The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign highlights one of the biggest crises in our country. But ’16 days’ is in its 19th year, and as statistics remain alarming and there are no signs of violence against women decreasing, we have to question its impact. While ministers and organisations try their best to align themselves, the crisis won’t be solved with clever slogans, but with a massive mind-shift in society. So this year, we reflect on what we – women and men – can do individually to end the culture of rape and violence in the country.

1. Defining consent

If everyone in our society understood this basic concept, we’d move away from trying to find explanations as to why sexual violence occurs. It’s simple: no one dresses to be raped, no one wears make-up to be raped, no one goes out to a club or on a date to be raped, no one attends a neighbourhood braai to get raped. No matter what the situation, you don’t get to define or determine anyone else’s consent. Educate yourself and those around you on what consent really means.

2. Stop victim-blaming

Again,  no matter what someone wears, where they go or how pretty they look, they are not to blame for the violent actions of another human being. For a very long time this has been the basis of defending the actions of rapists. Remember Khwezi, who accused President Zuma of rape? She was made out to be a villain in the worst way possible. Believe women – it sounds simple but it could cause radical change.

3. Stop selectively caring about GBV 

We need to stop looking at violence and rape on a scale from 1 to 10. Very often tears are shed for the most affluent, or most white, or most picture-perfect women; while everyone else – particularly black women, trans women, and vulnerable women like sex workers are forgotten about.

4. Increase call-out culture

Be it a family member, a colleague, the uncle across the street, or even the very media itself, call out the perpetrators of rape culture no matter how difficult it may seem. If we look at #MenAreTrash or #MeToo, it shows us that small and difficult conversations can lead to entire national movements. The more we speak out, the easier it becomes for others to do the same. Educate yourself in the way people and organisations can perpetuate rape culture in our country.

5. Recognise the dangers of the patriarchy

What makes patriarchal thinking dangerous is that it infiltrates into our day-to-day lives. It is most dangerous when men and women buy into it completely. It’s the patriarchy that tells us to keep quiet, tells us its okay to blame the victim, tells us to feel ashamed when we experience gender-based harm or violence of any kind.

6. Recognise the other big issues

There are other issues in our country that obscure the way we look at and deal with rape culture. For one, the way the government treats sex work leaves countless women – and men – vulnerable. Issues rampant in the country like drug and gang-related violence, lack of education and poverty also have parts to play and we need to realise that we will never eradicate rape culture if we treat it as a singular, isolated issue.

The Stats

Stats SA, along with the South African Medical Research Council, conducted a study earlier this year, which revealed some shocking information about abuse against women in South Africa. In a previous article, we highlighted the following information taken from the study:

Physical violence against women

  • 21% of women over the age of 18 reported that they had experienced violence at the hands of a partner. That’s one in five women.
  • Divorced or separated women are more likely to experience physical abuse.
  • The Eastern Cape has the highest rate of physical abuse (with a whopping 32% of women reporting physical abuse).
  • KwaZulu-Natal has the lowest rate of physical abuse (with an equally shocking 14% of women reporting physical abuse).
  • Other provinces also showed worryingly high figures: The North West (29.4%); Mpumalanga (26.4%); Free State (21.4%); Western Cape (21.2%) and the Northern Cape (18.7%).

The survey also showed that it is particularly women living in the lowest wealth quintile that experience the most physical violence; similarly women with no education.

Sexual violence against women

  • 6% of women over the age of 18 reported that they had experienced sexual violence.
  • 16% of divorced or separated women experienced sexual violence by a partner.
  • 10% of women living with a partner reported sexual violence against them.
  • The North West reported the highest rate of sexual violence (with 11.8% of women reporting sexual violence against them).
  • KwaZulu-Natal reported the lowest rate of sexual violence (with 3.1% of women reporting sexual violence against them).

Much like with the physical violence statistics, it is women in the lowest wealth quintile that experience the highest rates of sexual violence.