Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. While I would have liked that to read ‘Today we celebrate International Women’s Day’, I am aware that many women in South Africa, and across the globe, have no cause for celebration.
I do not however, want to recount or rehash depressing statistics for you. Instead, I give you a call to action.
I recently had to present testimony in criminal proceedings: testifying entails being prepared by an officer of the court. I was joined by two other women. The first was a survivor of domestic abuse. Her ex-boyfriend had thrown a lit paraffin stove at her while she was breastfeeding their newborn. She rolled down her jersey to reveal devastating burn wounds.
Although she had laid charges, she had to withdraw them (she battled for two years before dropping the domestic abuse charges) and was there to claim maintenance, which the child’s father refused to pay. She had been beaten numerous times in front of her daughters – both of whom I met after the briefing.
I thought about a presentation I had attended a few weeks before. A doctor recounted an incident at a prominent university: a student had been raped and chose not to report it.
Eventually, she built up the courage to confide in her mother. Her mother promptly replied: “That’s life.”
This young woman’s mother essentially told her that gender-based violence (GBV) is part of life – it’s normal, it’s accepted and condoned
I sat in that courthouse wondering how many children grow up with that crippling belief.
You may not remember a woman whose name and surname I share – Jyoti Singh. She was gang raped in a bus on 16 December 2012 and died from her injuries two weeks later. Her only crime was going to the cinema at night.
Unrepentant, one of her rapists declared that decent women don’t go out at night.
The title of this article honours everyone affected by GBV (in Hollywood and beyond), and pays tribute to people like Jyoti who lost their lives. I choose to remember them by recalling that someone I share a name with could easily have been me. Even though the rape happened on another continent six years ago, it could have happened anywhere, anytime.
I’m not asking you to become a feminist – whatever that vague, catch-all term may signify – but I am asking you to think: hard and intelligently.
Challenge conventional, accepted, comfortable truths.
Call out people who are misogynistic, sexist bigots.
It is our collective responsibility to take action, to reject false and hypocritical values, and to embrace precedents which will bring about meaningful change
We are all complicit: This is not a struggle that is divided along the lines of race, sex or gender. Move away from a mindset of self-preservation and a self-serving attitude and realise that we should be preserving and serving others: I thus propose changing the slogan and hashtag from #MeToo to #WeToo.
Happy International Women’s Day!