My African Dream – does it exist?

With reference to the recent rape of a 17-year old young lady by boys aged 14 – 20 – what is the answer? How do we stop this violence against women (not forgetting the children as well)?

Our Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (specifically set up for the purpose of representing women, children and people with disabilities) claims to have difficulty in fulfilling its mandate because they are short staffed, underfunded, and ill-represented at provincial level. Question: What is being done about this?

Is this just another rubber stamp of government that says to international donors (who are now getting tired of pouring money into a big black hole) that government is concerned about everybody except able-bodied adult men?

 Our government has proposed introducing a Gender Equity Bill – a Bill which has been rejected by a number of civil society organisations working in the area of gender equality, because it serves to duplicate existing legislation; there is no budget for such a law; and it is unclear who will be responsible for implementing it. The fact that the Women’s Legal Centre feels this Bill would be ineffective has not hampered government in trying to get this Bill passed.

 In 2010/11 66 196 sexual offences were reported. Many civil society organisations estimate that between one in five and one in nine women report their rape. If we use the conservative figures of one in five, it means that 330 980 sexual offences were actually committed in 2010/11.

More simply: 330 980 rapes per year is 906 rapes per day. This is 37 rapes per hour or one rape every two minutes. So in the three hours that the department of everyone and everything took to tell us about their lack of implementation and monitoring capacity, 90 sexual offences were committed (source: http://mg.co.za/article/2012-04-18-new-gender-equality-bill-wont-solve-rape-crisis)

My view is that the men who are raping are doing so because they feel powerless and rape is the only way to exert that power right now. If we look more closely at those who are raping/sexually assaulting, you will find that they are mostly unemployed (young or old), come from very impoverished backgrounds (besides the “blue collar” ones happening behind closed doors that the media does not find out about). Men are tired of sitting around at home, unemployed and not able to put food on the table for their families. They are tired of living in someone else’s backyard not able to afford or provide a roof over their heads for them and their families.

Putting someone like this in jail is actually bliss because at least in jail they have a roof over their heads, meals 3 times per day and they don’t have to worry about not being able to provide for their families. Having a criminal record is no longer a problem because most of our current MP’s have had a criminal record at some stage of their lives and they are now “living the good life” as an MP.

I could go on forever about this but I think you know where I’m going with this?

We need to find ways of changing the behaviour and attitudes of these men (like Sonke Gender Justice who have introduced the “One Man Can” campaign). I think we, as women need to link up with this campaign and ask them “how can we help you?”. Sonke Gender Justice is doing a wonderful job and I think more programmes like this is needed to change existing attitudes and behaviour.

We also need to push Government to work on the unemployment, housing and poverty problem in this country. Until these issues are addressed, I’m afraid that the situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

You cannot preach to someone who is hungry, who does not have a roof over his/her head and who is fighting for survival. Part of our human dignity comes from having a job to go to each day, having the satisfaction of knowing that you have earned enough to put food on the table and to provide for your family. Give a man this dignity back, and he will give women the dignity they deserve.

Social grants are not the answer either. A very well-known and overused quote which I feel is so close to the truth says: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for the day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” People in South Africa need jobs . . . a “hand-up” rather than a “hand-out”.

Many of these men who rape are not really monsters. If they are treated with dignity and respect, they could possibly also respect others (including women).

Rape is not about sex. It is about a man exerting his power over a woman because he knows the woman is weaker than him (physically) and less likely to fight back – hence the reason why a man will seldom rape another man.

 Here I sit . . . searching for my African Dream.

Also see: http://www.womendemanddignity.co.za

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