Today, on Heritage Day, South Africa recognises and celebrates the cultural heritage of our nation – the practices, traditions, rituals, knowledge systems and shared experiences that bond our communities together and create a thread of continuity through our generations.
But while culture has the power to bond us, it can also divide us. It can create inequality by favouring one over the other, it can silence by listening to some and not others, and it can create fear by legitimising the abuse of power over others.
One prime example is our culture of rape in South Africa.
Rape culture is a product of gender inequality and the societal attitudes that sustain it. This culture is passed through our generations leading to the widespread occurrence and social and institutional acceptance of rape.
This culture reveals itself through our tendency to blame survivors, police apathy towards rape survivors and their cases, our government’s lack of commitment to putting the issue on the agenda, the reluctance of our communities to question patriarchal cultural norms, and the unacceptably low conviction rate for rape in our country.
The good news is that if it can be made, it can be re-made. And we all have a role to play.
Our youth are the leaders of tomorrow and have the potential to change the way others think and act in the future. At Rape Crisis we have seen this first-hand in our peer education programme where young boys have testified to the change in their thinking after being given the opportunity to critically discuss the validity and consequences of their beliefs.
As parents and educators we need to be informed about rape and support those that disclose rape without judgement, disbelief or blame. We need to teach our youth about sex in a way that they understand and feel free to question.
The custodians of our heritage – our community leaders, church leaders, our parents and grandparents need to take responsibility for the values and beliefs they pass down to those who look up to and respect them and who will ultimately live out the consequences of these beliefs.
Our government needs to realise that preventing rape is not only its obligation in protecting its citizens but also makes economic sense when we consider the impact of rape on our physical and mental health and at times our ability to work and parent our children.
And us, we need to admit that by remaining silent about the things we see and hear, we are complicit in sustaining rape culture. We need to notice, understand, and challenge rape culture so that we begin to shape a new culture – one of equality, respect and freedom from violence.
Our Rape Crisis Training & Development team works with youth, parents and educators in high risk schools to challenge negative social norms around rape, mobilises and supports communities in developing grassroots actions to challenge rape, and delivers educational talks to community groups, churches, colleges and youth centres.
- Read more about the myths about rape that form part of rape culture
- Request a talk at your school, place of work, church or community group by contacting our Training & Development team
- Come to our community dialogues and take action against rape (details will be posted on our Facebook page)
Sarah is the Communications Coordinator for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and before that was a volunteer counsellor. Her passions are communications technologies, programme evaluation in the NPO sector and electric guitar.