The Soul City Institute for Social Justice supports the #TheTotalShutdown called by women on August 1, 2018. 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 (GBV). 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 that blights South Africa. 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 gender-based 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 GBV 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 post-apartheid 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 HIV 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, GBV 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 GBV.
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 August 1 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 against GBV and violence against children and the other against 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 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 unapologetic leaders, builders, and thinkers in society.
We are marching on.
* Ramafoko is the chief executive officer of the Soul City Institute for Social Justice. Follow her Twitter @zangazulugirl
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.