There is a War Against Women in South Africa

Content note: this post contains references to rape.

It is sad and enraging how women’s bodies and lives don’t seem to matter in South Africa. It’s even sadder and even more enraging how women’s bodies and lives don’t seem to matter, at all, in this world.

Recently, two 19 year old women were murdered in the space of two weeks. These are just the women I know of. One of the girls, Jessé Hess, attended my university. The other girl, Uyinene Mrwetyana, attended another university also based in this city. But these are just the women I know of.

I thought to myself, “how does this continue to happen?” Then I remembered that I live in South Africa and femicide is normal here. I wanted to be angry but I am done being angry. I am done speaking about the problem. I am just tired of this BS. I am tired of wondering if I am next.

I hope that these women and their families will get justice. The accused have been arrested. But as per usual, the justice system takes it’s time to convict, especially in cases with violence against women.

Despite the “progressive” constitution in South Africa, that should include everyone, men continue to violate women. It does not matter how rich or beautiful you are, it could happen to you. Even next to a police station or in the comfort of your home.

I never thought I would say this but I am terrified of birthing and raising children in this country. I thought I would be more terrified of bringing a daughter into this world but I am even more terrified of bringing a son into this world. You can nurture someone with all your love but what if it just in their nature? This is what many seem to imply.

When I was in the ninth grade, a male classmate told me that I was the reason men hit women. This was just because I did not want to answer him and his friends’ questions. It has never affected me before, but now that I am out of school it haunts me. I am not in contact with him but I am sure if I were to confront him about it, he probably would have forgotten about it.

What my former high school classmate said to me, currently tells me a lot about the structural problem of violence against women. I don’t have the solutions so I write this piece to raise awareness and out of hope that the future will be safer for all women and children.

Justice for Jessé. Justice for Uyinene. Justice for all women who are continuously violated by men.

Here’s something you can do. Sign this petition to declare gender based violence a state of emergency in South Africa.

Mexico’s Glitter Protests are a Movement Against Violence

Content note: this post contains references to rape

On August 16, thousands of women marched in various cities across Mexico. One particular case may have triggered them, but these marches were an answer to the systematic violence against women and girls in our country. If you’ve seen news or photos through social media recently, you might be wondering what really sparked this mass-mobilization across the Mexico.


We are writing this article to inform you and encourage you to get involved in the Mexican fight against gender-based violence. Here are the facts.

On August 6, news started circulating of a 17-year-old girl making a legal complaint against four policemen who raped her in a patrol car in Azcapotzalco, Mexico City. Over the next week, the case went viral on social media because security forces were directly involved in the crime. Public outrage escalated due to the lack of professionalism in the response from local authorities.

On Monday 12th, around 300 women marched to the attorney’s office. Their placards read: “No nos cuidan, nos violan” (they don’t look after us, they rape us). The protest was not only to demand the legal prosecution of the policemen involved, but also the strengthening of public policy against gender-based violence, and the correct implementation of the General Law for Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence. This law is supposed to ensure correct practice for any victim presenting a gender-based violence claim.

Later, it was confirmed by the local attorney general’s office (PGJCDMX) that the victim had opted out of the legal process due to a leak of her personal information – including her name and her home address. This left her and her family vulnerable to retaliation.

During the protests, demonstrators smashed the glass door of the PGJCDMX building and sprayed Jesus Orta, Mexico’s local security minister, with pink glitter.

In the midst of all of this, another sixteen-year-old girl was raped by a policeman inside the Museo Archivo de la Fotografía (Museum of Photography) in Mexico City’s historic center, and a 70-year-old woman was sexually assaulted and beaten to death in her house in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. And that’s only in the capital and only the cases that made it to the news.

In fact, from August 17 to 21, at least 17 women have been killed across Mexico.


In response to the demonstrations of August 12, Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City’s first female elected mayor, asserted that the protests were “a provocation for local authorities to use force.” She confirmed that an investigation would take place.

Days later, PGJCDMX stated that the victim’s initial statement did not match the now public footage from two security cameras. The same footage from private houses in the area was acquired by the media and shared through various outlets. It was said that the investigation “could not continue” because the girl had opted out of the legal process, and that the officers would be released to their duties.

This further fuelled the outrage. Although the mayor announced that six policemen related to the crime had been suspended, the damage had already been done.

In response, various feminist organizations and groups planned a new march across the country. The ‘glitter protest’ was held on Friday 16 August in Mexico City.


Like many other women across the country, we were part of the glitter protests. Bita marched in the city of Aguascalientes and Mariana marched in Mexico City.

We both agreed that at a time like this, being among women was where we felt the safest. It was only the possibility of retaliation from security forces that we feared.

After the march, a new source of dread appeared. The media response to the rally was to call it vandalism. They criticize the spray painting of the historical monument “El Angel de la Independencia” and focused on the fact that a reporter was attacked (by a man who was later arrested). 

Suddenly, the violent ways of the march were all that mattered. In fact, according to DataPopMX, there’s a higher number of posts mentioning the trashing of the monument than the actual rape case.

Some dared to say that “rioting is not the answer.” But in a country where ninewomen are murdered every day, where over 80% of women don’t feel safe, where 56% of the nation is under a Gender Alert, and where girls make up about 40% of sex crime victims, it seems that rioting might be the only way to get anyone to listen.

So here it is: this is why we marched, why we broke glasses and sprayed monuments. Because revolutions can be peaceful, but when they keep killing us and raping us – sometimes all that is left is anger and pain.

Join Mexican women’s fight against gender-based violence and use the hashtags #NoNosCuidanNosViolan and #FuimosTodas to learn more.

This post was co-authored by Mariana Lizarraga and Bita Aranda.

Celebrating South Africa’s Women’s Day

Each year on 9 August, South Africa celebrates Women’s Day. We honour more than 20,000 women who marched in protest of the pass laws.

During Apartheid, black people were required to carry passes designed to restrict their movements. If they were found to not have their passes, police would arrest and sentence them to prison. On 9 August 1956, thousands of women from different racial and cultural backgrounds marched to the Union Buildings to deliver petitions to the Prime Minister.

What makes this day so important in South Africa’s history?

It was diverse in essence. There were women of all races and backgrounds; black women, Indian women, domestic workers with their white employers’ babies on their backs. It also went against what was expected of women at that time. They refused to be quiet and sit back while the brutal Apartheid system tore their families apart.

One of the most iconic phrases sung at the march was: “you strike a woman, you strike a rock.”

Lead by extraordinary women such as Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and Sophia de Bruyn, women fought for a non-racist and non-sexist South Africa.

What has actually changed since then?

Sophia de Bruyn, one of the few living marchers of that day, wrote on Twitter that she is disappointed in the little progress made since then. In South Africa, rates of violence against women are so high that it is normalised in society.

Some people blame women for provoking a man. Women who are abused by their partners are unable to leave. Some people even think that violence in a marriage is normal. Personally, I feel that as a country we tolerate and normalize many things we shouldn’t. Even though we have one of the most inclusive constitutions, government and civil organizations can only do so much.

Celebrating inspiring South African women

It is important that we celebrate inspiring South African women and remain positive that we can end inequality, discrimination and violence.

To many South Africans, Caster Semenya is probably the most iconic athlete of our time. But the rest of the world demonize and mock her for…well, not being woman enough. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has subjected her to gender testing for years. If you read her posts on social media, you’ll know that she tries her best to rise above the negativity.

Lady Skollie is a self-proclaimed ‘pussy power prophet’. She is a feminist artist who explores themes of sex, gender roles, violence and heritage in her work. Nothing in her work is taboo. In celebration of 25 years of democracy, she has recently designed new SA coins. 

Then there is our very own Queen B, Bonang Matheba. She is a media personality who knows what she wants and works hard for it. She has a bursary fund that pays for girls’ university tuition costs and aims to send 300 girls to university by 2021.

Happy Women’s Day South Africa!

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. 

Tip of the Iceberg: Sexual Violence in Mexico

On November 4th, a young woman from Mexico named Renata Sandoval posted a disturbing story on Facebook.

She wrote about being drugged by a classmate from the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG) in a local bar. The story has gone viral and has helped other victims of sexual violence and assault to talk about their experiences. Here’s a translation of what Renata wrote:

“After a long time, I’ve finally decided to talk about a terrible experience I had. I’ve decided to speak to avoid things like this happening in the future, so we can be wary, and to remind us that nobody is exempt from experiences like this.

It was a Friday and me and some classmates decided to go to a bar and have some drinks. Just a regular casual night with my school friends.

The night started. Everything seemed normal. One of the girls (Mónica Coral Zamudio Astorga) wanted to take some pictures in the restroom mirror and asked us to go with her. No problem, we do this all the time. Aarón Fabián (potential rapist) and another male friend waited for us at our table. Aarón was one of the most benevolent guys I’d ever met. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was the best student of our medicine class. I never felt anything but trust towards him.

The thing is that Aarón had previously talked with Mónica and plotted to distract me so he could pour a drug in my drink. Meanwhile, in the restroom, we took some pictures, chatted for a while and went back.

Mónica insisted on putting a straw in my drink to ‘avoid confusion’. She knew about the drug and didn’t want to accidentally drink from my glass. Aarón started to act very weirdly, urging me to drink and putting my glass in my face.

Within minutes I started to feel extremely hot like never before. My hair felt like fire when it touched my back. I wanted to tear my clothes off. My mind was so numb I could barely tie my hair to ease the heat. I was in despair, so I asked my guardian angel Carolina to call an Uber and escort me home.

As Carolina told the rest of the group we were leaving, Aarón immediately insisted on taking me home but Carolina told him the Uber was on its way. As soon as I stepped out of the bar I was so disoriented. I could barely stand and I wanted to puke.

When the Uber arrived, Aarón stepped into the vehicle insisting he wanted to make sure I would be ok. During the trip, Aarón tried to get close to me and asked Carolina to go to his home instead, as it was closer, but she told him that my parents would be waiting for me. And as we got to my home, he insisted on carry me upstairs to my room, but Carolina dismissed him, took my shoes off and led me to my room.

We thought it was someone working on the bar who had put something my drink, as we never thought one of our classmates would do that to any of us.

Some days later, a friend called me. He said he wanted to tell me something, and that he just found out something very important. He told me about how Aarón and Mónica had plotted to drug me so he could rape me.

I was shocked. It was impossible. Aarón – who I considered my friend – wanted to rape me. I asked my friend to call Aarón and trick him into talking about his plans again so I could hear it. He didn’t sound regretful at all. I also asked my friend to call Mónica and she confessed her part without knowing I was listening.

I was baffled. Disappointed. How on earth could my own friends would do something like that? What would have happened if I was allergic to the drug? What if he overdosed me? What would have happened if Carolina hadn’t been there to help me?

When I finally gathered strength to confront Aarón, he was so casual about it. “It was just a little push, Renata.” He made it clear that he thought there was something between us and the only thing missing was a little spark to light up “our thing”.

Fortunately, I’m safe. He couldn’t abuse me. But things like this happen everyday, and sadly not every victim is as lucky as I am. We always think a rapist is some random dude in a dark alley, not a close person, not a friend.

Lastly, think about this: Aarón will be a doctor someday. What if you take your daughter for a checkup with him? What if someday he is a powerful man? He now walks free, as if nothing happened. #MeToo”

One Twitter user, who has been following the story since the beginning, has been urging other victims to tell their stories and to demand answers. By now, several national media outlets have already covered Renata’s story and tried to contact a representative of the university, but they have remained adamantly silent about it.

All sort of stories have emerged. Teachers blackmailing their female students, systemic harassment towards openly gay students, silencing ‘progressive’ conferences and topics, constant misogynistic ‘hall chat’ with no consequences, and discrimination and silencing of non-catholic students, just to name a few.

It’s been almost a month now, and the university has not only gone completely silent regarding any of the accusations, but they have also locked their social media accounts and blocked anyone who mentions the topic on those platforms.

Students have tried asking for answers personally, but the UAG’s stance has been to protect Aarón – he is one of their most brilliant students. As time passes, up to 150 accusations from different women have been gathered.

Some people have pointed out that misogyny has been present in the UAG since its foundation. This school was founded by Antonio Leaño Alvarez del Castillo in 1935, as the result of religious and political differences within the government’s stance to make all public education socialist and non-religious.

As a renowned ultra-catholic businessman, Álvarez was a prominent figure in Mexico’s politics. It was during Vicente Fox’s presidency when Álvarez’s power and influence skyrocketed. Vicente Fox was a member of Partido Acción Nacional, a right-wing party in Mexico, and during Fox’s presidency Álvarez funded the rebirth of El Yunque (The Anvil) – an extreme right-wing  group that praises Nazi and Cristero ideologies alike.

In 2016, a new branch of El Yunque called National Front for the Family was created to lobby, rally and vote against policies like abortion, reproductive rights, same sex marriage and sexual education in public elementary schools. I believe this is extremely relevant to Renata’s story, as UAG directives share the same repressive ideology as these groups.

Take a look at these examples from the UAG Internal Conduct Code:

  • The use of provocative clothing (transparent or worn-out garments, short skirts or visible or absent underwear) is strictly forbidden, as it goes against moral and good customs and may provoke other students.
  • Male students are forbidden from wearing earrings and/or any effeminate garment, as it goes against the ideal realization of manliness (Article 14 – Appendix 1)

Renata’s story is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual violence in Mexico.

The fact that the UAG has opted to remain silent while they wait for people to forget about this issue makes it clear that they aren’t willing to act against the aggressors.

In a country like Mexico, where more than two women are murdered daily, remaining passive against sexual violence can only mean complicity at best. Women are killed and raped because there are no consequences, and because men can get away with actions like Aarón’s – safe in the knowledge that institutions care more about their grades than their abhorrent behavior.

To learn more, you can check out this Change.org petition and #AbusoEnLaUAG.

To Prevent Abuse, Young People Must Know their Rights

Content note – this post refers to sexual violence and suicide.

Recently, a Twitter user named @twadi_doll shared her story fearlessly and curtly online – giving many people a reality check and leaving them feeling shaken.

Twadi narrated in her thread that at 13 years – orphaned and young – she found herself living with a pastor and his wife.

A respected…no, scratch that…a revered member of society, the man of God raped Twadi her on a regular basis. On other occasions, he would call his friends and they took turns exploiting her body. As if that wasn’t enough, the pastor would ask her constantly to seek forgiveness from God, for making him commit a sin.  

Since she had nowhere to go and was being blackmailed by the pastor for receiving food and shelter from him for 3 years, Twadi couldn’t escape the reach of the preacher’s hand. Even when she spoke out in church, she was called a liar and a demon who had been sent to tempt and disorganise the pastor in his job of shepherding the Lord’s people.

As a result of the continued sexual abuse, Twadi became pregnant and 6 months later, her teachers learnt of her story and offered her immediate support. They opened a case against the pastor, who in shame committed suicide. An abortion was arranged for Twadi and painful as it was, she took the option because she had long decided that either the baby dies or she commits suicide herself.

Twadi’s story calls upon us all to play our part in improving SRHR information and service access to young people.

This lack of access spirals into multiple other challenges, and sadly, it is the young person who suffers. Their untapped potential is heavily undermined.

For starters, we should always be able to come out and condemn what is wrong, no matter the position or reputation of the person in question. The pastor’s wife, years later after her husband’s death, wrote Twadi a letter saying she knew about the abuse the whole time, but found it better than her man going out to cheat. In Twadi’s own words, “she used me as a glue to hold her marriage together.” The pastor’s wife betrayed and failed Twadi, and her suffering falls as equally on her shoulders as it does on the pastor’s.

We need to pay special attention to young people’s voices on their reproductive health concerns with as open a mind as possible.

Sometimes we can’t understand young people by assuming we know who they are and what they want, especially if we aren’t young people ourselves. The pastor’s congregation was way off course in this case, defending the pastor simply because of his position and ignoring the truth Twadi was telling.

If even one of them had taken time to hear her out, it could have changed her fortune. We should seek virtual spaces where young people are free to talk about their challenges with no fear of judgement, and where they are sure they will be believed and helped.

It is critical that we provide young people with information on their rights so that they can know when to say no, how to say it and how to defend themselves against manipulation and abuse.

The more we starve young people of such information, the more we make them vulnerable to attacks and abuse and the multiple challenges that ripple from those.

Finally, we need to work with stakeholders who can put policies in place to ease the combatting of these challenges. In Uganda, for example, we have been advocating for an operational School Health Policy where we can provide sexual and reproductive health and rights information to young people that fits the context we live in.

Such a document is key, because then we can arm young people with knowledge, and we will have the backing of the law. It is something that policy makers and governments should consider, lest we see more young people come out with stories similar to Twadi’s.

This selfless story should be an eye opener.

Many young people are undergoing such horrific challenges, and the veils of religion and culture, which otherwise should be guiding us to a sane and loving society, are being used as defences and barriers against SRHR access. Such incidents are indeed present in our society and the best we can do is speak out against them, bring the perpetrators to justice and provide young people with information and services so that they can make informed decisions and protect themselves.

PS: Twadi has moved on and is strong now. However, is that what we want, for all young people to become strong like her and move on? Or is it better to stamp abuse out once and for all? Something must change in our communities, right here and right now.