Violence in South Africa: Enough is Enough

In 2017, I wrote an article for Girls’ Globe called United We Shall Stand in South Africa. I wrote that “gender-based crimes need to become a priority in South Africa”. It’s now more than 2 years later, but has anything changed?

2019 has been a dramatic year in many different ways – both positive and negative. We’ve seen a sudden increase in awareness of gender-based violence, but simultaneously a shocking increase in the killing of women. While the government has remained frustratingly silent, the public have taken matters into their own hands with thought-provoking movements and protests.

2019 is the year South Africa said enough is enough. 

Starting on a positive note, many South Africans have been getting involved in tackling gender-based violence in the country. Many more than ever before made their voices heard and stood up for women and girls. 2019 has been the year that many people started realising the severity of the issue (rather late than never, I guess?). As gender-based violence was exposed in different ways and in more privileged circles, South Africans became more aware of the urgency of the issue.

On 15 November, Uyinene Mrwetyana’s killer was served three life sentences for raping and murdering the young woman in a post office in Cape Town, South Africa. While it was a celebratory moment of justice, there are so many reasons why this tragedy should never have happened in the first place.

The honest truth is that the government and the official services still let us down.

Women are still getting murdered, babies are still getting raped. Femicide rates are only rising – a woman gets murdered every three hours in my country. Nearly 3,000 women were killed between April 2018 and March 2019. Predators are still lurking, police officers are still corrupt and the justice system is still failing the victims.

Uyinene’s killer was offered a job at a government post office when he had a prior conviction of armed-robbery and a rape case withdrawn against him. It is also alleged that he tried to lure potential victims in the same way he approached Uyinene.

It would be naive of me to write that my country is progressing on this issue.

The death of Uyinene caused an outcry of emotion from around the country. “Enough is enough” was belted out at protests and heard across cities. This was too close to home. We could all see ourselves in Uyinene’s story. After all these years, enough was actually enough. We cried, shouted and protested to make our voices heard.

Of course, Uyinene was not the only victim. But she became a symbol for the whole country’s fight against this monster lurking among us. Leighandre Jegels, a champion boxer, was shot by her former boyfriend against whom she had a restraining order. Meghan Cremer was killed by three men near her home – she was familiar with two of them. Jesse Hess, Janika Mello, Aviwe Wellem, Meisie Maisha – these are all names you should know. They too, have fallen victim to this brutal trend in our country.

Worst of all is the number of anonymous young girls who have been raped and murdered in the townships across the country. They will forever stay anonymous, as there is no media coverage of this side of such a large scale national and global issue.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to enforce stricter punishment and laws regarding gender-based crimes, calling femicide a National Crisis.

Whether this actually happens, only time will tell. The biggest achievement of the year came from my fellow South Africans. I have never before seen such a light ignited or such unity in numbers. Despite everything else, this has made me feel proud of my country. If the officials are not going to tackle gender-based violence – we are.

To all my fellow South Africans, please do not give up. Please do not stay silent. Please believe, argue and fight the fight alongside all of us. As cliched as it sounds, we can pull together and overpower this injustice. Never give up and always speak up.

For me, personally, I am not sure when or if this will ever come to an end. Now, more than ever, our country needs to pull together and stand against the crimes committed against our sisters. It’s our whole country’s responsibility. Our government needs to react, South African men need to stand up for their fellow citizens, victims need to be believed rather than blamed.

We all need to put our foot down. Enough is enough. We need to reiterate it, but above all, we need to enforce it.

Teenage Girls in Argentina Deserve Better

As multilateral organizations continue to research sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America, I’ve been learning many sad truths about my country.

This year, we learned that Argentina’s teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in the Southern Cone (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay). It’s estimated that 109,000 teenagers and 3,000 girls under 15 years old give birth to a child every year. These numbers make up 15% of annual births in the country.

Most of these pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted. UNFPA’s latest study, The Power of Choice, shows that Argentina’s maternal mortality rates are also much higher than in the rest of this region. For every 100,000 births per country, 52 mothers die in Argentina, 44 in Brazil, 22 in Chile and 15 in Uruguay.

The results of this study have strengthened the call for inclusive sexual education, accessible contraceptives and the decriminalization of abortion in Argentina. 

Adolescent maternity rates are higher in communities living in poverty, where girls are also less likely to go to school or have access to healthcare and contraceptives. When a girl gets pregnant at an early age, she’s very unlikely to continue her studies, which perpetuates a circle of poverty for the girl and her family. She’s also less likely to survive the pregnancy and the birth.

Earlier this month, a 13-year-old girl had a baby in the Chaco province in northeast Argentina, where poverty and early maternity rates are among the highest in the country (according to UNICEF more than half of children under 17 years old in Chaco were living in poverty in 2016).

Her name has been kept secret, but her living conditions have shocked the country. She was malnourished, anaemic and had pneumonia, yet never received treatment for any of these conditions. She was living with an older man, her boyfriend, and wasn’t going to school.

When her 20-year-old aunt took her to the hospital for a fever, they discovered she was 28 weeks pregnant. The fact that this girl was pregnant for 7 months without knowing it…it’s hard to imagine how neglected she was. She had to have a C-section because of her extremely weak condition. The baby lived only a few hours, and the girl died less than a week later.

So many things went wrong for her.

The health system in the province went beyond failing her, because it didn’t even know she existed until it was too late. She didn’t have family to take care of her and the system did nothing. Her health was gravely deteriorating and the system did nothing. She was in an abusive situation and the system did nothing.

Her story breaks my heart. And it hurts me even more to know that she’s not the only one living like this and won’t be the last to end up like this. She deserved better. All of them deserve better. 

What Girls’ Globe Means to Me

It was September 2016 and I had just started my first semester of graduate school and living in New York City, and was looking for opportunities to work with international NGOs with a focus on women and girls. In my research, I ended up coming across the opportunity to become a blogger with Girls’ Globe. Having worked as a writer and editor for a women’s online magazine in college, and having always enjoyed writing and even considered becoming a journalist as a teenager, joining Girls’ Globe as a blogger was the perfect opportunity for me.

Girls’ Globe has given me a platform to talk about issues that are important to me and issues that I believe are important for others to know about as well, from more personal issues such as mental health and the problem of violence against women in my home country of Brazil, to issues I’m studying and researching in my graduate career such as sexual violence in conflict.

But Girls’ Globe is more than just a platform for me to share my experience and knowledge: it’s also a platform where I can learn about women’s issues in other parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise know about. So many times, in reading posts by other bloggers on their experiences as women having to deal with pressure to get married or the reality of how vulnerable we are to sexual violence, I feel less alone.

Girls’ Globe has truly become a community to me: a community which has supported me and encouraged me in some of my darkest moments.

Since early this year, my mental health issues have taken a turn for the worse. It’s not easy for me to share my struggles with anxiety and depression as I always fear people’s reaction, but when I did share them with different women from our Girls’ Globe community, I was met with nothing but kindness, understanding, and encouragement.

Even when I struggled to write posts and felt ‘guilty’ – I love to write, and I found it especially hard when I had an idea and the material to write a post, but was unable to complete it because I was ill – I was met with messages of encouragement to take care of myself and not to worry about anything else.

When my depression was at its worst, and I felt utterly useless and like I had no reason to get out of bed, it was knowing that my fellow bloggers care about me as a person and thinking that there is still so much I want to do with and for Girls’ Globe in the future that gave me a much needed ray of sunshine in my dark days.

At Girls’ Globe, we encourage the potential in every one of our contributors, and we believe in each other and our power to make a positive difference. It isn’t about some unrealistic ambition that we will completely change the world for the better for women and girls (although, hey, we might!), but it’s an understanding that despite our limitations (such as mental health issues), we can all make a positive impact, no matter how small.

This is the heart and soul of Girls’ Globe to me: that we truly believe in the potential of each and every girl and woman in the world to be an agent for good.

I have recently been accepted into a PhD program – a dream come true for me and the opportunity of a lifetime – and I wholeheartedly believe that I wouldn’t have achieved this incredible milestone without the academic and professional opportunities and the personal encouragement and friendships that Girls’ Globe has given me.

Thank you, Girls’ Globe, for everything. For believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself, for being there for me when I felt alone, for helping me grow, and for giving me hope that there is indeed good in the world.

Throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Girls’ Globe is crowdfunding to be able to keep raising voices in 2018. Please support us so that we can continue to share our stories and reach every corner of the world! 

1,741 Mexican Women Are No Longer With Us

Content note: this post contains reference to extreme violence

Femicide is defined as the murder of women because they are women. 

According to UN Women, this definition applies whether murder is “committed within the family, a domestic partnership, or any other interpersonal relationship, or by anyone in the community, or whether it is perpetrated or tolerated by the state or its agents”.

Femicide is the most severe consequence of gender based violence.

In Mexico, at least 1,741 women have been victims of femicide in 2017. This statistic comes from geophysicist Maria Salguero, who has been collecting and compiling data in an interactive map showing the geolocations of femicides known to have taken place in the country.

In her map, Salguero has recorded 4,105 cases of femicide to date since January 2004. This data does not include all femicides within that time period, since it only includes information available from google notifications and newspapers. The map represents a huge amount of time, effort and dedication, and I’m very grateful to Maria for all the work she has done. Nonetheless, her map reveals something terrifying, because in reality the numbers are much higher than it is able to show.

In 2016, there were at least 2,099 cases of femicides throughout Mexico. As I’ve shared in previous posts, cases have been almost unbelievably brutal: impaling woman, boiling and cutting breasts, rape and torture, among many other medieval-sounding acts.

There have been 88 femicides so far this year in the state where I live. One took place so close to my house that it made me paranoid for several months. I couldn’t go out without my taser. My friend and fellow blogger Mariana created a WhatsApp group to share our locations when taking taxis or Uber or the metro so that others would know where we were and that we’d arrived safely. I avoided going out at night.

On 15 September, Mara Castillo – a 19-year-old political science student and activist in the fight against gender violence in Mexico – was found dead after a Cabify driver took advantage of her after a night out and never brought her home. She was picked up from a bar 5 blocks from my house. She is now a pin in Maria’s map.

This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, I want to share some heart-breaking statistics from Latin America:

  • Over half of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates are in the Latin American and Caribbean regions
  • Femicide is considered to be the second leading cause of death of women of reproductive age in Honduras
  • The impunity of femicide crimes is estimated at 77% in El Salvador and Honduras
  • It was the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico – which began in the early 1990s – that led the term ‘femicide’ to be used in mainstream media
  • In 2014, 871 women were victims of acid attacks related to domestic violence in Colombia

This is why we fight. This is why we march. This is why we write.

Maria Salguero’s map documents the age of victims of femicide, their relationship with their murderers, the way they were killed, the location they were found in, and the legal status of the case (whether there has been a prosecution or not).

Please, I urge you to navigate through the map. Read the cases, feel sickened by the numbers, and remember the women who are no longer with us. With every photo or name you see, remind yourself that this is not inevitable, and that we must fight to make it stop.

An Open Letter to My Abuser

Content note: domestic violence, physical & emotional abuse

It is hard to put into words all that you put me through. This letter is, I know, another vain attempt to master the chaos within me. But trying is always a better option than quitting, I suppose.

Sometimes I wish you could go through the pain and struggle you put me through, but really I know there’s no way I’d want another soul to go through it.

I’ve held onto this pain for so many years because I genuinely believed that some day it would stop. I always believed you were something more than you appear to be. But you continued taking advantage of my innocence until eventually, you destroyed it completely.

You thought you were powerful because you played an attacker? You thought I was weak because I played a victim? The truth is, your victim is always superior to you in every way.

I would be lying if I told you I never thought about revenge. My mind wandered but my demons never got the better of me. Maybe I was simply too young to retaliate, or maybe I was too wise. I knew that if I were to sink to your level, you and I would be no different. One thing I’ve known for sure for all these years is that I never want to become a reflection of you.

I’ve wondered to myself, “do people always do these things to the ones they love?” I’ve thought that maybe I just don’t know enough about love.

If you hadn’t made me so angry, I wouldn’t have hit you or said those things,” you’d say. You would always make an excuse. Over time, I started to believe the fault was in me.

But today, I choose to stop blaming myself. It was never my fault to begin with. There is nothing I said or did that made it okay for you to hurt me with your words or your fists.

I am not an excuse for your incapability to control your emotions. I am not the cause of your outbursts. I am not your rage or your hate. I am not your false pride or fragile ego. I am not the weakness you always claimed to see in me. I am not the names you called me.

You don’t define me. I define myself. I am much more than the marks you’ve left on my body. I am innocence. I am dreams. I am hope. I am forgiveness. I am the person others always want to have around because I am laughter and I am love.

I hope the scars on my heart heal faster than the ones on my body. But the wounds within you? Whatever caused them, I hope they heal even faster than mine. And when that day comes, I will be long-gone from your life and it will be too late to reach out to me to tell me that you’re sorry.

But today I forgive you, because today I want to be free.

From,
The Young Woman Whose Life You Changed Forever

*Author’s note: any resemblance to specific individuals or actual events is purely coincidental. Here’s to the survivors of all sorts of abuse and those who are still struggling, I hope you find peace.*

#MeToo: Reflections from a College Student

Harvey Weinstein; a man who used to be synonymous with Hollywood films, but who now carries the weight of sexual assault allegations after a tsunami of testimonies. From Kevin Spacey to Roy Moore, the past couple of months have been an explosion of sexual assault accusations. This isn’t about just one man and one woman. It’s about dozens of men and countless women across industries both near and far.

Marginalized voices – women and children especially – have been and continue to be vulnerable to abuses by powerful men.

Since The New York Times published an investigation into accusations against Harvey Weinstein, there has been a growing list of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct of all forms. As I scrolled through the list, I could not help but notice that every person on the list was male-presenting, white, and in positions of power.

The wave of testimonies is shocking in terms of sheer numbers – if this is how many people have made accusations, how many other painful abuses remain in the shadows? While all of the men on this list are primarily based in the United States, it would be foolish to think that this problem is a national one.

All around the world, powerful men take advantage of vulnerable people. It is a global phenomenon. And it terrifies me.

As an eighteen-year-old woman in college, I go to class everyday preparing to enter the ‘real’ world around me. I take classes about market economics and international politics and listen as people try to impart knowledge to me, but I cannot help but think that I am so wholly unprepared for this big, scary world. Part of me does not want to believe that sexual assault is so widespread. Every day I turn on the news to see another powerful man has abused his power, and I think about how scared and afraid and disgusted I would feel if I was ever faced with a situation like that.

We must not let fear get to us. We cannot stop fighting for our sisters and brothers who have experienced the pain and trauma of assault.  It is on all of us to be allies and to support the people around us. Gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue, it’s a people’s issue. We have to be role models and teachers for our children, to tell them and show them that abuse, violence and harassment are not okay.

In an interview with Vanessa Stair earlier this year about parenting in color, Vanessa talked with me about teaching her five-year-old daughter Peyton the important lesson of consent. She said that it can be as easy as “no, means no.” But that only works if all children are taught the same thing.

As well as teaching our children, we must also listen compassionately and learn from one another. We all carry biases, expectations, and opinions; by thinking about ourselves and engaging in challenging dialogues we can better understand the world.

This is not easy work. It takes time, energy, and an emotional toll to think about the misogyny, hate, and abuse around us. While we must continue to fight, we also much continue to take care of ourselves and those around us. A mentor of mine recently told me, “we must live in the needs of the present”. So we continue to fight to elevate the voices of women globally, work to eliminate gender gaps and discrimination, love to heal our pain, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Girls’ Globe is publishing opinions and ideas on tackling gender-based violence from our global network of bloggers and organizations during each of the 16 Days of Activism. We’re also crowdfunding to be able to continue to raise the voices of girls and young women in 2018 – voices like Grace’s. Donate today and help us to continue building a safer, more equal world.