“When a woman didn’t enjoy it [sex], she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast, and ask for taxi money.”
-ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, speaking to a group of 150 University students last May on why South African President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser must have enjoyed having sex with him.
These are the words of a rape apologist. They are the words of someone seeking to shame, embarrass, humiliate, and de-legitimize a woman who dared to take legal action against her alleged rapist- the president of a nation.
And now, according to a recent ruling by the South African Equality Court, these words also legally constitute hate speech and discrimination, and will not be tolerated without legal ramification.
The verdict handed down yesterday by the South African Equality Court was as much symbolic victory as a legal one, in my opinion. The comment is infuriating, sure, but it is made even more so when considering the context in which it was delivered- to a group of youth, in a country where it is estimated that one in three women is raped in her lifetime and one in four men admits to rape, by a leader in a historically progressive political party whose self-declared “key objective is the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.”
The credit for this monumental victory belongs to Sonke Gender Justice Network, an amazing South African organization that supports men and boys to act against domestic and sexual violence. It was them who filed the lawsuit against Malema when they recognized the opportunity to make a public statement about the harm and destruction caused by rape culture.
This move took bravery. It also took strategic vision. The organization where I work, which has partnered with Sonke since 2008, has been anxiously awaiting this verdict since Sonke formalized their complaint in May, but we also recognize that the outcome wasn’t really the point. The very act of them filing the claim was such a powerfully symbolic feminist victory.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they ended up winning the case, and now, we don’t have to just be content with a symbolic win. Upon being pronounced guilty of hate speech and discrimination, the two charges Sonke leveled against him in the Equality Court following his hateful comments, Malema was ordered to issue a written apology within the next two weeks and instructed to pay R50,000 (approx. $7,000) to an organization serving survivors of gender based violence.
More on the significance of this victory from Sonke’s press statement:
“This case makes it clear that our country’s leaders need to be more responsible in their public statements and that civil society can and will hold them accountable. We hope that this ruling will alert public figures to the potential repercussions of their words, both in terms of the impact that public statements can have in perpetuating gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination, and in terms of the legal implications.
“In a country where it is estimated that one in three a women is raped, we need to take strong action to counter myths and stereotypes which can lead perpetrators to believe that they can act with impunity, and which can dissuade rape survivors from seeking health care or justice.”
The press statement goes on to outline next steps for continuing the fight against stigma, discrimination, and gender-based violence in South Africa:
“It is not sufficient, however, for leaders to refrain from making irresponsible comments; we need proactive leadership to mobilise men and boys to take action against gender-based violence. We reiterate our call for men in public positions to be clear and consistent in their explicit support of gender equality and to condemn openly and unequivocally all forms of gender-based violence.
Instead of perpetuating rape myths, public figures should make it clear that rape can happen anywhere, and that the rapist could be anyone: a stranger, a friend, a boyfriend, a husband. There are no rules that say a woman who has been raped will behave like this or like that. We need to make sure that women who have been raped are not stigmatised and are not made to feel like the crimes against them were their fault.”
I’m so psyched to continue to support and partner with Sonke through my work at IWHC as they continue their incredible work generating support for women’s rights and gender equality – and specifically to educate men and boys about the role they can play in advancing gender transformation.
Truly a cause for celebration!
For more on Sonke and combatting violence against women in South Africa:
• Click here to watch an awesome video on Sonke’s taking Malema to court. Seriously, prepare to be inspired.
• Read a recent blog entry on Akimbo by the Sonke Communications and Information Manager, “Men of Quality Do Not Fear Equality: Working with African men Towards Gender Justice and Prevention of HIV”
• Read more about the One in Nine Campaign, a movement in South Africa aimed at improving rape survivors’ access to justice