2019 saw me attend the #AmINext Protest with thousands of other South African women. Historically, women have shown their solidarity through protesting in South Africa and I was proud to be a part of this movement. It was incredibly powerful joining a peaceful march with a big message: STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN SOUTH AFRICA, TODAY.
He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules
Violence against women has been a major issue in South Africa for many years (it’s nothing new). However, middle class women are slowly, but surely, becoming transparent about the trespasses against them and I believe it is turning the tide.
I get the impression that less fortunate women have felt like privileged women have not cared about the violence committed against them and only NOW, that it’s starting to affect them, are acting.
I understand why it seems this way – because women were literally not out in the streets, en masse, trying to change violence against women.
Shadows of Women
What’s sad, is that women of privilege have ALWAYS been victims of abuse – they just never felt like they mattered enough, or that they could truly do anything about it or didn’t want the Jones’ skinnering about their “situation”, so things were swept under the carpet.
Today I know as many women who have had boobs jobs that have been raped. WOMEN I CALL FRIEND. WOMEN IN MY PHONE. WOMEN IN MY HOME. WOMEN ON MY FACEBOOK. WOMEN AT MY WORK.
And when I first learnt about these crimes did I do anything about it? Nope. Not that I didn’t cared, but I never felt I had any power to do anything about it. It was almost like a silent code where I knew “it didn’t matter” and ignoring it was the way life went on. Because no one was ACTUALLY going to do anything about it, right?!
I didn’t report it because:
Didn’t want my sister to be embarrassed by me
Didn’t want to ruin my cousins’ lives
“It wasn’t that bad”
I didn’t want it to be the main “thing” about me
Didn’t want to break my ouma’s heart
“I can’t prove anything”
— tailsofamermaid (@NatalieRoos) September 4, 2019
Turning the Tide
What’s changed? Personally, I feel the change has come with economic freedom. For centuries women “needed” men to make them “honest” and maintain them. It’s ok for things to have been the way they were, things take time to change, but now enough TRULY is enough and we don’t need male approval to say so.
One of my favourite quotes from the whole movement has been,
“No man knows a rapist, but every women knows someone who has been raped.”
Think about that.
What Motivated Me to Participate
The growing number of high profile cases has shifted my sense of responsibility. Cases have shocked me (Lynette Volschenk), angered me (Dros case) and saddened me (Jesse Hess), but it wasn’t until Meghan Cramer was killed on the horse farm, where she lived, that I started to feel afraid. (My sister in law has a horse. My sister in law has a stable. My sister in goes riding into the world. It is worrisome.)
Uyinene Mrweyaya was a UCT student who fetched a parcel from the Clareinch post office and was murdered. MY post office. My DAD’s post office. I can see the post office building, literally, from my apartment window. Now I was fed up, angry, worried and afraid.
Enough is enough.
I acknowledge that it’s a pity that it took crimes so close to home to move me, but the truth is that there is an evolution to things. And, sometimes, enough bad things have to happen before the shift is big enough to cause a greater change.
We Are Responsible
There are many of us who have the means to live in great complexes, houses or apartments, but just because it’s not OUR problem, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.
Just because it’s not your problem doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.
I was so thankful that my work allowed us to join the protest. It was so powerful seeing so many men and women in the streets, dressed in black, voting with our feet and showing Parliament that we individually, personally and as a group we have had enough.
I respect those who also wore black the following Friday to show solidarity, but, let’s be honest – no laws were ever changed because people sat at their desks. It’s important for Parliament to SEE us. And to the president’s credit, he came out and accepted our proposed mandate.
There have been 3 main learning experiences for me during this protest.
- All the black women were sighing protest songs that I’d never heard in my life. Imagine being from South Africa, being a South African and gathering for change only to realise you had zero context or experience with the songs that have already shaped the history of the country. It was a lightbulb moment.
- There is a sisterhood in South Africa. We’ve all been hiding our pain and our shame and now, we can actually hold each other’s hands and say, “You are not alone”.
- Numbers matter. There’s no question that there is power in numbers. Now that you’ve seen me do it, join me again. We are peaceful, we are respectful, but we are serious.
Does It Really Matter?
- When your house alarm goes off in the middle of the night – that makes it your problem.
- When you’re scared to walk back to your car at night – that makes it your problem.
- When you can’t take the trains to work – that makes it your problem.
- When you can’t accept a lift home from a man after a date – that makes it your problem.
- If you have nieces and nephews who you don’t want walking home at night in 15 years (let alone yourself) – that makes it your problem.
These are 5 tiny examples, that I just thought of off the top of my head, but the point remains the same. Men and women are not safe in this country and that is ALL of our problem and ALL of our responsibility to try and change, evolve, move forward.
To The Women Who Have Endured So Much
I am so sorry.
I remember the first time I learnt my friend had been raped…by two men in Camps Bay at a house party. I can say my soul stopped. That’s the only way I can describe it.
This isn’t the boogie man jumping out the bushes that we are all so conditioned to believe. These are entitled, chauvinistic LOSERS (substitute with your own words) who dared to smash your dignity for their own satisfaction.
To the last friend who told me they were raped, there are no words that I can say that can justify the pain, hurt, shame, guilt or secondary issues that have spawned from this act of violence. All I can say as I am so truly sorry, that I love you and that you are not a reflection of your experiences.
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – John Wooden
Women are still seriously being injured and killed in South Africa. We have barely scratched the surface. With our usual mount of problems, this is something we can all work on at an individual level.
We Have All Been Trash
Say what? Yes, we have.
We’ve all drank too much and chanced our arm. We’ve all taken risks. We’ve all pushed a little too hard when the person just wasn’t that into us, or sold ourselves out because we wanted to be liked…
While there’s barely a comparison between men forcing themselves on women, women also have a responsibility to take care of themselves.
This does NOT come in the form of “her skirt was too short” or “she flirted with me”, (burn any man who thinks that’s consent), but we can all be a little wiser, a little more careful and a little more direct because it is our right to say yes or no.
Let us not forget that there are still heinous crimes being committed in South Africa. But I’m loving the sisterhood that permeates in the world now and I hope we can continue to care for one another because when women are protected, EVERYONE wins.