Help­ing women know their power

The Soul City In­sti­tute for So­cial Jus­tice will be march­ing in #TheTo­talShut­down cam­paign against gen­der-based vi­o­lence, writes Lebo Ra­mafoko

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION -

THE Soul City In­sti­tute for So­cial Jus­tice sup­ports the #The To­talShut­down called by women for Wednesday. We sup­port it be­cause we are tired. We are tired of the misog­yny ex­hib­ited by men across all walks of life in South Africa. More­over, we are tired of the empty prom­ises by the South African gov­ern­ment to deal with gen­der-based vi­o­lence. Too of­ten, our lead­ers say one thing and do another.

#TheTo­talShut­down will be a pow­er­ful – per­haps the most pow­er­ful yet – ex­pres­sion of women’s power against the scourge of gen­der-based vi­o­lence. As a so­ci­ety we have reached a tip­ping point. The time for words has passed. Wide­spread gen­der-based vi­o­lence and vi­o­lence against chil­dren has scarred our so­ci­ety to the ex­tent that we risk be­com­ing un-shock­able. In fact, ar­guably, our na­tional “tol­er­ance” for gen­der­based vi­o­lence has clogged the ar­ter­ies of our na­tional life and hard­ened our hearts. Our na­tion is sick and is chok­ing on the bile of its misog­yny and vi­o­lence.

The causes of vi­o­lence are com­plex and fa­mil­iar at the same time in South Africa. We are eas­ily able to make the con­nec­tion that at least some of these pat­terns of abuse against women and chil­dren were spawned in the apartheid era, yet progress made in the postapartheid era has been lim­ited, and at times re­gres­sive.

What is cer­tain is that the last 10 years have been a lost decade in the fight for women’s and chil­dren’s rights. The high­est of­fice in the land was, un­til Fe­bru­ary, oc­cu­pied by a misog­y­nist who be­came pres­i­dent after he said in his trial for rape that a Zulu man does not leave a wo­man in a state of arousal; and that he had taken a shower to wash off the HI virus.

The former pres­i­dent’s words and ac­tions were en­abled and le­git­imised by a so­ci­ety where women are of­ten told not to wear miniskirts in case they “pro­voke” men to rape them. Bat­tered and bruised wives and girl­friends are asked what they did to “anger” their hus­bands and boyfriends. An MP found guilty of as­sault against a wo­man is al­lowed to re­tain his seat, and “vol­un­tar­ily” re­sign, thus keep­ing all of his ben­e­fits.

It is in this bro­ken so­ci­etal con­text that one in three women in our coun­try can ex­pect to be raped in her life­time. It is in this pa­tri­ar­chal con­text that a South African wo­man is mur­dered by her in­ti­mate part­ner ev­ery day.

In a so­ci­ety in which women are over­whelm­ingly the vic­tims of rape, vi­o­lence and in­fected (and af­fected) by Aids, our lead­ers should have been ad­dress­ing how to free girls and women from sys­temic pat­terns of male abuse and dom­i­nance. Yet things have only got worse. Six years ago, the na­tion, and the en­tire world, was out­raged when Anene Booy­sen was hor­rif­i­cally gang-raped, mu­ti­lated and mur­dered.

Six years has passed since Anene ut­tered her heartrend­ing dy­ing words “I am tired”. How­ever, do most of us even re­mem­ber who Anene was? This crime was, we were in­formed, a “wake-up call” to South African so­ci­ety when, in fact, there has been an uptick in the rate of vi­o­lence.

Eco­nom­i­cally, the re­cent VAT in­crease dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacted poor black house­holds, and black women are not mean­ing­fully shielded from this by the state. Even worse are the re­cent rev­e­la­tions on the so-called “pink tax”. Women’s es­sen­tial goods such as ra­zors, de­odor­ant, vi­ta­mins and an ar­ray of other items cost 13% more than the equiv­a­lent men’s prod­ucts.

This in­jus­tice, though, starts much ear­lier: in the life sto­ries and ed­u­ca­tion of girls. About

30% of fe­male learn­ers in South African schools do not at­tend school when they men­stru­ate be­cause they can­not af­ford san­i­tary prod­ucts. This means that a girl could ef­fec­tively lose 90 days of school­ing a year as a di­rect re­sult of is­sues re­lat­ing to men­stru­a­tion. The cost to girls’ right to dig­nity, ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, and, more broadly, the im­pact upon the na­tional econ­omy are im­pos­si­ble to cal­cu­late. The VAT in­crease on san­i­tary prod­ucts fur­ther com­pounds the dis­crim­i­na­tion women and girls face.

As re­searchers at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity have ar­gued, this is a fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights is­sue be­cause the con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees to ed­u­ca­tion, free­dom, se­cu­rity and hu­man dig­nity are be­ing in­fringed upon. Yet only the province of KwaZulu-Na­tal pro­vides free san­i­tary prod­ucts.

The in­fringe­ment of women’s and girls’ rights ex­tends to our mo­bil­ity. Again, the roots are clear. Apartheid’s spa­tial de­sign plan­ning re­sulted in black women liv­ing far away from their places of work, forc­ing them to spend hours com­mut­ing to work.

The na­tion’s built en­vi­ron­ment re­mains largely un­al­tered, and ex­plains why women to­day face cat­calls, grop­ing, rape and even mur­der in their com­mutes and jour­neys. There­fore, we will march on Wednesday for safe pub­lic trans­porta­tion and pub­lic spa­ces for women and girls.

Through­out its his­tory Soul

City has al­ways fought for women’s rights through ad­vo­cacy, im­pec­ca­ble ev­i­dence-based re­search, edu­tain­ment, and com­mu­nity-based pro­grammes to com­bat si­lence and stigma. We are work­ing harder than ever to com­bat gen­der-based vi­o­lence and pa­tri­archy across the spec­trum of so­cial jus­tice is­sues out­lined here. We be­lieve, how­ever, that South Africa is los­ing the fight on two fronts: the one with vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren and the other with eco­nomic in­jus­tice.

We sup­port #TheTo­talShut­down be­cause un­less we act de­ci­sively on GBV, none of our ef­forts to grow our econ­omy, re­duce HIV in­fec­tions, elim­i­nate equal­ity, and build a truly in­clu­sive South African so­ci­ety will amount to any­thing. Pa­tri­archy is still deeply embed­ded in our so­cial fab­ric, and un­less we shake this poi­son from the very roots of our so­ci­ety, our growth will be stunted and will fail to bear fruit for the next gen­er­a­tion.

We sup­port #TheTo­talShut­down be­cause enough is enough. We are march­ing to put an end to the pink tax, to call for the elim­i­na­tion of

VAT on san­i­tary prod­ucts, for the free pro­vi­sion of san­i­tary prod­ucts to all fe­male learn­ers. We are march­ing to en­sure that poor black women are shielded from be­ing plunged into fur­ther poverty due to the VAT in­crease. We are march­ing for a more just and eq­ui­table so­ci­ety in which women can take their right­ful place as lead­ers, builders and thinkers in so­ci­ety.

Ra­mafoko is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Soul City In­sti­tute for So­cial Jus­tice. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @zangazu­lu­girl

PIC­TURE: NOKUTHULA MBATHA

The Soul City In­sti­tute for So­cial Jus­tice hopes the #TheTo­talShut­down will be a pow­er­ful ex­pres­sion of women power against the scourge of gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

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