The South African National AIDS Council Women Sector is appalled at the gruesome rape and murder of Anene Booysen. Sexual violence against women in South Africa knows no age, skin colour, sexual preference, and class or education level. Although the line above, quoted from rape.co.za when viewed from a statistics perspective cannot be validated, as social activists it captures the reality which we experience working with marginalised communities in South Africa.
It is horrific incidents like that of Booysen that serve to remind us of the particular type of violence that is directed at women perpetrated by men, because we are women. Crime statistics for the 2010/2011 year were announced in September 2012, murder and robbery rates were down but rape figures had increased from 55 097 to 56 272. For the year 2011/2012 this increased to a staggering 64 514. So while we fight for, legislate and programme to realise gender equality; national statistics show that women’s vulnerability to sexual violence is on the increase.
Women’s rights organisations working in the area of sexual violence call for the right to dignity and safety from all forms of violence - in the private and public spheres. Violence against women in South Africa is an omnipresent threat. With a rape occurring every seventeen seconds, and intimate partner violence forming the leading cause of death among female homicide victims, with 56 percent of female homicides being perpetrated by an intimate partner - being a woman in South Africa is akin to being a moving target.
The place we call home … what do the numbers say?
In our homes: 40-50 percent of women in a research study conducted by the MRC reported having been victims of physical violence from an intimate partner, correlated by over 40 percent of male respondents in the same study.
In our communities: Three quarters of men who perpetrate rape do it for the first time before the age of twenty years old. A local research study found that 28 percent of men report having perpetrated rape.
In our schools: More than 30 percent of young women report being raped at school. Close to one-third of all girls surveyed in a local study, said their first sexual experience was forced, and nearly three-quarters had sex against their will at least once.
Accessing Services: There are extremely high levels of secondary trauma faced by a survivor reporting a rape matter to the police, undergoing a forensic examination and testifying in court.
Access to Justice: Of the 32 percent of rape cases that go to court, conviction rates for adult rape is recorded as 4.5 percent and of the 42 percent of cases pertaining to minors, the conviction for rate stands at 9.06 percent for children less than 18 years. For rape of adults, more tried cases resulted in acquittal than conviction. For murder and for child rape there were almost as many convictions as acquittals. [Sample size form Western Cape Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces].
Where is the Outrage? - The Institutional Crisis
From the outside South Africans have been depicted as desensitised, with references to the disproportionate public outcry as compared to India. There is a lack of confidence in the justice system to protect women from violence; there is also a demonstrated lack of political will to drive women’s equality through the support of civil society initiatives. This is underscored by an ongoing process of government and development agencies slashing funding to essential service organisations in the women’s sector.
The reality is that women’s organisations are closing, while the threat and perpetration of VAW is increasing. In the last two years we have seen member organisations closing, and with the exception of a select few, there has been no women’s organisation that has not had to retrench staff in the last three years.
VAW, HIV and Gender Equality
In 2010 Jewkes et al released data over a study that quantitatively linked VAW and vulnerability to HIV infection in South Africa. This study found that nearly one in seven new HIV infections could be prevented if young women were not subjected to physical or sexual abuse and a similar proportion could be prevented if they did not experience the greatest relationship power inequalities[sic].
Mmapaseka ‘Steve’ Letsike Deputy Chair of the South African National AIDS Council [SANAC] had the following to say “We cannot continue to tolerate such behaviours of perpetrators, who continue to brutally rape and murder our community members. South Africans should act against such behaviours and we must unite in condemning the acts of these perpetrators. It is our duty as citizens to protect the rights of everyone everywhere. I call upon all citizens and government to stand and see the gravity of the problem. We must tackle the violence and stand as a collective to address these issues.”
Where to Now? - Jewkes noted the following “Rape perpetration is preventable. This review suggests that the predominant underlying factors for rape perpetration are environmental, and central among them are gender attitudes and childhood experiences of violence.”
As organisations working toward gender equality it is important that we link the realisation thereof to health and development outcomes. There is global recognition on the risks between gender inequality and increased vulnerability to VAW and HIV.
Feminism as a global movement against sexist oppression, demands that we continue to expand on local feminist participation in order to realise gender equality. In a context where we cannot name what the perpetrators have done to the victim because it is too disturbing even in print, it points to a crisis. That transforms this case along with so many others, into a call for us to rally together as women, as feminists, as citizens with rights to dignity, safety and security.
For more about the SANAC Women’s Sector, refer to www.sanacws.org.za.
To view other NGO press releases, refer to www.ngopulse.org/group/home-page/pressreleases.