Women: listen to your inner voice and act

As #MeToo sets the stage for how things should be, rather than how they have been, I’m thinking of how, for so long, prevention of sexual assault has been aimed at women. Don’t walk there, don’t wear that, don’t go out alone, don’t stay in alone. Read the signs. Notice the behaviour. Tell them it’s not okay.

For far too long.

Too late we’re changing the discussion and placing the responsibility where it should lie: with the choices men make. Simple. Just don’t do it. Don’t make up excuses in your mind for why it is okay generally, or specifically, or just this once. Just stop cat-calling, leering, staring, touching, trying your luck, and forcing your will. Just stop.

That said, there is one more responsibility I do want to put on women: act on your gut and act fast. If you don’t listen to your Mentor Within, to your inner wisdom, you won’t be safe. And if you don’t act fast you’re more likely to be in danger. I have been listening to the themes that have emerged over the last few days in the media, and apart from the relief that the secrets are out, and the outrage that trusted men can behave this way, there is another theme that is emerging. Women just want it to stop, but they don’t want anyone hurt in the process.

This is one of the reasons for the silence. Yes, there’s humiliation, and the real fear of losing a contract or a job, or of breaking up the family, but more than anything there is a belief that people are essentially good and if we play fair, surely the men will too. But they won’t. Not these kinds of men. Not the men who are entitled, narcissistic conquerors. Not the men who really don’t care. They’ll sooner throw you under the bus than admit their behaviour, and they’re not about to stop unless they are forced to.

I remember when I was travelling many years back, aged 19. We were being taken back to where we were staying by a taxi driver. Half way to our residence the taxi driver stopped on the edge of a lake. I asked him why he was stopping, and he said in broken English that the car had trouble. I had heard this man speaking English earlier and it wasn’t nearly as broken as it was as he tried to give us a reason for stopping in this deserted spot. I could feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck and a rush of adrenalin, which I knew was there to keep me safe. “There’s nothing wrong with the car,” I told him, as he asked us to move to another car. But he insisted we had to change cars.

He was messing with the wrong woman. “We’ll go with that car, but you’re staying here. We’re not going with two men”, I said. “Also, the guys who put us in the taxi took your registration number and they know who you are. We told them your name. So one wrong move by your friend and you’ll both have a lot to account for. Now make sure he gets us there fast as we are being expected by our hosts and if we don’t arrive by 7pm they’ll be out looking for us.”

I could see his resolve crumble. Whatever he’d had planned was just a bit too inconvenient. He spoke to his friend in a language I couldn’t understand, and with a few nods, the friend took us swiftly back to where we were staying.

Throughout, my friend hadn’t said a word. Like three other occasions I can remember when I was with another woman in danger, if I had not acted fast, decisively and on the front foot who knows what would have happened?

Women won’t always be able to get out of dangerous situations but sometimes by making a scene we can avert atrocious behaviour. Far more often, though, women either panic and freeze or don’t want to draw attention or blame someone when they might be wrong.

At no other time is it more appropriate to “act now and ask forgiveness if you’re wrong”.

Just do it. Trust your gut, and act fast when there’s a threat. Don’t do it the nice way, don’t take your time about it, and don’t be scared to call it out and draw other people’s attention.

“Scream

So that one day

A hundred years from now

Another sister will not have to

Dry her tears wondering

Where in history

She lost her voice.”

Jasmin Kaur

 

Rosemary Shapiro-LiuRosemary Shapiro-Liu is the director of Triple Win Enterprises in Sydney, Australia, and the author of The Mentor Within. She is a facilitator, conference strategist and coach. In South Africa she was one of the National Directors of NICRO, and the national manager for Restorative Justice, and in Australia she works with thought leaders, social entrepreneurs and business authors. She is one of the founding contributors to Smallville.com.au for small business owners who think big.

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#NotOurLeaders

by Lisa Vetten, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu and Sanja Bornman

Tomorrow, 25 November, marks the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. Activities led by government emphasise the importance of taking action to end gender-based violence but do political parties walk the talk?

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Mduduzi Manana has resigned from his position as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training and been convicted and sentenced for committing assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. But he is neither the first nor the only political representative to behave violently towards women. During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights, and gender violence specialist Lisa Vetten turn the spotlight on political representatives and the protectors and keepers who enable their sexual misconduct and abuse. Each day the group will release the name and facts of a different case of a leader embroiled in sexual abuse charges. The aim is to reflect both on the incidents themselves, as well as the responses of the political parties to which these men belong, their actions proving a litmus test of their true commitment to addressing sexual violence.

South Africa’s political representatives are the guardians of the Constitution and rights it contains, including the right to gender equality and the right to be free from all forms of violence, whether from public or private sources. It is their responsibility to develop laws that advance these rights, hold government departments to account for their (in)action in this regard, and approve budgets that make these rights realities. But political representatives’ ability to improve women and men’s lives is compromised when they appoint abusive men to positions of power.

“Political parties that appoint these men, then fail to act against them, or protect them, are hypocritical. Over the next 16 days, we will hear a lot of public condemnation of violence against women and children from various leaders, but this campaign turns the focus on what politicians and parties actually do, not what they say,” said Sanja Bornman of the Lawyers for Human Rights’ Gender Equality programme. Parties undermine efforts to address gendered forms of violence when they fail to develop systems and procedures addressing sexual violence, or fail to put their policies and procedures into effect. They also hamper South Africa’s efforts to meet Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Target 5.5 of this goal is to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” Yet women’s political participation and representation is undermined in environments where sexual violence and abuse go unchecked.

Says Lisa Vetten: “These problems are not new and if they are allowed to persist there is a risk they will become permanent features of our political landscape. As the country currently debates the quality of its political representatives this dimension of their conduct should not be overlooked.”

The individuals we will be focusing on are #NotOurLeaders and we demand that political structures act decisively and urgently to tackle the problems we will be highlighting during the 16 Days.

 

Lisa Vetten is a gender violence specialist based in Johannesburg, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu works at the Women and Democracy Initiative of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape and Sanja Bornman works for Lawyers for Human Rights.

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.

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