although the photograph for me is iconic and unutterably beautiful, it is also tapping into that wellspring that may connect us all.

This happiness is not simple, it does not prevent hurt, disappointment, irritation or anger but it keeps its flavour in the face of these things. It works with you through your mistakes and those moments when you seem to get everything right. It peaks in the shade of a tree as much as it does when you witness someone feeling again like they are a person: human and in and with the world.

Some of you may remember that I had to rest my constantly breaking heart, and that was good. And I am back and refreshed. My heart in its pieces and its wholeness overflows with a happiness, which allows me to connect again with the world, with the horrors that happen to those around us and to the wonder of how we, despite our best efforts, can connect and be part of everything around us.

We can and do change the world by the way we live in it, and what better way than to pursue empathy and connection with others and the whole world around us. Feminism does this in a very basic sense: disrupting our world, plunging us into imagining difference. I think of feminism as a kind of gateway drug to happiness. It allows you to view being human in a new way and from there you can act in ways that connect you to the world you want all around you. Your route may not be feminism; it may be through environmental activism, economic, political, social activism, buying a Rape Crisis heart or even through a commitment to smile daily at strangers. But whatever it is, to pursue happiness all you need to do is reach out and act on it.


Morgan Mitchell

Morgan Mitchell lives in Cape Town where she works with survivors of trauma in private practice as a trauma and EMDR counsellor. She has been a volunteer at Rape Crisis since 2001 and is a feminist civil rights activist. For over 15 years, she has also developed materials for a variety of ages and cultures.

When did girls become the enemy? What’s going on?

An eleven-year-old girl in Washington, DC, reports that she has been raped … twice, and the police respond with disbelief. Ultimately, despite all evidence, she is arrested and jailed for false testimony. Scores of under-age girls in Oxfordshire, in England, report that they have been raped, and the police respond by blaming the girls for poor choices and misbehavior. In both instances, years later, the police issue an apology. In the Oxfordshire case, this past week, it was decided that no officers would be charged. Apologies will just have to suffice.

Sadly, these stories are not shocking; they are typical. When did girls become the enemy? What’s going on?

Photo Illustration by Quinn Ryan/The Daily Beast.

Photo Illustration by Quinn Ryan/The Daily Beast.

What’s going on, indeed, when a judge in Sweden and judges across the United States and the United Kingdom exonerate rapists because the girls they raped “seemed older” than their biological age. What’s going on when, in Nigeria, child brides face the death penalty for having defended themselves against their older and abusive partners, all of this despite Nigeria’s having actually outlawed so-called child marriages ten years ago.

These are but a few stories culled from the news last week, and they all converge on a simple question. What’s going on? What’s going on when all the first responders refuse to protect girls. Be clear: no one failed. They refused. The judges, police, social workers, and child protection agencies all refused. While each case is its own case, the story is not about the United Kingdom or the United States or Sweden or Nigeria in isolation. The context is an ascendant global refusal to listen to girls, and all of this at precisely the moment in which allegedly girls are `making it’ on the global development stage. They may be making it on the stage, but in the streets, schools, courtrooms, police stations, and child protection agency offices, they’re being rejected, viciously and violently.

When a convicted rapist in India blames women for the violence they suffer, the world claims to be shocked and horrified, and with good reason. However, an equal horror lies in the spaces in which those clothed with the robes of law and State violate the law as they wreak greater violence on women and girls at their most vulnerable moments. From India to South Africa to Sweden to the United Kingdom to the United States to Nigeria and beyond, rape crisis centres play a vital role, and what is needed is less shock and awe, less outrage, and more action, including more money.

Rape Crisis Centres build safer communities for all. Along with counseling survivors, Cape Town Rape Crisis provides court support, education and advocacy. As Kathleen Dey, Director of Cape Town Rape Crisis, recently noted: “Survivors taking their trials to completion and feeling able to give a strong testimony is crucial in addressing the low conviction rate.” The key is a vision of a realizable compassionate and safe community built on justice, mutuality, equality, and love. That’s a tall order. It requires many people and, again, lots of money. As Alison Tilley has argued, an immediate step in South Africa would be to ramp up the Sexual Offenses Courts.

The line between a convicted Indian rapist and judges, police, social workers around the world is short and direct. We must work to transform the horror into justice. Girls are not the enemy. Girls who report having been sexually harassed or exploited or assaulted are not criminals. Translating that simple statement into lived reality means vigilant monitoring and extensive education at police stations, courtrooms, schools, hospitals and clinics, child protection agencies, legislatures and beyond. That’s why Rape Crisis Centres matter, and that’s why we need to support them.

Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg writes at Women In and Beyond the Global and at Africa Is a Country, and is Director of the Women’s Studies Program at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Athlone: Mobilising for Change

Last week we hosted a community dialogue in Athlone to present our community survey results, discuss the reasons behind the high rates of rape, and explore potential solutions.  We believe that by mobilising and working together with communities, we can find new ways of challenging rape and promoting safety.

1We introduced ourselves and shared our reasons for coming to talk about rape. We were joined by individuals from various areas within Athlone and representatives from the South African Police Service.

2Rape Crisis Training & Development Coordinator, Rifqah Abrahams, presented the survey results. The overwhelming majority of residents in Athlone report that they feel very unsafe in their community, and that drugs, gangsterism and parental negligence are the main contributors to the high rape rate.

3 Community members discussed how these issues affect their daily lives and shared their own experiences.

4Together we brainstormed ideas about what we could do as a community to challenge the high rate of rape and help those whose lives are affected by trauma. We decided that one of the things we need is more psychosocial support for survivors and information about rights and services.

5We shared our ideas with each other and decided that we would start support groups in each area, particularly in Hanover Park where there are no such support services, and we would use certain commemorative days to highlight issues like rape and distribute the most critical information that communities do not have access to. We will meet again to generate further solutions.

Photography: Alexa Sedgwick

Our community mobilisation project is made possible with the support of the Western Cape Department of Social Development.

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Building a Community of Young Activists

Last month we celebrated the commitment and achievement of our new peer educators from Khayelitsha who came together for their end of year camp. This group of vibrant school learners challenge the myths and misconceptions about rape amongst their peers in their schools and encourage those who are survivors to speak out and seek support. This most recent camp was attended by two students from the University of York, Amy Woodruff and Zaynah Nadeem Khan, who give us their impressions. Throughout my experience at the Birds and the Bees camp, two themes emerged:  the importance of including youth in advocacy and the spirit of community support. The activities led by Rape Crisis facilitators and the peer educators demonstrated the importance of youth working together to a sense of build unity as a foundation for working to bring about change. The excitement of the peer educators was contagious, as they took part in what proved to be a life-changing experience filled with the kind of opportunities that would not typically be available to them. In essence, they were given the chance to do something out of the ordinary while receiving well deserved recognition for their dedication to the peer education programme. 4 In workshops where they reflected on their previous learning, we could see the importance that they gave to the problem of rape, and how seriously they felt about doing their part to address it. In the more physical activities such as climbing the mountain, the peers worked as a team, supported each other and gave a helping hand to those who were finding it tough. The sense of fulfillment they felt after climbing the mountain was an incredible thing to witness. Many of the children said they felt strong, capable and surprised at what they could accomplish together as a team. 1 It was great to see the learners interacting with each other during the ‘Tree of Life’ activity. In this experiential game they gathered objects from the camp surroundings to illustrate their life stories. They were candid and willing to share not only with each other but also with us, which was incredibly inspiring. The camp re-established the pride these learners feel in themselves as leaders in their schools and communities, and added to their motivation to engage in advocacy actions to address sexual violence and promote safety in their schools. It gave them a chance to reflect on their new knowledge and experience, to engage with other youth, and to receive the praise and affirmation they deserve. It was a pleasure to be involved in this project, and I hope the camps continue for many years to come, and that the peer educators carry forward these lessons into their lives and into their communities. 2 Our peer educators perform a key role in the promotion of safety in their schools where rates of sexual violence are so high, and ensure that learners who are survivors have access to information and services and are supported in speaking out. We thank Manyano High School, Bulumko Secondary School, and Kwamfundo High School for continuing to host this programme in their schools. Thank you to MATCH Internaltional Women’s Fund and Oxfam Australia for funding this programme. Oxfam Full Logo Horizontal GreenMATCH