Do Women Benefit from Revolution?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself while reading Thomas Sankara’sWomen’s Liberation and the African Struggle’.

The book has made me think about the powerful images of Alaa Salah from Sudan. It’s also made me think about the women in South Africa – of all races and backgrounds – who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956, and the female members of the Black Panther Party draped in leather and berets.

I thought of all the women around the world who have taken to the streets to demand their rights, and I thought about how women have always sacrificed their time and bodies in the name of a revolution – just as men have.

“You are our mothers and life companions, our comrades in struggle, and because of this fact you should by rights assert yourselves as equal partners in the joyful victory feasts of the revolution.” – Thomas Sankara, March 8 1987

Women have long been asserting ourselves as equal partners, but are we fully indulging in the feasts of revolution?

In my own country, South Africa, I would say that the answer is no. Women have been written out of history. When I learned the history of Apartheid in school, there was zero mention of any women. Not Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Not Albertina Sisulu. Not any of the other women who participated in the March of 1956. Not the women of the Black Consciousness Movement. I also remember learning about the Black Power Movement and hearing no mention of women like Angela Davis or Kathleen Cleaver.

Despite revolution, women still struggle for equality.

One current example is that the government in my country wants to expropriate land to the historic rightful owners. However, there is no clear plan as to how women should be included in this. We want ‘radical economic transformation’, but women are excluded from holding powerful positions. According to Africa Check, in South Africa women made up 72.5% of teachers and 37.3% of principals in public schools. The statistics in other fields are just as depressing.

Historically, the women’s rights movement has also been exclusive to middle-class white women.

This was shown by leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States through the exclusion of black women. Why would you exclude a group of people who undergo even more oppression than you do?

Personally, I still think the #MeToo movement has mostly benefited white women in Hollywood and middle-class white women in the West. What has changed for girls and women in countries like mine because of #MeToo? To me, it seems like nothing at all.

In some countries it is still legal to mutilate a girl’s genitalia, despite widespread acknowledgement that female genital mutilation has absolutely no health benefits for girls and women. It is a way to ‘prepare’ girls for childbearing and marriage. With this in mind, where is this ‘sexual revolution’ the Western world speaks of?

These are sad truths, but I want to call on all my sisters worldwide to take a stance together.

Let us take a stance against oppression in all forms, so that society can reap the rewards of equality. Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” Let us be those kinds of women.

South Africa, Now is not the Time to Lose Momentum

On 2 September, South Africa exploded. She cried out in outrage. The bombardment of kidnap, rape and murder headlines in the last months escalated with the rape and death of Uyinene Mrwetyana. The news left our country both angry and heartbroken.

Since then, the heaviness in the hearts of many women (and men) has been tangible. The horrendous rape and murder of this young woman sparked a nationwide movement of solidarity and commitment to ending gender-based violence.

Uyinene had been missing for a number of days. On 2 September, it was discovered that she had been brutally raped and murdered while collecting a package from the post office in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight. The story was reported alongside headlines filled with women and children who had been taken, killed, and raped. It sent a surge of sadness and anger throughout our beloved country. This is not okay.

Enough is enough.

It is not okay that a visit to the post office ends in the loss of an innocent life.

It’s not ok that women live in constant fear when going through the ordinary tasks of daily life.

It is not okay that this has been happening for so long without enough coverage because it has become so normalised.

It’s not okay that we are rendered powerless and voiceless.

I am angry. I am tired. But most of all, I am hurting.

I am hurting for all the women, and I am hurting for my country. I am hurting for the inherent hate and disregard for fellow humans.

Photo by Kyle Kingsley

We need change.

The rate of gender-based violence (which includes domestic violence) in South Africa is said to be one of the highest in the world. This alone should alert us to the necessity and urgency of action. Action by government, by men, by us; action by the people. I believe that policy change, stricter law enforcement, government reform and community intervention are all required. There is no question about this.

But in the same breath, I believe that it is ultimately up to us, the people of South Africa, to educate ourselves, change our behaviour and shift our mindsets. Then, and only then, will real lasting change be possible. Education, awareness and intervention need to be available and accessible for everyone. Privileged or not.

This is not a problem for any one class, gender or social group. This is a human problem.

Reform is needed. Change in behaviour backed up by actionable steps is needed. But for lasting change, minds and hearts need to be affected and moved. We should not lower ourselves to perpetuating the same shame cycle that is intended to bind us by staying silent. When we stand united and raise our voices, we are stronger.

Men need to be better. Men CAN be better. Overwhelmingly, men are the perpetrators of gender-based violence. It is time to put aside shaming and call men to join us in action. Justice needs to be served, and that means expecting more from the men of our country and holding them accountable.

Photo by Kyle Kingsley

We can’t lose momentum.

I choose to believe in the restoration of our country. And we are our country. All of us, the people. Women and men. And that means I choose to believe in the restoration of the people of South Africa.

This will not be a battle easily won, yet to bring peace and relief to the women of South Africa who are hurting and dying, we will have to come together. Now is not the time to be divided. It is the time to stand in unity. Publicly, privately, in our homes, in our friendship circles, in our relationships.

We are still blaming and shaming. Yes, we are angry. I am furious. But we must take action. I intend to. This is mourning and grief, but breakthrough comes from laying down oppressive and hateful mindsets. It will be uncomfortable; growth always is.

We must choose to look forward and to see that men can be a restorative power instead of a problem.

The pain brought upon women by gender-based violence has had a devastating effect on South Africa. There is no excuse for this behaviour. I am appealing to us, my bruised self included, to take our hurt, anger and frustration and put it into action. Let us not grow weary; let us not forget.

Our anger at these injustices is only as good as the action birthed from it. Hate and animosity cannot fix the problems and injustices that are at the root of gender-based violence. But unrelentless hope and belief, along with intentional action, can.

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.

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.

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!

Meet Alice: the feminist activist fighting for change

Alice Ackermann is twenty years old – she’s the youngest IPPF executive committee member. Her convictions on women’s rights and sexual health are visceral. “I am angry,” Alice says when asked what drives her, “but, it is a positive anger.”

An Early Introduction to Injustice

Alice was born in Strasbourg, France to a Jewish Orthodox family. “It was so obvious to me, from the onset, that my three brothers and I were not treated in the same way,” she says. She explains how the religious rites of passage – circumcision and bar mitzvah – gave importance to the different stages of her brothers’ development. For girls, there was nothing.

Her elementary education in a Jewish school was delivered in the same spirit: “we were considered lesser pupils.” She rebelled from a very young age – before she turned ten she was called a feminist as an insult. Alice says this experience shaped what still drives her today: a clear conception of the injustice that is done to women and their rights.

She was later, at her own demand, transferred to a secular school. Here, she was confronted with “something more violent.”

“When we were teenagers, my friends were sharing their experiences of being kissed without consent, and so many girls talked about being raped, but were not calling it that because it was so hard to put a name on it,” Alice recalls. After hearing about her friend’s experiences, she was determined to do something about it.

Starting a Feminist Club

When the local sexual and reproductive healthcare organization gave a sexuality education session at her school, Alice asked if she could join as a volunteer but was told she was too young.

Never one to be discouraged easily, Alice began organising demonstrations and awareness raising campaigns in Strasbourg on topics such as street harassment or the different shapes and sizes of vulvas.

When she started high school a year later, she created a feminist club and organized debates and open conferences on the history of the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) movement. That’s also when she started doing peer-to-peer sex education with other student members of the club. It was immediately effective: “the students felt free to ask questions, debate among themselves and talk about what they witnessed.”


Peer-to-Peer Education Works

Alice says the reason peer-to-peer education works so well has to do with empowerment. “When you are young and being discriminated against, you are very vulnerable,” she explains. “What happens with peer-to-peer is that people look at you and realise that they can take action and have knowledge too. Every time I do a session people come to me afterwards and say ‘you are so young, how can you be doing this? How can I do it too?’.”

The sessions worked so well that the local sexual and reproductive healthcare organization in Strasbourg got on board. They provided her with training and she became, at sixteen years old, their youngest volunteer. Alice continues to work as a comprehensive sexuality educator and she holds a paid job as a counsellor at one Le Planning Familial’s call centres in Paris.

SRHR on a Global Scale

At last year’s G7 conference, Alice worked with other feminist activists to influence the recommendations put forward by attending governments. “It’s hard,” she admits. “What’s harder is that, on the global scale, things don’t always appear to be changing for the better.”

She says during the G7 conference, American and Italian governments were not interested: “it’s really simple, if you talk about SRHR during a meeting, they just walk out. Donald Trump did it in Canada last year.”

As someone whose commitment to feminism is motivated by her own life experience, Alice is acutely aware of the importance of coordinating international advocacy to a grassroots approach. That’s why she’s not considering quitting counselling or peer-to-peer education anytime soon.

“I wish I were less of an exception, we need to have more young people involved in every level of the organization.” As a newly appointed IPPF executive committee member, she is on a mission to change that.

As a regional youth representative of IPPF and a member of several feminist organisations, Alice Ackermann advocates for women’s reproductive rights and youth empowerment at the national and international level. She’s also studying history at Paris University.