Guest Column

Thankful and scared during Women's Month

2018-08-29 15:27
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Rabia Omar

A year ago, I sat in an interview and was asked how I feel being a young person in South Africa. My answer was simple: it’s scary. 

On any day and at any time, a Twitter feed is never free of a "missing sister", "missing child", or "missing friend" post. Similarly, Facebook and Instagram are also punctuated with similar updates, many about members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have become victims of violence and hate, who have been murdered, or are missing. A year later, it’s still scary. 

Like the majority of womxn and gender non-conforming people in South Africa, not only are we scared, we are also angry. We need to see and feel change and action. This is the reason why so many womxn and gender non-conforming people have responded positively for the call for a #TotalShutdown on 1 August 2018. I use womxn instead of women to include all people who identify themselves as womxn and who reject the socially constructed idea that "womxn" come from and/or are secondary to men.

It is terrifying to think that there is absolutely no place where gender non-conforming people and womxn are entirely safe. And this is my shared lived experience, wherever I am; whether I am out with friends, on public transport, on campus, or even just walking home  ?  anything can happen to me. I cannot be safe within my own body. 

Gender non-conforming people and womxn are constantly erased, shamed, degraded, and censored. Our bodies have become sites of violence, which we are even mocked for having endured by perpetrators of violence.   

When I think about Women’s Month, I am torn between a struggle of appreciating the struggles of womxn before me and the challenges of being a young woman in South Africa in 2018. 

I want to use Women’s Month to specifically acknowledge and thank the womxn who made my life and the opportunities I have had thus far, possible. I want to thank the womxn, like my mother, who raised me, ensured I have an education, and have given me space to explore the world around me full of its nuances and challenges. They supported me and held me when I needed it. I want to thank the womxn like Lilian Ngoyi and Albertina Sisulu who, throughout history, fought against the barriers placed upon them, whether it was the burning of a passbook, occupying of "men’s only" spaces, or throwing a brick.  

At the same time, I want to use Women’s Month to articulate the fears I, other womxn, and gender non-conforming people carry. I fear for people who are not safe because there are members in our communities who use their power to harm and threaten others. 

According to the Sonke Gender Justice Annual Report of 2016/2017, one in three womxn in South Africa is a victim of domestic violence. At least half of those womxn were murdered by an intimate partner. 

I fear for the people who are abused and excluded because of how patriarchy is entrenched in our society. I fear the way we live, to use power to inflict violence on each other, which breeds more violence within our communities. Gender non-conforming people, womxn, as well as children, are the main targets of this violence. 

And although I’m torn, I cannot pick one way of feeling over the other. I can use Women’s Month to celebrate and be thankful for the womxn who have and continue to make waves in changing our society, who are giving gender non-conforming people and womxn more power and space. At the same time, I know that I can also express my fears and my anger.

I can extend how I feel and think to more than a set of two ideas and feelings. And any confusion I feel is necessary because the world is not formed in binaries, of one thing or another. I can feel thankful and I can feel scared, and more, during Women’s Month.  

On August 1, womxn and gender non-conforming people from around South Africa embarked on a national shutdown to take a stand against violence against womxn, children and gender non-conforming people. 

One of the posters circulated on social media gave a list of things men can do on the day of the shutdown. The most important one was that men must stop their abuse and intimidation. 

While it sounds basic, this one point, this active decision that men can take, can break the cycles of violence. They can stop being bystanders and they can take action when they see people in general and womxn, children and gender non-conforming people in particular are being abused or intimidated. 

My hope for this Women’s Month, is that while we are trying to grapple with all of the feelings that we have, we can ensure that we question and challenge our own attitudes and behaviour and those of the people around us. 

We should no longer allow for gender non-conforming people to be seen as not valid. We should no longer allow men to assume that they are more powerful or that womxn and gender non-conforming people are less than them. 

We should empower the future wave-makers, brick throwers, and law changers to understand that their voice matters, that violence (in all of its forms) should not be tolerated, and that we all need to commit to ending violence against gender non-conforming people, women, and children. 

- Rabia Abba Omar is a History Honours student at Stellenbosch University.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    women  |  women's day
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