A tipping point on gender-based violence in South Africa?

A number of recent articles have suggested that February 2013 will go down in history as the month when South Africa finally began an earnest fight against epidemic intimate partner and gender-based violence. Femicide is no rare occurrence in the country, but in the last three weeks two particularly brutal, high-profile murders have captured media attention and galvanized activists.

The two late victims, Reeva Steenkamp and Anene Booysen, represent two very different parts of South African society: Steenkamp was a white model and law school graduate famously attached to a beloved Olympic athlete; 17-year-old Booysen was black, and few had heard her name while she was still alive.

The proximity of their murders—Steenkamp posted a tribute to Booysen to her Instagram just days before her own death—presents an unavoidable reminder that gender-based violence cuts across society and cannot be dismissed as a problem faced only by others. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the gory glitter of Steenkamp’s murder has overshadowed Booysen’s death in the international media.)

Steenkamp Instagram

Steenkamp’s tragically ironic Instagram tribute to Booysen

The jump from outrage to effective action, though, is a tricky one. Rhodes University senior lecturer Sally Matthews has a great essay on Gender Links today reviewing the State of the Nation address presented by President Zuma (who has been accused of rape) during last week’s opening of parliament. As she points out, Zuma’s call for stricter enforcement and harsher punishments for perpetrators is an understandable response to recent weeks’ events—but there’s little evidence that these practices actually reduce violence.

Meaningful change, Matthews explains, will require a national shift in gender roles and expectations. She writes:

…Stronger laws, stricter sentences, protest events and new institutions… may well form a part of such an “everyday campaign”, but for such a campaign to be effective, we also need to think carefully about the everyday actions and attitudes that form the foundation upon which GBV is built.

As many commentators have pointed out, the men who rape and kill are not strange monsters with a different constitutional make up to other people. There is no murder or rape gene which drives some to kill or rape while the rest of us look on in horror. Rather, the attitudes that help make such behaviours possible are present in many.

The belief that a woman is a passive creature, to be seduced, pampered and looked after may result in high sales of furry pink teddy bears on Valentine’s Day, but may also conceivably play a part in some men’s inability to believe that a woman’s “NO” ought to be heeded.

The national uproar in response to the deaths of two women is a start, but for February 2013 to be remembered as a true tipping point, South Africa needs more than outrage to combat violence.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted February 18, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    The one billion rising campaign, celebrated across several african countries, really shows how this issue is becoming more visible. Women and men in Liberia speaking out against rape! It is so wonderful to see this happening across the world.

    I wasn’t there, obviously, but you can see it on youtube.

  2. Posted February 19, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    THE TIPPING POINT FOR WOMEN IN SA:
    SELF-DEFENCE TRAINING FOR ALL WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN SA

    Please let’s tell Anene Booysen and Reeva Steenkamp’s family that we South African Women are going to take the rape bull by the horns ourselves!

    85% of our safety is in our own hands. SELF-DEFENCE is guaranteed to reduce rape by up to 30%.

    In Kenya 1 million women and children have been taught how to fight and get away, among them a girl of 6, a 15 year old who got away from 3 men with guns and a 60 year old woman who fought off an attacker.

    Kenyan trainers will come to SA to train us FOR FREE. I have collected money for their air fares. All we need is help to support a three week training programme, which will teach thousands of women and children within a few hours how to fight, get away and report. This is not judo, nor karate. It is knowing how to fight dirty to get away and report. It works!

    Please, if you want to stop this evil wave of violence against our women and children, work with us.

    This training can be the turning point of rape in our country.

    This is not an appeal for money. It is a shout for us to work together to make the world sit up and notice.

    MonicagClarke@gmail.com
    I PROTECT ME project

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