The inconvenient truth about 16 Days of Activism

Published Nov 24, 2016


The 16 Days of Activism campaign has for the longest time worn a black face, but abuse has nothing to do with your socio-economic status, writes Lesego Makgatho.

Quibbling over the class of violence on women and children is a distraction, it misses the point. Anyone is susceptible to violence. No matter what socio-economic status you're in.

Just as poverty wears a black face, the 16 Days of Activism campaign has also, for the longest time, worn a black face too. An informal settlement in Diepsloot is always visited, the downtrodden have always been perceived as the communities who are the only ones victimised. Woman and child abuse wears no face - it can happen to any one.

'The woman in the suburbs is as susceptible to violence as the woman from Alexandra'

Abuse has nothing to with your socio-economic status.

The woman in the suburbs, who wakes up to her croissant and blue cheese for breakfast, is as susceptible to violence as the woman from Alexandra Township. Violence against women has nothing to do with race or demographics.

'In patriarchal societies all men can access power'

Look at Oscar Pistorius for example, or the Stutterheim rapist, farmer William Knoetze, who was sentenced to fifteen years for repeatedly raping three girls. We cannot overlook the stone-faced, former tennis superstar, Bob Hewitt receiving a six-year sentence for raping a succession of girls. We need to understand that in patriarchal societies, all men can access patriarchal power. Wealthy men like Knoetze and Hewitt rape, and those like Pistorius murder their partners, as do wealthy black men. So, quibbling over the class of violence on women and children is a distraction, it misses the point.

With these and many other powerful, sometimes famous, men in mind, we need to understand that every embodiment etched in us holds a battle: I am black, I am fighting racism, I am a woman, and I am fighting sexism, misogyny, and patriarchal power. All these nuances collide inside of us, and bring us face to face with the multitude of issues crippling our society.

'Sex workers are put in the 'impossible to rape' category' 

In Rape: A South African Nightmare, associate professor of African Literary and gender studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Pumla Dineo Gqola, unpacks the nuances of rape culture in South Africa. What she brings to light , amongst many other issues, is the narrative of how sex workers are put in the 'impossible to rape' category because, to be believable, the speaker has to fall into a category that is seen as impossible to rape''. She continues:

“Not all people are seen as possible-to-rape. Sex workers, wives, slave women and men are all categories of people that, at different stages, have been placed in the category of 'impossible to rape'. This does not mean that nobody raped them. It means that when they were sexually violated, it was not recognised as such, legally and socially. People who are placed in the category 'impossible-to-rape' are routinely disbelieved when they report rape.”

Furthermore, she explains that, “Because societal attitudes to rape continue to frame it as a kind of inappropriate sex, sex workers/prostitutes have a harder time convincing people they have been raped. Sex workers belong to group marked as 'impossible-to-rape'. This is because of what they do for living and patriarchal attitudes to women who have sex.”

Personally, I am very despondent about the state of violence against women in South Africa. And with that despondency comes a realisation regarding the narrative, that poverty makes it likely for men to rape and to abuse, is untrue. The image of poor, young Black men as the figures of the rapist or the abusive lover is not the reality South African women live under. If that were the case, then some groups of women would be safe if they lived lives that brought them into minimal contact with these men, who are the face of violence in public discourse.

Gqola reiterates that our response to violence matters. She writes:

“How we speak about and respond to violence matters. “It happens all the time” points to the crisis, debunking the myth that it is shocking and expressed in isolated incidents. That phrasing also suggests that is commonplace, normal: “All the time.” It happens. The truth is that it does not just 'happen'. Individuals choose to rape and they make this choice because it is an available one, one that is mostly without consequence to themselves.”

In another nuanced rallying cry for the end of violence on women, author and therapist Sue Hickey helps unravel the complexities of abuse and helps one understand that they need to look at themselves - with compassion and tough love. In her book, When Loving Him Hurts she talks about how you are not the problem, but you are the solution and she shows you how.

'The image of poor, young Black men as the figures of the rapist or the abusive lover is not the reality South African women live under'

“You don't have to leave, but you do have to change,” she says. Sue Hickey believes that unless you are in a physically abusive relationship, there are ways to stay in your relationship without participating in your own abuse. She writes:

“Many women have left and returned to abusive relationships. Some left and found themselves inexplicably in other abusive relationships.”

If anything, it is sad that we live in a society where most of us have this, “if it's not happening to me then it doesn't affect me” attitude. And so for the next 16 days of activism, can we shift the narrative around the campaign, unmask the campaign, speak up when we need to, not be selective with our outrage on abuse and violence on women and children? And most importantly, can we not look away.


* Lesego Makgatho is a multimedia journalist at Independent Media.

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