Leading up to 16 days of activism, women all over South Africa gather in support groups to discuss the rights of women and children. Somewhere in Johannesburg after a two-day awareness programme, women from a support group, gathered to discuss what they have learnt.
It was a distressing experience to sit amongst the 50 HIV+ women discussing how they have personally been affected by violence and abuse. Although in the awareness programme the discussion revolved around how women can protect themselves from violence and where to get the support they need. Most the women in the group felt that these solutions did not apply to them. “How can we report when our men rape us, if they are the ones putting food on the table?” one of them asked. “Who will even believe us when we say our husband has raped us?” another shouted, “we are constantly at risk of re-infection, as we have no control in our own lives” another said. One of the woman stood up determinedly and said “In Diepsloot it is better to be a man!”
Amongst the outcries of the women in the group, the alarming story of one of the woman stood out. She started by shouting out that the police don’t care about women, that there is no safe space in community and every day women fear for their lives. Tears welled up her eyes as she went on to share her story.
A few years back she was happily dating a man she met. Everything was going fine in their relationship, until one by one they both lost their jobs. After not being able to get another job, her boyfriend turned to drugs. Taking crystal methamphetamine or “tik” made him become violent and start physically abusing her. At first she let it pass thinking he would stop. But the abuse only got worse.
Eventually the young woman mustered up the courage to leave him. At the time she believed that it was the right thing to do. But no more than a few weeks later, to her absolute terror, she was woken up when the front door of her small shack was broken open. Her ex walked in finding her still in her bed, he grabbed her and raped her. Then he beat her up and left her unconscious on the floor. The abuse did not stop there, walking in the street with her friends, she was again grabbed by her ex. He dragged her kicking and screaming to an abandoned liquor store and raped her again. He told her over and over again that he was going to kill her. She was once again left unconscious in the abandoned building.
This case was reported to the police, who offered no help. She was told that she must find out where her ex is living for the police to be able to arrest him. Terrified for her life, and sobbing uncontrollably, she said that there is no end in sight for the pain and abuse women face on a daily basis. All the policies and programmes to support women are useless, unless woman are respected by the authorities, and there is a clear way of getting the support they need.
The sad thing about this story, is it is not the story of one woman, this is the story of many women living in underprivileged communities. Women who are just trying to make ends meet, support their children and protect themselves. These women feel like they have no rights, they have no choice in what happens to them, and limited access to safely and justice.
How can violence against woman end, in a society where women have been battered and abused for so long that they have lost all hope. After decades of mobilising civil society, women’s rights movements and having “ending GBV” in national and international agendas. Violence against women and children remains deeply rooted in gender- based discrimination and social norms, making it a challenge to implement laws to protect vulnerable women.
Women will only feel safe when enough is done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it is punished accordingly.
Contact Angelita Silva - firstname.lastname@example.org