Women have right to feel unsafe on the streets of SA and to start running

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
According to rape myths, a 'real rape' is one in which a victim is raped by a stranger who jumps out of the bushes with a weapon, and in which she was beaten and bruised. /MARK ANDREWS
According to rape myths, a 'real rape' is one in which a victim is raped by a stranger who jumps out of the bushes with a weapon, and in which she was beaten and bruised. /MARK ANDREWS
Image: MARK ANDREWS

I have always known that SA women feel unsafe, rightfully so - whether in their homes, at work or in the streets.

In my line of work, I am always exposed to the horrid reality that SA presents for women. However, the reality hits you a bit differently when it is close to home or directly affects you.

Earlier this month my daughter faced an incident. On her way back from the salon, a short distance from her apartment, she realised there were fewer people on the route she was taking, and the rainy weather made her feel even more exposed.

She then realised it was now just her and one man on the road, prompting her to intensify her walking pace and even start running. She felt unsafe and vulnerable because of the war on women's bodies in SA.

As soon as she started increasing her pace and eventually started running, the man walking in the same street began swearing at her and said "ha ke nyaope, nkao etsang" loosely translated as "I am not a drug addict/user of nyaope, what can I possibly do to you".

The insults went on. What this man does not know is that there is no perfect perpetrator. Rapists and murderers can be clean men in a suit. A perpetrator does not look a particular way, him mentioning that he is not a drug addict is of no importance. What is even more alarming is the anger that this man displayed, solely because my daughter was afraid that something may happen to her.

In fact, is his violent response to her search for safety not proof enough that there was something to fear? No one should be offended by a person walking fast or running. This is the sheer anxiety and fear women live with all over the world.

My daughter's experience is not a unique one, many women have to have their guard up, calculate their every move, be very wary of their surroundings and obsessively alert at all times in their everyday lives.

Even with the most simple everyday activities such as walking back from the salon or jogging, women do not have the luxury of living their lives as freely as they want to. Our oblivious
ness as men to the safety of women comes from a place of privilege.

There is a lot of work to be done when coming to gender-based violence, however it is not all grim. The recent ruling on the doctrine of common purpose being applicable to group rape is a positive move towards using the law to fight the scourge.

Importantly, in this ruling by the Constitutional Court is the holistic understanding of rape, that rape is not limited to penetration or a sexual act. Rape is about power, a group of men raping a woman, whether some penetrate her or not is immaterial. They therefore must all be equally held accountable.

This landmark ruling gives me some hope. Our institutions are shaping up to secure justice for victims because society is forcing them to. This is why we must not stop addressing such issues so that outdated practices are done away with and new precedents are set.

Finally, the chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality Tamara Mathebula, who were friends of the court in the matter, had this to say, "we should all be valiant in creating safe spaces for women" and this ruling is a step towards the realisation of this ideal.

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