Over the last few months there seems to be a surplus of news headlines reporting rape and abuse of women and children, mostly girls. A colleague here at Africa on the Blog wrote a very thought provoking article a while back which also addresses this subject and I suppose this is my feeling on the matter and a type of response to it.
In late 2012 a girl of 16 in India was abducted and gang raped by at least 8 men who filmed the incident and threatened that if she told anyone they would show the film to ruin her reputation and they would kill her family. She stayed quiet but her mother found out because she no doubt saw the change in her daughter’s behaviour and stayed quiet. Later when her father found out he killed himself because of the shame and apparently the girl decided her father’s death should not be in vain so she reported the crime.
In Swaziland, I read that a law was being passed to make the wearing of “rape inducing mini-skirts” illegal. Have you seen the traditional dress of the Swazi maiden? I have to scratch my head at this contradiction. Could this possibly be a less than subtle way of demonizing Western dress and enforcing cultural traditions on the population; because it can’t possibly be out of real concern to end rape crimes, or am I missing something?
In Zimbabwe and South Africa girls and women are raped so often it is usually ignored. I know most rapes are never even reported because the sense of entitlement of the men who do this seems to be hopelessly widespread and the shame the victim feels overrides their desire for justice. In South Africa the Zulu and Xhosa people have a tradition called Twala* which is being abused. An awareness raising televised report showed a male village elder say that ‘there is no difference between a girl of 9 (years old) and a woman of 40 (years old)!’ Yes he really said that and the worst part is that he not only believes this but propagates that belief among the men and boys of his village and tribe.
Today I see a headline asking if the age of consent can be reduced in the wake of the rape in India… excuse me but WHAT? I must be imagining this, surely! How quickly has the world and especially India forgotten Phoolan Devi and what she went through?
Let me say this: Yes, I am in full support of women’s rights and women’s freedoms and yes I could be called a women’s liberator but I am not one who emasculates men. The truth is that in my own circle of friends at least half of my favourite people in this world are men and I know they’re not fools and I know they’re not awful people purely because of their gender and I know emphatically that they do not somehow feel they are entitled to do as they like to a woman because of the way she may dress or walk or carry herself; in fact most of the men I know would probably walk away from a woman if she tried to force herself on them in a sexual way.
So what is going on? Come on people! This is the 21st century for goodness sake! We are not club wielding Neanderthals.
Surely basic education is not such an impossible dream for every human being? Surely the right to have a say as to what happens to you and your body, no matter what your gender, is the right of everyone?
These male persons who rape, abuse and take advantage of the innocent, the ignorant and the socially or religiously suppressed are not men in any shape or form that would reflect the real meaning of the word.
A real man is respectful and honourable to himself and to all others. A real man does not rape and he does not feel he is entitled to do as he pleases with other people for his own sexual or personal gratification. A real man does not covet his neighbours wife, daughters nor children. A real man is hard to find when the world seems to be collapsing into a cesspool of insanity and sexual deviance.
I honestly believe that the only way to try and eliminate this type of behaviour is to enforce the most stringent punishment for those found guilty of sexual abuse and/or rape and we must educate everyone equally: from boys to men and from girls to women.
How can we focus upon educating girls and women when their own tribal or village men are being told they can do as they please? Education will not protect a woman from the ignorance of men when she is surrounded by them and unable to escape. She may be able to escape her situation and move away from her environment altogether but since most tribal rural communities are tight knit we have to find a way to stop the propensity for abuse within these communities and targeted education and empowerment is surely the only way to do it.
Many years ago whilst researching the hero of the Zulu nation, Shaka, I read that if a man committed a crime including stealing or raping a woman, or even partake in pre-marital sex, Shaka would have the transgressors killed without hesitation. So don’t tell me it is tradition to rape, kidnap and impregnate children, girls and women!
Perhaps it is fear, ignorance and poverty that is causing this. Fear of losing girls to education. Fear of losing traditions to urbanisation. Fear of whatever it is that these men are afraid of…
We also cannot leave criminals or suspected criminals to be punished by death without a fair trial. We can’t have kangaroo courts and community punishment without viewing everything fairly and at the risk of innocents being punished, burned to death or stoned because of personal vendetta’s or witch hunts. No! We HAVE to be rational about this. We have to hold men accountable to their own knowledge of right and wrong and if they are brainwashed by their elders into thinking such ridiculous things as “there is no difference between a girl of 9 (years old) and a woman of 40 (years old)” or that “it is culturally acceptable to kidnap and rape girls and women so they can then be impregnated and in this way ‘make her your wife’ and force her into a life of virtual slavery because once she has a child she will stay.” THAT thinking is what we need to attack. That mindset needs to stop and women need to be supported by the law and not laughed at or belittled for being victims of such heinous acts.
Most traditional African garb had women naked from the waist up and no one thought anything of this for centuries. So what has led to this type of behaviour becoming so commonplace in Africa? Since I also mentioned India where traditional dress has women covered it would eliminate dress from the equation. I believe the caste system in India is to blame for a lot of the crimes against women but I struggle to believe that this behaviour has been going on since time immemorial so in all seriousness what has happened? Over population? Poverty? Ignorance? Religion? All these and other factors?
I mentioned education and I’m not talking Bachelors Degrees or PhD’s just basic education: reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, science and history or the subjects that give us the tools to enable us to acquire more or remain sedentary. Not every person wants to go beyond that, many are happy to have a job or be full time parents. In fact many of my own school friends are happy to be stay-at-home mums and there is nothing wrong with that, it is the hardest job on earth. But they have the choice and can also be comforted in the fact that they are more aware of their surroundings and can impart that knowledge to their children which in turn puts their children in better stead to deal with the world.
Education does not have to be the death of culture. Respect does not have to be the death of community. Surely, being able to live freely and not be terrified or unwillingly enslaved is likely to have greater long term benefit to the continuation of community than the alternative. Tradition, where it depends on the enslavement, abuse and terrorising of it’s women and children is not a tradition at all, it is hell and if it is not stopped the future for retaining that culture will be a bleak one because it will lead to a gender war since rape is a weapon of war.
Morality is based on respect so without respect you have no morality and without morality you have anarchy.
*Twala is traditionally a mock kidnapping of a young woman to take her as a wife.