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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#MenAreTrash

When I first became aware of the #MenAreTrash hashtag it was never a stand-alone thing. The hashtag always preceded or followed a story, in less than 140 characters on Twitter, about why men are trash. Every reason for using the hashtag was real. Horrific stories of rape and abuse shared the hashtag with downright rude stories about men dissing women and girls for how they looked, dressed, spoke. One tweeter used #MenAreTrash to describe the total stranger who flooded her with unsolicited dick pics. Another posted a picture of her black eye. There was the one who addressed her harasser personally, and another who posted a thread of daily incidents of harassment she had experienced since puberty. It was a long list. Sometimes #MenAreTrash was the single word answer to a tweet that was sexist or inappropriate or ugly towards women.

When I first encountered the hashtag I had no idea how it was going to be taken up, or how much it would trend. But, more importantly, I had no idea how fierce male resistance to it would be.

Close friends of mine took the hashtag personally. Sane men, who understand white privilege and systemic racism; men who have spoken out in defence of #BlackLivesMatter and who took pains to explain the wrongness of the #AllLivesMatter backlash, struggled with #MenAreTrash. They couldn’t help themselves. They took it personally. I was shocked. I was forced to explain #MenAreTrash more than once to those who were hurt by the hashtag and the message behind it.

This is how I explained it. If you are white and you have been working to understand racism and privilege and you see #WhitesAreRacist you should, after a moment to digest the usual default knee-jerk response, be able to walk on by, acknowledging that for the most part it is true, but that you don’t have to take it personally. Same thing for #MenAreTrash. If you are a man who works hard to break down the gender stereotypes, who has a clear conscience regarding the objectification of women, and a man who keeps standing up and calling out men who behave inappropriately towards women, then you should be able to walk on by, acknowledging that men are trash does not mean you.

Unfortunately, men have been outraged by #MenAreTrash. A lot more outraged by far by that hashtag then by the reasons behind it. Hysterical, loud and vitriolic responses have included trolling, threatening and even physically harming women for using the hashtag. See the irony there?

And it is a never-ending cycle.

Here is my advice to men. Keep quiet for a moment and listen. Hear what is being said. And hear why it is being said. Hold off on your outrage for a little bit, and then see if you can redirect it. We need you to be outraged. We need you to be outraged by what is being done to us, by men. We need you to help us fight this fight. We need you men to move yourselves away from the denial, the whining voice of the hard done by and misinterpreted, and to get over yourselves for long enough to identify what the problem is, and to hear why #MenAreTrash is a rallying cry.

Show us it isn’t so.

Megan Furniss

Megan Furniss is a South African born playwright, actor, writer, director, blogger and improviser. She likes to find spaces to let her big mouth and big opinions be heard and seen. She lives and works in Cape Town. It’s a love hate relationship.

After the Worst has Happened

It is the end of my Honours year. I am at a party to celebrate. I am shivering, despite the warm evening as I stand with a group of my classmates on the patio. We are anxiously waiting to hear if the two girls who left the party to go for a walk and did not return, have been found. Someone comes running towards us out of the darkness. He takes a breath, “the worst has happened”, a pause… “they have been raped”.

I have thought of those words many times in the last five years. I have been recalled to them again in the past few weeks as another spate of highly publicised rapes (and murders) infiltrate my consciousness:

RAPE IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN TO A WOMXN

I hear this message echoed in the words of Judge Kgomo as he hands down sentencing to serial rapist Christian Cornelius Julies in the North West. “It is unquestionable that if he was not stopped in his tracks, belatedly though, the devastation of girls and women’s lives would have continued”.

I hear it in the numerous posts on Facebook that recur on my news feed which proclaim that “my biggest fear is being raped”.

I am torn as I write this because it was my biggest fear -so much so that at the moment that I was being dragged into the bushes I thought to myself “oh god this – the worst thing – is finally happening to me”.  But what does it mean for me now? What can I do now that the worst has happened to me?

According to this narrative my life has been devastated, I have been violated in the most extreme way imaginable, I am worse than dead. I have struggled under the weight of this for 18 months now. I have tried to reconstitute myself amidst the constant echo that this is not actually possible – that I will never be whole and unbroken ever again.

I am not denying that being raped is terrifying and terrible. How could I deny this? It was terrifying and terrible – so terrifying and terrible that I left my body for a while and just hovered above myself, trying not to look down on what was happening.

BUT I am concerned about how the dominant narratives about sexual violence, including the one that being raped is the worst thing, impact on the ability to move beyond the terrifying and terribleness of rape.  How is it possible to heal when disclosing an experience of trauma is met with “Oh my goodness! That is my worst fear!”? How are those who have been violated supposed to heal when they are constantly reminded that they have been dehumanised in the most severe way?

I am not suggesting that we should not continue to call out the horror that is sexual violence. All instances of sexual violence are unacceptable and need to be plainly rendered as such.

But I am asking that we think more carefully about how we do this so that we do not reinscribe pain and horror on the bodies, psyches and souls of those around us.

Rebecca Helman 

Rebecca Helman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her PhD, entitled “post-rape subjectivities”, examines the ways in which rape survivors are able to (re)constitute their subjectivities amidst the discursive and material politics of sexual violence in the South African context. Rebecca is also a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office. 

 

 

Silent Protest – Break the silence, stop the violence against women (Rhodes University, 23 March)

On Friday 23 March over 1400 protestors, both women and men, will participate in the 6th annual ‘Sexual Violence = Silence’ Protest. The protest, organised by the Rhodes University Dean of Students’ Office, aims to show solidarity with rape survivors who are silenced by sexual violence. Both staff and students have participated in previous years.

For the past 6 years student activists at Rhodes University have staged this protest in order to draw public attention to rape and to demand better services for survivors.

The majority of women protestors will be silenced using black gaffer tape, and will be unable to speak, eat or drink water for over 12 hours as a sign of their solidarity with the silence of rape in the national discourse and the silencing of rape survivors. Those survivors that are brave and empowered enough will speak out about the crimes committed against them by wearing shirts describing them as “Rape Survivors”. Over eighty women wore this shirt last year.

We are protesting against the statistic that 1 in 20 rape survivors will report their rape for fear of social stigma and secondary victimisation by the South African judicial system. According to the collated figures in South African Police Service crime stat reports between 2008 and 2011, after the Sexual Offences Act came into effect, over 205 000 sexual offences were reported, of which just under over 165 500 just rape. If only 1 in 20 survivors of sexual abuse reports their rape, then over 4-million South Africans suffered some form of sexual violation in the last 5 years. Similarly, over 3,3-million South Africans were raped.

These numbers are unacceptable. Rape limits human potential; it silences people, makes them feel less than human, keeps them afraid and creates isolation. Our protest on the 23rd of March affirms our solidarity with the 19 in 20 women silenced by rape and sexual violence. Freedom of Speech is denied to victims of sexual violence. Despite the laws and policies that have been put in place, patriarchal attitudes and misogynist practice render laws and policies meaningless in the lives of many rape survivors. Survivors face victim-blaming, secondary victimisation and social stigma when they speak out about the violence they have experienced. State service providers do not always respect the rights of rape survivors and fail to comply with norms and standards set out in national legislation and policy; these are just some of the reasons why reporting of rape cases remains low.

The judicial system’s disregard for rape survivors is most aptly exemplified by the Sowetan’s recent report that a rape survivor was forced to wait nine years for justice, and her case was delayed a total of 48 times.  The Department of Justice Director-General Nonkululeko Sindane apologised to the survivor for her ordeal 15 months after an order to do so by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Sindane then said the department would not compensate the survivor for her trauma (despite an order from Madonsela) as “no crime was committed against her”, according to the Sowetan report.

PRESS CONFERENCE

We will be hosting a press conference at the Student Union building in seminar room 1 at 1pm on Tuesday, 20 March. All local journalists, photographers, TV crews are encouraged to attend.

PURPOSE OF THE PROTEST:

  1. to highlight the state’s silence around sexual violence and its inability or unwillingness to support rape survivors and successfully prosecute rapists.
  2. to symbolise all rape survivors whose voices are silenced by rape and to represent the 19 in 20 rape survivors who do not report their violation.

FORMAT OF THE PROTEST:

There are FOUR different kinds of participation in the day-long protest on 23 March:

  • Silent women: T-shirts with ‘sexual violence causes silence’ on the front & explanation on the back (gagged all day, no food or water)
  • Rape survivors: T-shirts with ‘rape survivor’ on the front & explanation on the back
  • Men in solidarity: T-shirts with ‘solidarity with women who speak out’ on the front & explanation on the back
  • Women staff members & students with health issues: T-shirts with ‘solidarity with women who speak out’ on the front & explanation on the back

PROGRAMME

06h00    Gather at Alec Mullins Hall on Friday 23 March.

06h00 – 07h00   T-shirt distribution

07h00 – 07h15   Briefing and address by organiser

07h15 – 07h45   SILENCING

07h45 – 08h15   Group photos in front of Main Admin of ALL, then SILENCED, SURVIVORS and MEN IN SOLIDARITY.

08h30 – 12h30   Lectures & tutorials as usual. Protesters to remain visible.

12h30 – 14h00   DIE-IN outside the Rhodes University admin building. ALL (silenced, survivors & men is solidarity) PROTESTERS GATHER.

14h00 – 17h00   Lectures & tutorials as usual.

17h00 – 17h30   ALL volunteers gather outside Main Admin and process from via Drostdy Arch down High Street to the Cathedral

17h30                    ADDRESS BY ORGANISER & BREAKING THE SILENCE!

17h30 – 20h00   Debriefing, discussion & reflection

20h00 – 20h30   GAP ‘Take Back the Night’ March

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

Michelle Solomon

Media liaison, Silent Protest

michelleHsolomon@gmail.com

072 396 8302