On Monday night I checked on some news stories and what I saw shocked me. While it feels like everything is about to come tumbling down around us politically here in the UK, a sustained state of turbulence that has almost numbed me, a far more sinister act has shocked myself and many others awake.
A brutality occurred in Cape Town last Thursday; student Uyinene Mrwetyana was attacked, raped and murdered, in the middle of the afternoon, at a post office. Her remains were discovered on Monday and an employee from the branch has been arrested and charged with this crime. The brazen nature of such a heinous act has thrown accelerant onto the smouldering embers of anger among the women of South Africa.
News of Mrwetyana’s death has sparked a mass outcry for a national shutdown in protest with the hashtag #AmINext calling for gendered violence to be addressed as a specific and serious issue. I find it staggering that in 2019 a word like ‘Femicide’ is needed and necessary to describe what feels like an attack on a specific demographic.
My home country feels like an increasingly dangerous place to be a woman with reports of kidnappings and rapes becoming commonplace. The scariest of the statistics though, is the death rate as a result of interpersonal violence. We assume a boogy man lurks behind a dark corner waiting to pounce, but more often than not a woman is likely to be physically attacked and murdered by her partner or someone else she already knows. In 2016 the country had the fourth highest interpersonal violence death rate according to the WHO, and the rate itself is increasing.
In school we were told the same old schpiel of don’t be out at night, don’t go anywhere alone, don’t drink, don’t wear tight clothing and don’t talk to strangers. I am infuriated to read that the government’s Twitter response to public outrage included the words: “Govt is calling on women to speak out, and not allow themselves to become victims by keeping quiet. Women who speak out are able to act, effect change and help others.” Looking on their feed while writing it seems to have disappeared.
Lets unpack that shall we. Nothing, evidently, in how we perceive violence against women has changed over the years. It seems that victim blaming is still the leading cause of rape in a country where more than half of it’s population does not feel safe, specifically because of their gender. This is not a women’s issue but a national one of inequality. It appears there is an urgent need for some feminist intervention within the education system and to challenge the ingrained notion that women are of less value.
It is not acceptable to laugh off behaviours exhibited in one gender and to chastise another for it, “boys will be boys” is completely invalid and tiresome. What’s been called “locker room talk” is also completely unacceptable – sexist and rape jokes are not harmless and are as offensive as racist and homophobic jokes. Waving these behaviours off and thinking to yourself “what was she wearing” or “was she drunk” when a woman is attacked is a clear act of victim blaming and an example of the clear bias we’ve been trying to break down for years. Cat calls aren’t funny or cute, they are disrespectful just like up-skirting, stalking and groping. All of these behaviours add up and can be indicative of more serious and violent actions down the line.
I’m ranting because I’m so frustrated that these things still need to be said out loud. I’m frustrated that we still generally hold boy and girl children to different standards which perpetuates this idea that one is better than the other. We are all humans; we all deserve the same level of respect, autonomy, rights and freedom. I’m frustrated that the majority of people in power have probably never had to consider putting their keys in between their fingers as a weapon when out, meaning they cannot fathom what it is like to feel as if there is a target on your back whenever you step outside your front door, or even when returning home. It’s time we told them.
We need a giant cultural shift. I see many popular calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty which I don’t personally think will achieve anything. Answering brutality with more brutality doesn’t fix the underlying problem. It’s an issue of respect. We need to teach, promote understanding and create awareness that the genders of South Africa have very different experiences.
While I am not there in person to participate in pickets I can only keep Mrwetyana’s family in mind, along with all the other victims families and hope that the momentum continues and galvanizes a nation into making change to benefit us all; because enough is enough.