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.)

Haunts: On outrage

I cannot write about Anene Booysen. Many others are, and are doing so eloquently. But I do wonder about outrage. The national response to the horrible violence against Anene Booysen has been described as outrage. When does outrage occur?

How many women and girls must suffer violence and abuse to cross the threshold of outrage? How many men must engage in violence and abuse before the horizon of outrage is breached?

I ask this because I don’t recall outrage being expressed when both the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children faced imminent closure last year. Yes, there were individuals and groups who jumped and organized, but there was no great surge of outrage at what would surely follow the simultaneous closure of the two most successful and most important resources in the Western Cape for those seeking help, support, community in the midst of suffering violence.

Remember, Rape Crisis is the oldest center of its kind in South Africa. In a recent two-year period, it served over 5000 rape survivors. And when it served the survivors, it served their loved and loving ones, their friends, their communities, and their neighborhoods. It served the whole of South Africa, one healing empowering person at a time.

Likewise, Saartjie Baartman has been working out of Manenberg to change the world by changing the area. The Centre, open for ten years, is a one-stop service shop: 24-hour shelter, short and medium residential care, childcare, counseling, legal advice, education and mentoring, and more.

Both Rape Crisis and Saartjie Baartman have played lead roles in research, advocacy, and mobilizing around women’s rights generally. They offer a place for women to hear their own voices, to have their voices heard, to have their voices joined and amplified, to have their voices translated into action.

Both Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children are indispensable, and not only for the women and children, and men, who come in looking for help. For the entire country and beyond. Who leapt to organize when the two, in one fell swoop, faced closure? The usual suspects. Not `the nation,’ not the State, nor was Twitter alight with outrage.

Along with protests and uprisings and expressions of outrage, all of which are terrifically important, let there be outrage for the condition of those people and organizations that have worked and are working now to change the world, to transform society, to create a place in which women and children and men can live in peace and joy. Support Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. It’s never too late. Do it now.

Dan Moshenberg dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Violence against women is global, not regional

Friday, November 25, 2011, was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the twelfth one since the United Nations 1999 resolution. November 25 is the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a campaign which formally began November 25, 1991, twenty years ago.

Around the world, women and men are organizing events, workshops, vigils. Artists, such as Zanele Muholi, are articulating both the horror and the hope in their works and exhibitions. Activists and healers, like those of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, journey by bus to the homes and communities of their neighbors, near and distant, and engage in intensive discussions about sexual violence, about sexual freedom, about democracy.

Violence against women is global. It occurs everywhere and all the time. In households, in work places, in schools and hospitals, in police stations and prisons, in social movements, in political parties, in trade unions. Everywhere. All the time. The threat of violence against women is always already in the air. It’s an environmental hazard women face every day.

So, it is with some confusion that one notes the invitation by the Guardian, issued on November 25: “16 days of activism to stop global violence against women begins today. We want you to write for us about how change can be brought about in developing countries”.

Setting aside the division of the globe into “developing” and “developed”, the question remains, “Why?” Why “developing countries”? Do the Native women of the United States and Canada not count? Do the women of color, especially migrant and immigrant women, across Europe, Canada, the United States not count? Do all the women and girls across Europe, in the United States and Canada, who suffer, and organize to end and eliminate, domestic violence, do they not count?

The 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence emerged from a conversation among 23 women … from around the world. They spoke as a united group who recognized their differences and their shared experiences. They continue to do so. Violence against women is not a function of “under-development.” It doesn’t happen `over there’. It happens here … and here … and here … and here … and …

So, write to, and for, the Guardian, wherever you are. Share the news of the mixed things of organizing efforts, of the difficulties, successes, despondencies, joys. Make sure they find out that, when it comes to violence against women, the whole world is “developing.”

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Violence against women haunts independence

“After the revolution”. In Egypt and Tunisia, women who made the revolution, women who pushed Mubarak out, are now facing the struggle for more rights, autonomy, and physical safety. This should come as no surprise to the rest of the so-called independent world.

Yesterday, August 6, Jamaica celebrated 49 years of independence from the United Kingdom. There were celebrations. At the same time, sexual violence against girls is both increasing and intensifying.

Across the African continent, August is celebrated as Women’s Month. August was chosen to commemorate the August 9, 1956, women’s march in Pretoria, in protest of the infamous pass laws. The women chanted, shouted, screamed: “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!”. “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!”

That was 55 years ago. Today, the women are still being `touched’, and in the most violent ways. Across the nation, campaigns, such as the One in Nine Campaign, and organizations, such as the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, struggle to address and end violence agains women. Organizations such as Free Gender struggle to address and end violence against lesbian, and in particular Black lesbian, women. All of these women’s organizations, all of these women, all of these feminists, struggle to address and end the hatred that is rape.

In many places, such as in the United States, that hatred often takes the form of legislation. For example, in 2005 Wisconsin passed a law that barred access to hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for prison inmates and others in state custody. Three transgender women prisoners, Andrea Fields, Jessica Davison, Vankemah Moaton, challenged the law, and this week, after six years, won their case in a federal appeals court.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, transgender women are hunted, attacked, often killed. For the crime of being transgender women. For the crime of being women.

What is independence? What is a revolution? Across the globe, women continue to struggle for the basics of independence, of autonomy. That begins with real recognition, that begins with the State as well as the citizenry and the population ensuring women’s safety. Women are not specters and are not promises to be met. Until women’s simple physical integrity is ensured, rather than promised, violence against women will continue to haunt independence.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com