One Billion Rising gets off the ground with not much local buy-in

2013-02-17 10:00

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South Africans are weird – they won’t say “vagina” but four women a minute in the country have theirs violated.

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic that so many people whisper “private parts”.

Do you know what private means? “Belonging to some particular person”.

That is not true of the vaginas of most women, not only in South Africa but in the world.

This is what One Billion Rising is about.

It is a movement started by Eve Ensler, the gender activist whose most famous piece of writing is the joyful, tearful Vagina Monologues.

There was a star-studded charity performance of the show last Sunday, featuring the towering talents of the likes of Lebo Mashile, Fiona Ramsay, Vanessa Cooke, Napo Masheane, Karabo Tshikube and Louise Saint-Claire.

It was a call to action and many answered as the play was performed in cities around the world.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, while headlines around the world screamed the news that Olympian Oscar Pistorius had shot and killed his girlfriend, women – and some men – of the world began to rise against gender-based violence.

Twitter was ablaze.

Usually my middle class ass is too busy or exhausted to protest, but I know too many women who have been violated and, as the mother of a female child, I have to make the world a less deadly place for her.

So, my mothers’ dinner club and I went to the Johannesburg leg of the protest at the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill.

It was a fitting place for women to call for the shackles of abuse to be removed.

There were gender groups there, energetic drummers, a trio of fabulously dressed women from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the artist Pitika Ntuli setting up his latest exhibition of sculptures, depicting “moods of violence”.

What there were not enough of were ordinary South Africans. There were some families, some fathers with their daughters, but not enough.

A display of bloodied panties and baby grows held centre stage – a graphic representation of the violence of rape – and placards with messages like: “I rise because my daughter deserves to be safe wherever she goes.”

I, though, am jealous of India’s response to the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey.

Our response to Anene Booysen’s equally bloody death hasn’t had the same rage attached to it.

Why aren’t South Africans more angry? That’s the question I came away from Constitutional Hill with.

It felt like a gathering of the usual suspects, not an upswelling of widespread rage against the bloodied and mutilated vaginas of our sisters, mothers, daughters and partners.

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