Musasa: A sheltering tree for and of women of Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, two out of every three women and girls have experienced a form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. According to a 2006 study, 32% of women in Zimbabwe reported physical abuse by marital partners since the age of 16 years. That was then. Now it’s worse.

The 2006 study was conducted for the Musasa Project, one of the oldest women’s and feminist organizations in Zimbabwe. The Musasa Project was founded in 1988 in response to the escalating violence against women. Immediately, the women of the Musasa Project recognized that their work would involve service provision, advocacy, community organizing, and often raising a ruckus. The women of the Musasa Project have been leaders in every step of the women’s struggles in Zimbabwe. At the national level, this has meant from the earlier Constitutional processes to the domestic violence legislation campaigns to the more recent Constitutional processes to today.

According to their Executive Director Netty Musanhu. “I am sure you are aware of the crisis that the country has been in for the last decade. Things are getting worse – women are bearing the brunt of all that. We are seeing an increase in rape and sexual violence. We ask ourselves the question, if we are having high levels of sexual violence in times of relative peace, what does this mean?”

Despite an ongoing war on women, in which one in three girls is raped before the age of 18, Zimbabwe is officially a post-conflict country. It’s `at peace.’ Crisis is not conflict, according to the men who lead multinational agencies and form public opinion and governmental policy.

Meanwhile, by the government’s own assessment, at least 1500 children were raped in the first five months of 2014. To no one’s surprise, the overwhelming majority of rapes was committed by close relatives, parents or guardians.

The national government this week launched a National Action Plan on rape, which could be a good thing. It has said it is declaring war on rape, which cannot be a good thing. Sexual violence generally, and rape specifically, cannot be addressed with the means or mentality of warfare.

What exactly would war on rape mean, anywhere? What specifically would it mean in Zimbabwe, in which remand prisons are choking with women and men awaiting trial for years in cages in which, often, there is no usable water, food, electricity, or health care, in which people have died of starvation while awaiting trial?

In Shona, musasa means sheltering tree. The women knew what they were doing when they chose that name. The organization works from an explicitly intersectional place, in which domestic violence is HIV and AIDS which are poverty and wealth, which are access to safe spaces. For that reason, the Musasa Project continually supports evidence-based research to see what the situation is, while they sustain a physical shelter for women and children; meet and work with the government, especially legislators and police; run a hotline; monitor communities; and generally try to keep ahead of the arcs of violence. They always keep their eyes on the prize: women’s emancipation through the establishment of women’s power.

In Zimbabwe, elections loom large, and the patriarch is going to go out with a bang. Women who oppose violence, women who work their whole lives to transform violence into justice and peace know that a war on violence is not the answer. Musasa is the answer: a growing, flowing, sheltering tree that connects, one day, sheltering earth to sheltering sky.

If rape isn’t in the guard’s job description, the jail is off the hook

A woman prisoner in West Virginia says she was raped 17 times by a Regional Jail Authority “correctional officer”. She sued both the officer and the Regional Jail Authority. She sued the jail for negligence in hiring, supervising, training and retaining said officer. The jail asked to be dropped from the suit because sexual assault is not in the scope of his duties. Rape is not in his job description, and so …

A lower court agreed with the woman. Last week, the West Virginia Supreme Court voted 4 – 1 in favor of the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority. The woman is called AB, the officer DH. The Supreme Court majority ruled: “We find that D. H.’s alleged acts fall manifestly outside the scope of his authority and duties as a correctional officer. There can be no question that these acts, as alleged, are in no way an `ordinary and natural incident’ of the duties with which he was charged by the WVRJCFA. Respondent has failed to adduce any evidence bringing these alleged acts within the ambit of his employment beyond merely suggesting that his job gave him the opportunity to commit them. As such, we conclude that the WVRJCFA is entitled to immunity for respondent’s claims based on vicarious liability for D. H.’s acts.”

There you have it. Rape is not in the job description, and so the Jail is “entitled to immunity.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis offered the dissenting opinion: “In order to find that the Regional Jail is immune from liability when female inmates are raped with impunity by correctional officials, the majority opinion recast our law on qualified immunity in such a manner as to make it now virtually impossible for any state agency, not just the Regional Jail, to ever be held accountable for tortious conduct committed by employees within the scope of their employment. I do not make this accusation lightly… To add insult to injury, the majority opinion also has concluded specifically that liability cannot be imposed on the Regional Jail merely because it did not have any regulations designed to protect female inmates from being raped. According to the majority opinion, such regulations `easily fall within the category of ‘discretionary’ governmental functions.’ The majority opinion requires a rape victim to specifically point to `a ‘clearly established’ right or law with respect to . . . supervision[.]’ In the final analysis, under the majority opinion, the Regional Jail simply has to bury its head in the sand and never promulgate any regulation designed to protect the bodily integrity of female inmates to ensure its continued impunity from liability… The majority opinion promotes and rewards `gross negligence and deliberate indifference’ to the constitutional right of female inmates to be free of sexual assaults. But, the State cannot be granted absolute immunity merely because no regulation was violated when its employee raped an inmate seventeen times. Just what will it take to protect women from such assaults? Simply put, the Regional Jail was grossly negligent in not having regulations in place that would have protected the plaintiff from being alone with any male correctional officer on seventeen separate occasions.”

Just what will it take to protect women from such assaults? As reports from the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women reveal, this is not an isolated incidence. What if judges considered the `immunity’ of correctional staff before sending women to prison and jail for the slightest perceived offense? What if judges stopped targeting girls for prison and stopped punishing girls for non-status offenses? What if we turn this darkness into light? Just what will it take?

How many women? Ask the women of Papua New Guinea

How many women are raped in order to produce the world’s gold? How many women are chased off their land, kicked out of their own social structures, and otherwise beaten down in the pursuit of mineral resources? Ask the women of Papua New Guinea.

The Porgera open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea is a good old-fashioned money, and blood, pit: “The mine has a terrible reputation for both human rights abuses (rapes, beatings and killings by security personnel) and environmental damage (vast quantities of potentially toxic tailings dumped into a nearby river). But gold prices, while down from their recent peak, are still three times what they were a decade ago, so dig they must.”

The Porgera mine, owned by the Canadian company Barrick, is rich. In the last two decades, the mine has produced over 20 billion dollars worth of gold. Barrick is rich. Papua New Guinea is poor. Almost a third of the population lives in dire poverty. Around the Porgera mine, it’s worse. As happens so often around `wealthy’ mining sites, the area has experienced severe “social disintegration.” The local communities derive little benefit from the mines, and what benefit they get is slotted to the men. Gender inequality increases. Women become both absolutely and proportionately poorer and more vulnerable. Bride price and polygyny increase dramatically. Women’s status declines. Women’s customary abilities to negotiate dwindle. Abandonment of women and children rises. Domestic violence both increases and intensifies.

Three years ago, a major report investigated and confirmed repeated incidents of gang rape of local women by Porgera’s private security firm. All of the women were brutally beaten. None of the women reported the rapes. What would have been the point? Another report, this one from last year, noted: “A number of the women whose assaults had become public knowledge were stigmatised, beaten by family members or divorced by their husbands.”

The women started organizing and issued demands. What happened? At first, nothing. Then … Barrick created a “remedy program for victims”. This included “the requirement that to receive compensation, women must waive their right to sue Barrick.”

In order to get help, in order to get compensation, the women have to sign away their rights. First, Barrick denied and stonewalled for five years. Then they bullied and bullied some more, all in the name of `remedy.’ The United Nations `recommended’, and the world `condemned.’ No matter. The Barrick non-judicial grievance mechanism remains in place, opaque as ever. Here’s how one witness describes it: “Many women were not aware of the remedy program, others were suspicious of it, and we found general lack of clarity about the process. Women said that the program was being run in a language that they could not understand and that they had not been offered translation. Women said that the things they were being offered through the program were either not what they needed to address the harm they had suffered, or not compatible with culturally appropriate remedies for the type of harm they had suffered, or simply not commensurate with the harm they had suffered. The primary things these women were being offered were baby chickens to raise and second hand clothes to sell. The program seemed to be confusing small scale development programs with remedy.”

There is no confusion. The founder and chairman of Barrick explained that the sexual violence at Porgera occurred because, in Papua New Guinea, “gang rape is a cultural habit.” It never happened, we weren’t there, and anyway it’s your fault, even though it never happened. Barrick was there, Barrick is there … and in Tanzania … and … How many women? How many more women?

Sexual violence, human rights and the media

Sexual violence is usually not covered as a human rights issue.  As the archetypical normalized, invisible, overlooked and structural human right violation, it is more often treated as an everyday, normal problem rather than a violation of women’s rights to health, life, bodily integrity, education, and more. The culture of impunity that surrounds sexual violence, and the fact that rape is notoriously underreported, can hardly be detached from the media’s failure to communicate to people that they actually can report these as crimes.

It is a missed opportunity, and a troubling one, because the way the media chooses to frame sexual violence influences how people think about rape. They can shape, challenge and perpetuate dominant perceptions or illuminate harmful misconceptions and shed a light on the contestations and anxieties that surround the topic. Moreover, they can channel the outrage and disgust towards, for example, child-rapists into anger and calls for accountability towards our governments.  Making sexual violence newsworthy as a human rights violation, rather than something that happens to happen as long as bad men are around, matters.

Making rape newsworthy is not where the media’s responsibility ends. Exposing power-relations that underlie human rights violations also counts. As feminists have long demonstrated, rape is about power. Coverage of sexual violence shouldn’t end with a narrow description of what has happened to whom and how, but should also contextualize the events with an explanation of gendered power relations. Sexual violence should be seen as a violent performance of patriarchy and an enactment of masculinity; both pervasive and structural forces, but also fluid and therefore changeable. Focusing on the violent masculinities doesn’t mean identifying it as the sole cause; the blame must still be placed on the perpetrator. But not without mentioning the power structures that enabled or encouraged him to commit this crime; and the responsibility of the government to take action and show political will to fix these pervasive social ills. If the media would educate us all a bit better around patriarchy and masculinity, we might actually tell our governments to put political will behind their human rights talk.

The media’s ability to either encourage or discourage rape survivors to report their crimes to the police matters as well. Reading about arrests, trials and convictions and the laws that are violated with an act of nonconsensual sex is more likely to incline women to report rape to the police than grim media narratives that simply describe place, time and brutality.

The media have a responsibility to make sexual violence a human rights issue. Human rights education, then, should also include an education of the educators. Both editors and reporters need to know and understand what human rights are if a ‘rights culture’ is to be built.

Delusions, madness, and statistics

I give you the fifth edition of the Development Indicators that were approved by the South African Cabinet in March 2012, published by the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, published on the Presidency’s website.

According to which South Africa’s conviction rate for rape was 71.7% in 2011.

On whose planet? In which universe? What drugs haves these guys been mainlining? Have they being playing a lot of contact sports recently, without helmets? Did someone steal the calculators, again? Can we please stop smoking the aspadistras?

Lilly Artz from the University of Cape Town says that in South Africa, rape has one of the lowest conviction rates of all serious crimes, with research indicating that only about ten per cent of reported rapes receive guilty verdicts (SALC 1999). The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development figures also show that of more than 54 000 cases of rape reported in 1998, fewer than seven per cent were prosecuted.

Of course, they just don’t prosecute unless chances of a conviction are pretty good. But the basis on which the Presidency is planning is that 71.7% of rapes resulted in conviction.  I see.

I have to go and lie down now, in a darkened room.

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa, and we went down to hear a friend of mine speak at a local event. It was faintly cheering: we got to sing Malibongwe, which is the one struggle song white people can actually sing. There was clapping, and a bit of praying, which went down well. We then settled in for a desperately dull morning, in which we all bemoaned the general state of women in South Africa, and the wave, torrent, oh all right, tsunami of violence that is unleashed on us every day.

Yawn.

Yes, we agreed, we are dying. In fact, more than we can count, because the statistics are so unhelpful, given the level of underreporting of rape. Yes, we agreed, it’s very bad. We must fight patriarchy. We nodded our heads. Yes, indeed we must.

And speaker after speaker belaboured this, as though we had just woken up, and decided to talk about this for the first time. Lordy, it was dull. Except for one moment, one interesting electrifying moment. A woman academic, and feminist, and part of the national Commission on Gender Equality said, in one of the tightest, most frustrated voices I have ever heard, ‘We should go and stop the traffic. We should go to the nearest national road, and protest, and stop the traffic.”

And the hall of women groaned and rumbled, and it seemed like for a moment, for a flicker of time, that they would rise up as one and march, limping and dancing, out into the streets and burn things, and break things, and generally get seriously out of hand. It seemed to me that this wave of the possible reached her across the stage and she caught herself, aware of her responsibilities, and said, ‘No, not that I am suggesting violence or anything. But we must do something.’

The hall settled back down. We went to lunch. But that thought spoken aloud is still ringing in my ears.

Be a leader in your community this Women’s Day

This week’s news of the rape of a four-month-old baby and a seven-year-old boy in the same household has left the community of Ceres reeling in shock. These rapes form part of a litany of abuse and violence against women and children in South Africa that just doesn’t seem to stop.

Victims, families and communities are reaching out for support in the immediate crisis and for healing over the longer term so that they can stitch their lives back together again. While services are available in some of the bigger cities and towns across the country, in towns like Ceres there is no specialised Rape Crisis organisation. Victim support will be limited to general welfare services and lay people who volunteer at the local police station.

How can this be the case 47 years after 20 000 women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in order to claim their rights to move freely in their society without harassment? Women activists and organisations have been working ever since to try and create safe spaces for women in our communities. At organisations like Rape Crisis we can truly say that survivors of rape leave our counselling programmes with a sense that they have recovered from their trauma with more confidence in themselves, with a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, feeling more in control, with closer relationships and more willingness to be open to new experiences.

The extent of rape in 2013 is enormous and incidents are becoming increasingly violent in nature. In this context why is there such a dearth of services to victims? Rape Crisis was threatened with closure a year ago and was in part pulled back from the brink by the incredible support and generosity of our community of supporters who gave generously of their time and money and in part by the amazing dedication of our staff who worked alongside volunteers with no pay. Yet we are still not meeting the need in the Western Cape. In part this is because provincial government has so seriously underestimated the problem of rape in their situational analysis and have therefore failed to allocate adequate resources.

Many people feel overwhelmed and helpless. Community members are calling out for NGOs “to be everywhere”. This Women’s Day Rape Crisis will celebrate by launching a rape information portal on MXit so that wherever you are in the country you have the information you need at your fingertips if someone has raped you or someone close to you. In this way Rape Crisis is finding creative an innovative ways to extend our services to women in poor and rural areas.

At the end of the day NGOs are simply groups of concerned people that have come together to find a way to support survivors in their communities and to try and talk about violence against women in order to try and bring the voice of the victim of rape to the leaders of our country so that they will again have to listen to the demands of women and respond in a meaningful way. In order for this to happen, people have to do what they did for Rape Crisis. Step forward. Talk about the problem. Donate time. Donate resources.

In past Women’s Days we looked for leaders to step up and respond with purpose and resolve. This Women’s Day we are calling on ordinary men and women to become the extraordinary leaders that the women of 1956 were in their day and ask them to do what they can, where they are, with what they have.

(This was originally posted at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Blog. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the workers at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Do consider joining their 1000Hearts Campaign and donate now.)

Pinky Mosiane should have known better?

It’s 18 months since Pinky Mosiane, a mineworker woman, was raped and killed at the place of her work, an Anglo Platinum mine. Anglo took no responsibility. Unions nada. Who raped and killed Pinky? Who shielded the rapist killers? Why has this corporation done nothing! Anglo doesn’t care. Black, woman lives a mere casualty of a more NB profit agenda.

Anglo told Pinky Mosiane, “Pinky, let us bury you, stop screaming from the grave. This is North Country baby, you should’ve known.  Damn it!”

The Union told Pinky Mosiane “Pinky please let us bury you, stop screaming from the grave. This is North Country baby, should’ve known, underground, over ground, the sky, this IS a man’s world!”

Anglo, Union, Government (and not just the criminal justice system), Society, they all told Pinky’s family, “Screw you for being working class!”

Pinky’s coworkers said, “We all know who killed Pinky. Eh…scratch that, none of us really knows, mistake! May her soul rest in pieces…eh scratch that, in peace!”

Anglo Platinum’s Khomanani mine: your mine is Pinky’s rape and murder scene! And what is your response? Where is the justice? Where is the outrage? Where is the action?

So we were sitting around

So we were sitting around, chatting about stuff, and the conversation turned to crime, as it does, and my colleague mentioned a rape involving a number of policemen which had apparently taken place recently. She couldn’t recall how many policemen had been involved so I googled for more information, as one does, using “policeman rape za” as my search terms.

Well, I had to read quite a bit to get to the one my colleague meant, as the search threw up several news media links, hours or days old. There was one article on timeslive.co.za by journalist Philani Nombembe, which usefully summarized the most current cases – a 28-year-old constable based at Touwsriver police station was charged with rape 3 days ago. Last week a 41-year-old policeman appeared in the Paarl Magistrate’s Court charged with raping a 14-year-old girl on a number of occasions in April. The warrant officer is said to be a priest.In Gauteng, a 30-year-old constable was arrested in Vereeniging for allegedly kidnapping and raping a 13-year-old girl on July 2.A 46-year-old police captain appeared in the Worcester Magistrate’s Court charged with raping a woman in a police vehicle in June.Another policeman appeared yesterday in the Randburg Regional Court, in Johannesburg, to be charge for a string of crimes, including 14 of rape.In addition to the reports in the timeslive article, a former Melkbos police station commander was found guilty a month ago of raping a woman and sexually assaulting another while both were in custody.

Did I miss something? Was there some kind of order that was misconstrued? Has the police force lost its collective mind? Did some important politician say something about rape being ok? (OK, never mind that one.) Do their communications people not realize that after Marikana the SAPS have what might be termed ‘reputational issues’? Which can only be exacerbated by the apparent silence of the cops on this phenomenon?

The SAPS Twitter feed is silent on the issue for the last three days, and doesn’t mention these cases either in that time. An oversight? In terms of media releases, the Minister did commend the police for catching a rape suspect in KZN two days ago, who is described as someone ‘who has been committing various murder and rape crimes around the Tongaat area.’ I assume the suspect isn’t a cop, as nothing is mentioned about this plague of biblical proportions which has hit our police services. Can someone comment on these startling events? Or is my worst suspicion true – there’s no comment because it isn’t news, just business as usual? .

Casual Rape: Who prosecutes the abusers that endanger women’s health?

In a consultation with her gynecologist a woman reports informally that she needs confirmation that she is free of all sexually transmitted diseases. It wasn’t really rape she pleads with a mix of fear and shame. She should not have been there, but he said she was pretty. It all happened so quickly, in a split second. Then she screamed, and he stopped. He is an administrative supervisor of 30 years; she is an employee of only 6 months. Elusive statistics on casual rape show 90% remain unreported. The data implies the existence of many fellow victims at her work place. This information, along with her negative test result, did little to assuage the permanent violation of body and mind that she carries each day back to the work place. Fear of exposure, retaliation, loss of job and personal safety becomes her new mode of existence. The physician bound by the limits of health privacy and absence of appropriate resources to help becomes an impotent appendage of the system, unable to address the social pariah, a system that traps the victim and the health care professional in a prison of secret public health epidemics of rape.

Here the prison isn’t a figure of speech. The two work in prison, and she is an inmate.

As mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics publishes regular statistical reviews and analyses of incidents and effects of prison “sexual victimization.” In its 2011-2012 report, sexual abuse rates remained fairly constant, with 4% in prisons, down from 4.5% in 2007; and 3.2% in jails, which is the same as 2007. Since incidents of sexual abuse are notoriously under reported and because the high volume of admissions in local jails making these detainees invisible to BJS surveyors, the statistics represent only a small percentage of prisoners’ abuses.

There is a need for a different kind of dialogue that would expose the marginalization of people that allows, and promotes, sexual abuses to go on behind closed doors. The important confidentiality of the physician’s office contrasts with the dearth of instances for sexual abuses to be rendered public without fear and shame. As we recall, pregnant women may be prosecuted and sent to jail for supposedly endangering their fetus, but who prosecutes the abusers that endanger women’s health?

We need to start a change in the paradigm of power that makes so many suffer.