During these 16 days of Activism for No Violence Against Womyn and Children, I could begin this discussion by quoting statistics and acutely describing all the gruesome narratives, in which the mauled bodies of womyn, queer and trans*gender people, have been left for dead. These stories are not unfamiliar, we know them too well. However, there is already an awareness of our everyday descent into a nation where vulnerable people face the danger of imminent death, due to the social and cultural ideologies which deem some people less deserving of safety and life than others.
Courtesy of Joburg People’s Pride
JHB People’s Pride has already rejected this 16 Days, stating that “in spite of the constitutional freedoms we can only assert through expensive court actions, our lives are overly determined by violence.” Whilst NGOs such as Rape Crisis and Sonke Gender Justice have taken advantage of this 16 Days (as they do all other days) this year, government has adorned its calendar with prayer meetings under the name of a patriarchal God, as well as a march with religious organisations that have publicly rejected non-conforming sexual and gender identities. In addition, these days involve neither direct educational actions with civil society nor institutional structures. As much as we must support survivors of violence, we also need a long term strategies of prevention. This requires 365 days of activism and tackling gross inequality and poverty in a country where gender-based violence is seen as the right of those with masculine power, through what Rape Crisis describes as a historical “militarisation of South African male identities”.
If we know, if we have heard South Africa spoken in the same sentence as ‘Rape Capital,’ why does this situation persist? We have a Task Team for Gender and Sexual-Orientation Based Violence, communication strategies for an LGBTI[Q] Hate Crimes Task Team – initiatives which have had no visible, long-lasting impact in curbing gender-based violence.
When Rape Crisis in Cape Town is retrenching staff and struggling to keep its doors open; When the first PSA by the Government LGBTI[Q] Hate Crimes Task Team urged survivors to report violence in a fantasy world where conviction rates are high and all police stations are places of safety, as opposed to raising consciousness on how rape is in fact, a violent crime, not a survivors misinterpretation of a consensual intimate sexual act – I wonder, what on earth is government’s branding of perpetual violence into 16 Days going to achieve? The banner for 16 Days reads “Don’t look away, act against abuse.” Who thinks that people have the option to look away in the first place?
According to FeministSA’s Jen Thorpe, during the meeting held by the Ministry of Women in the Presidency on the 8th of November, in which they detailed their plans for 16 Days “Princess Dineo, from the Northwest Province, then stood up to tell us that feminism is un‑African and encouraged the Minister to cut all funds for centers for abused women and children,” following Minister Shabangu’s statement that “Men are supposed to be protectors of society… We need to mobilize our protectors.”
Clearly, neither Minister Shabangu nor Princess Dieno has any real understanding of what patriarchy is and how it functions; nor can they claim what is African and what is not. Patriarchy disempowers womyn, queer and trans*gender identities at the hands of upholding the power of heteropatriarchal men in a heteropatriarchal society. Patriarchy itself marginalises men through its declaration of how bodies are ‘allowed’ and should express their expected masculinity: naturalising men as sex-hungry, emotionless bearers of States (patriarchal) violence. Patriarchy has not been built for, nor will it ever be built for the equal safety and respect of ALL bodies and people.
Looking at the above statements from the people who are urging us not to look away, we see that one of the primary problems is this top-down relationship between government and civil society. During the meeting held with Ministry of Women in the Presidency, instead of allowing for members of civil society to guide government in its action, this top-down relationship of an already laid out plan of action, left no space for intervention. This makes any real impact a hurdle over bureaucratic processes, which combined with a ‘lack of funding’ (lack should be taken with a grain of salt as this does not necessarily mean that there is literally no money) cripple any long-term efforts to be made by our governmental overlords, who it seems, wish to sustain the very systems which leave vulnerable people open to violence in the first place.
Government itself needs an intervention: It needs to be bombarded with consciousness-raising on gender and sexuality and provide people and organisations on the ground with institutional support and capacity building. Open itself up to consistent training and education and allow these 16 Days and all days to be led by people already at work and at risk on the ground. The mirror which government is holding up to our society, asking us not to look away, needs to be turned around. We need empowerment from the ground-up, not for the doors to be opened so that more good activists can be co-opted into the slacktivist stance of the State.
While I do believe that all forms of consciousness-raising are beneficial, the State’s efforts have to resonate with a practical efficiency that leaves marks of progress wherever communities gather for these thus far, PR campaigns. We need support for civil society-led actions, as these are the people left vulnerable once the last journalist has left the scene. We #DemandAccountabilitySA and need government to set the date and host a Regional Seminar on Ending Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. We need the people most vulnerable to lead and we need to offer them the best support we can and we need this every single second, of every day.