There’s a Feminist Revolution on the Rise in Mexico

Last year, I wrote an article called Are Victims Ever to Blame? I talked about how I have been raised in a society that perpetrates ‘rape culture’. Women are taught to avoid getting raped instead of men being taught not to rape. Victims are routinely blamed for sexual violence.

It feels like the perfect time to write a new post on this topic. For those of you who don’t know, Mexico is experiencing a feminist revolution. On this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, thousand marched in Mexico City demanding justice and a safer country.

Mexican women are fed up with the fact that 9 of us are killed every day.

We are also fed up with the fact that at least 6 out of 10 women have faced a violent encounter. Of these, 41.3% were of sexual nature. And because it’s the only thing we can do, we protest.

The media is encouraging victim blaming. There has been a total lack of empathy shown towards these anti-violence protests. Graffiti art painted on city monuments by protestors has received far greater indignation than the gender-based violence we are fighting against. In fact, to correct myself, there has actually been indignation about the grafitti. The vast majority of the population doesn’t seem to care about the violence their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers face every single day.

I listen to a lot of women discrediting the movement taking place in Mexico and it makes my skin crawl. Victim blaming hasn’t changed one bit since I wrote that post last year. We are going to be fighting this battle for many years to come.

The government is not paying attention to one of the biggest security threats faced by our country. If this is the only way to get their attention, then so be it. I also listen to men dismissing the protests and think how I would love to be in their shoes for just one second. I would love to know how it feels not to be scared of being raped, burned, kidnapped or murdered because of my gender.

We need to join together and demand that this ends now. All of us. Privilege must not make you immune to empathy.

I support my feminist sisters because I am terrified to go out on the street alone. I support them because I fear taking a cab by myself and because every time I go out I experience sexual harassment. And I support the feminist revolution in Mexico because paint comes off monuments and statues, but the 3,578 women brutally murdered since 2015 alone are never coming back.

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.

Grassroots Voices: End Violence Against Women in Sweden

1 in 3 women and girls worldwide experience violence in their lifetime. 

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women local women’s organizations gathered in central Malmö for a light manifestation. We were there on the cold November night, lighting candles to bring attention to violence against women in Sweden. Girls’ Globe asked these organizations about their priorities to end violence against women, here’s what they had to say.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is a day to raise awareness of women being subjected to violence. A horrific reality many of us know exist. Still we choose to close their eyes to it, which is exactly why this day is needed. No matter how horrible it is, people need to know it is reality for many women around the world. Women who can’t close their eyes to it. 

One of the organizations present was Malmö Kvinnojour. They work to help women exposed to domestic violence by offering, for example, shelter and helplines. The purpose of their organization is to give women the strength and confidence to take control of their own situations. FemCenter is another organization in Malmö that offers protected residences and support. They work to highlight the problem of violence against women by holding lectures in schools and work to break the circle before it has begun. 

”We usually say there are push and pull factors. What pushes a person into prostitution or human trafficking and what pulls them? The push factor would be poverty and pull factor would be demand. So we try to spread awareness about demand and target that.” 
– Tabitha Small, Noomi

Noomi were also present to light candles and show their existence. Noomi is an organisation that supports abused women with a focus on prostitution and human trafficking. They offer guidance, support and shelter. Through lectures and advocacy they work to bring awareness to the problem and help break the spiral of exploitation and helplessness that women find themselves in by giving them a belief in their own value and tools to change their life situation. 

When we spread awareness together we can help end the global epidemic of violence against women.

Talking with these amazing women and seeing their drive to help other women to take control of their own lives was extremely inspiring. It was a really cold evening and still they were there for more than an hour, spreading information. They did it because it meant something, if not everything, to them. This is what they dedicate their time to and it truly is amazing to see women lifting other women and helping them through hard times. Many people walked past and wondered what was going on and many people left having gained knowledge about violence against women. They were also given orange flowers and got the chance to light candles.

If you or anyone you know might need help with regaining control of their own lives, don’t hesitate – reach out. There are several organizations ready to give a helping hand.  

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.

Motherhood in Conflict: Colleen’s Story

In northern Uganda, many mothers have lived through armed conflict. Some gave birth in a time when murder, abduction, mutilation and rape were common practices. It was a time when child soldiers were forced to kill loved ones. What would it be like to become and be a mother in this context?

Colleen* is one of the women I grew very close to during my time volunteering in a counselling centre in Northern Uganda. Like Achola, she told me about her experiences of motherhood during and after the war.

Becoming a Mother in a Conflict Zone

I visited Colleen at her home in rural Ngetta, close to the city of Lira in the northern part of Uganda. The region has been badly affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. There were great consequences for all, and especially for pregnant women and mothers.

Colleen told me that she was abducted by rebels from the LRA when she was only 15. She escaped them by hiding in the open stem of a bush. Colleen told me that she became a mother at the same time as losing both of her parents, who were killed by the rebels. She spoke about how hard it was to flee from the rebels night after night, while ensuring the safety of her siblings and her baby.

Colleen’s experiences of the war have been debilitating, and she is still recovering. Though the war ended more than a decade ago, Colleen continues to be in emotional and physical pain. She tells me:

“When I was with my baby hiding in the bush, somebody stepped on my waist. It affected my waist so much up to date. Whenever I laugh, I could just fall unconscious for some minutes. It is still painful.”

What is very striking about Colleen’s story is that it demonstrates that life after war can still be filled with terror. For Colleen, the days of violence are not over.

‘Post-Conflict’ Motherhood

Just after Colleen had been abducted by the rebels, she was married at 16 to her current husband. The day I spoke with her, he was out working on nearby land. Colleen leaned towards me and whispered in my ear:

“I never wanted to marry him, my brothers forced me to marry him cause they needed money and animals [bride price] so that they can marry their wives.”

The practice of bride price is one of many practices that highlight the negative effects of poverty and patriarchy on women’s wellbeing.

The women I worked with told me that in their communities, girls are usually seen as a commodity by both their natal family and their new husband. As soon as a girl is born, she is a source of income for her family. This puts girls and young women at great risk of being forced into early or childhood marriage. This is exactly what happened to Colleen.

Colleen is now in an unhappy and abusive marriage. The years of grabbing her children and running into the bush have not been forgotten. These days, however, when she runs with her children it is not to escape the rebels, but the violence of her husband.

For Colleen, instead of a safe place, her home is a place of terror.

The end of the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army was supposedly meant to be time of peace. For many women, however, peace-time violence continues to disrupt and negatively influence their well-being.

Colleen’s Way Forward

Though Colleen’s daily life is characterized by the violent relationship with her husband, it does not define her. Colleen experiences a lot of joy in the relationship with her children, and with her female friends who she meets in her neighbourhood and in the local counselling centre. The women often sing and dance together:

“During the rebel time there was no music, now there is music and we can dance and feel better. I dance! … I always dance and listen [to music] because it is telling me about peace, if it is gospel it is counselling me also. There are songs which you listen to and it teaches you about peace.”

Community groups, the church, gospel songs and the local counselling centre are all crucial for Colleen’s recovery. We need to acknowledge the importance of creativity and body work in psycho-social and mental health support. For Colleen, dancing and singing is not only simply enjoyable, it also offers a way of healing.  

*Colleen is a pseudonym. The image accompanying this article does not depict the woman who told this story.