Women’s Month: A Sham

It’s an annual play and we have all seen it before….

Every year in South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Month to commemorate the thousands of women who fought so bravely for equality during apartheid.

But it has become a month of lip service. Government departments praise their programs to end the scourge of gender based violence and spew dialogue about the initiatives that exist which put the needs of South African women first.

But let’s look at a more accurate test. The importance placed on women’s rights can be measured when a political figure is involved in the act of violating women. Enter, former deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana.

Mduduzi Manana

Former deputy Higher Education Minister, Mduduzi Manana. CC Image courtesy of Agência Brasil Fotografias on Flickr. 

For most of this month, South Africans have been consumed with the story of Manana, after a video was released on social media, showing him beating a young woman as the men around him watched this. He later, in an audio clip, admits he slapped this woman. The media feasts on this story and it makes headlines everywhere.

And then came the grand moment when the ANC Women’s League had the stage to condemn this violence and represent the voice of all women in the country.

And all I can do is sigh as I write this…..

Questions are posed to the ANCWL President,  Bathabile Dlamini, on the Manana incident. An audio interview with the Sunday Times newspaper is published. This is what she says:

“Don’t start from him. If we want to say everyone who occupies a senior position in government we must know his track record because there are people who are worse than him….”

So this makes his actions okay then, because it’s just assault?

“As ANCWL it is our role to fight about issues of gender based violence. I don’t want to be part of those games of saying whether he should resign or not. In other parties there is sexual harassment and it is not treated the way it is treated in the ANC. I refuse that this issue be made a political tool. It is not a political tool….For now we have been saying Umuntu is innocent until proven guilty…”

Dlamini refuses to take a stand on the issue. She has disappointed thousands of South African women yet again. Many of us begin to have flash backs of the Jacob Zuma rape trial and the manner in which Khwezi was vilified.

On the one hand we have Dlamini saying she will not be dragged into this case which directly involves violence against women. On the other hand, you have her preaching that South Africa is ready for a female president as she announces that Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma will be one of the candidates running for the ANC presidency.

In an address where she announced  Dlamini -Zuma as the candidate backed by ANCWL, she says, “We need to be very vigilant…If people respect us, they must stop doing clandestine things during our month. Every year in parliament, we discuss women’s issues during this month….South African is a patriarchal country even the storyline is meant to use us as weapons or objects.”

Now let’s get back to Manana, who resigns from government.

In his carefully crafted PR statement, he apologises for his actions. “There is no excuse in the world that can justify what I have done and as much as I am utterly and completely shameful of the act, it’s not even about me,” he says.

But Manana’s resignation brings no justice for the woman who was slapped or for South African women who are constantly fighting against violence. It is merely an act, which was as a result of mounting public pressure and because of the impact it would have on the ruling party. Ultimately it was about saving face in a country where politics always takes precedence.

For me it’s just another reminder of how little we value women and their rights in our country. There is no political accountability for the actions of elected officials, from Bathabile Dlamini to Mduduzi Manana and many others.

Something else that gives me sleepless nights is the tendency of political heads to show more concern in Women’s Month. Why is it that if something is committed in this month it is made out to be ten times worse? Beating a woman is a horrific and an unjustifiable crime, whether it happens in January or in August. It shouldn’t be happening. Nor should we leave issues of women to be discussed in this month only.

What was once a month of celebrating women, is now a month for opportunists to express outcry and outrage.

I am glad it’s almost over. Because the truth is that once the month is over people go about and continue to violate the rights of women.

 

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TheJusticeLady

TheJusticeLady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.

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Rape does not start in the bedroom

She wants to run but has nowhere to go. She wants to scream but has no voice. She wants to cry but has no tears. She is alone. Walls. Walls. That’s all she has. Four walls surrounding her, covered in cracks and mould. No picture frames. No light. Just walls. She lies curled up on a worn-out mattress and clutches her knees to her chest. The mattress smells like him. Her stomach churns and she chooses to lie on her back. She hates his scent. She tries not to focus on the smell and instead focuses on listening. There is a faint rustling of leaves outside and the occasional humming of birds but aside from that, there is silence.

But silence on the outside does not escape her from the agonising noises inside her head. Her inner screams, cries for help, voices of desperate longing and praying that he won’t come back. Her thoughts about him come in like a cancerous invasion. Every time she tries to take control of her mind and think of something different, those thoughts come back stronger and multiply. They haunt her. They never leave her alone.

The door suddenly latches open and makes her jump. She quickly turns around and prepares herself for what she already knows is going to happen. Her nose is hit by a strong stench of beer. She remains completely silent. She does not scream. She does not cry out for help. The only sound she can hear are those agonizing screams inside her head. Those agonising screams which become louder and louder as he drops his beer to the floor and pulls down his zip. He’s back.

Raping someone is not a spontaneous act, but a preconceived plan. Rape is not caused by alcoholism or drug intoxication or being part of a gang; it is caused by a person feeding their mind with inappropriate sexual thoughts. Rape is not just sex, it is violence. Violation. Power. Dominance. Control. Hatred. It does not start in the bedroom, it starts in a person’s mind. It is not a sudden moment of irrational thinking, it is a well-thought out decision. A person who chooses to rape has fantasized about rape long before they choose to do it. No, you cannot blame a woman because she is wearing provocative clothing. No, you cannot blame a little girl for taking a different route to get home late at night. No, you cannot blame a male victim for being in a prison cell full of other sex-hungry men. No, you cannot blame a homosexual person for choosing to love a person of the same sex as them. No, you cannot blame her because she is a prostitute. No, you cannot blame a wife for disobeying her husband. No you cannot get away with rape because you have good manners. No you cannot get away with rape because you’re a doctor, or a priest, or a family man. There is no situation in this world which makes rape okay, no person in this world who “deserves what he/she got”, no rapist in this world who deserves to get away with what they’ve done.

So what is the solution? How do we stop this sexual violence from happening? How do we create a society which will not tolerate rape under any circumstances? Maybe we could create awareness.  Maybe we could stop drug trafficking. Maybe we could prohibit alcohol. Maybe we could create safety procedures and protection services for those who are at risk of being raped. Maybe we could imprison rapists. These are all effective ways of reducing the instances of rape, but there is only one thing which can prevent rape.

The tongue.

The tongue is a very powerful tool. We can all control what we say, how we say it, who we say it to. Rape does not start in the bedroom. It starts with language. How are we talking about women? Are we sexualising their bodies or treating them with respect? Are we condoning sexual violence or condemning it? Are we discussing rape as a sign of strength and “machismo” or a sign of weakness? Are you talking to women as though they’re you’re equals or your inferiors? Are we saying that rape is justified if a person has a different sexual preference to us?

“She is my wife and she disobeyed me, she needs discipline man! I can’t just allow a person to get away with not listening to me, especially if she is a woman!”

“That chick deserved what she got. What was she thinking walking down an alleyway by herself? And she was basically wearing underwear!”

“Why do these women gott’ complain man? These days they always want to be stronger and better than a man. But they will never be better. The man is always above the woman under my roof.”

The tongue.

Let’s challenge rape culture by controlling our language about rape, sexual assault, harassment, violence, women and children. Let’s create a community where any human being can walk home and feel safe no matter what time they’re going home. Let’s create a community where rape is not tolerated. And let’s certainly create a community where rapists are not tolerated either. Let’s build a culture of consent by remembering where rape starts.

 

Lauren Pechey                                                          

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Lauren is currently studying Psychology at the University of Cape Town which has allowed her to put her heart and soul into understanding people, rape culture, gendered violence and women studies. She believes that every experience of womanhood is unique and intricately linked to one’s background, religion, race, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age and so on. She hopes to continue to speak out against gendered oppression and to one day provide adequate support to to people from all walks of life who have been victims of it