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Women need our love and support - now more than ever

2017-12-11 08:47
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Mbuyiselo Botha

When American actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter at the insistence of her friend, to urge all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write two words, "#MeToo," the world didn't realise that within a short space of time more than 200 000 women would come out and declare that they too had been violated at one point or another in their lives.

In our country, South Africa, where rape statistics are almost double those of murder - like the Mexican wave - the #MeToo campaign also gained momentum. The silence was broken by former MP and musician Jennifer Ferguson, who went to the extent of naming her alleged violator - football bigwig Danny Jordaan. Ferguson said the rape happened more than 20 years ago at a hotel room when the two had to appear before Parliament.

I am using the word "alleged" not because I don't believe Ferguson, who is a wife and a mother, by the way. I am using the word "alleged" because by law I am obliged to. Which brings me to a conversation I had with one of my trusted and respectable male friends – a caring father of five girls. 

I know for a fact that my friend loves and respects women, his daughters can attest to that. And I know him as a husband who always treats his wife with respect that is also easily and comfortably extended to all women in and around his community.

But when I mentioned Ferguson's story, his first response was typical of most men in this country. Although he was outraged and empathised with Ferguson, he said it would have served the women's cause better if she had called Jordan, confronted him, told him that he had hurt her and then go public and include his response in her public statements.

Basically, he is suggesting that Ferguson should have given Jordan an opportunity to speak before she went public. My response was that rape is a violent act against someone vulnerable perpetrated by a person who is taught, or has learned, to be dominant and aggressive towards a woman or man who is weaker than he is as in the case of sexual assault on prisoners. 

And a woman victim of such violence would surely experience fear and trauma as would any person who has been assaulted, shot or even stabbed for an example. 

Not even a strong man would have the nerve to approach someone who had brutalised him, what more a vulnerable woman? Besides, she has a husband and children to consider in each and every decision she takes regarding what happened to her in that hotel room. 

Women can never know how their husbands and partners would react when they are told they have been raped. There are many incidents where men would walk away from a woman who has been brutalised because now he perceives her as no longer clean. So women have to first go through that hurdle before they even contemplate reporting a rape to the police.

Our attitude as a society does not help in assisting rape victims come out and report their violation to the police because a typical South African reaction is to try and find reasons why it happened, or the worst case scenario is, we even blame the victim for the actions of the perpetrator.

This thinking is not helping us stem the scourge of violence against vulnerable women and children. Studies published by Kilmartin, Rozee and Koos show that "when men are taught to be dominant and aggressive, this often leads to hyper-masculinity, male peer support for sexual aggression, development of rape myths and adversarial sexual beliefs". Surely some of our country's men fall in this category.

South African studies have also reflected that a large number of rape cases go unreported and when they are reported, little is done. Which then explains why someone like Ferguson and any other woman, who will come out now, a year, 10 years, 20 or even 30 years later and say she was raped must be believed and supported. We need to be concerned that our attitude towards rape victims may have cowed many women to even go to their graves in silence.

Rape is a traumatic experience and we have read about many cases where the victims block it out completely as a coping mechanism only to have flashbacks years later. So when a woman does come out, we shouldn't act like the mob that protested outside court, bullied and harassed Khwezi – President Jacob Zuma's rape accuser – until she had to flee South Africa in fear for her life. 

As men, we need to support the victims and assure them of our love and protection.

We need to stop asking inappropriate questions and instead of putting the burden on women to come out and name their abusers, why can't we find it within ourselves as men to out each other? We must stop behaving as if we own women's bodies. When we worry about a man's right to his side of the story we seem to forget about the woman's pain – Ferguson's pain in this instance.

If we don't affirm our sisters, wives and mothers by standing firm behind them when they come out and report rape, we are participating in this culture of silence and the protection of powerful men who abuse their power and position of authority to prey on vulnerable women. 

The last word must go to Alyssa Milano: "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem". 

As men in the global village, we need to be ready and prepared to give unwavering support and encouragement to our women in their struggle to free themselves from patriarchy and all its manifestations such as assault, rape and femicide. Women cannot do this alone.

- Mbuyiselo Botha works for the Commission for Gender Equality as a Commissioner. He writes in his personal capacity.

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:    violence against women  |  16 days of activism
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