‘My husband doesn’t understand why I’m scared’ - 4 women open up about the fear that comes with existing as a woman in SA

Illustration. Photographed by Chris Murray
Illustration. Photographed by Chris Murray
Chris Murray

Murders, sexual assault and violent crimes are a huge problem in South Africa, especially for women and children. Murder rose by 3.4% and sexual offences rose by 4.6% in Africa in 2018/2019, according to News24

The child in the Nicholas Ninow caseUyinene MrwetyanaMeghan Cremer, and countless others have been on our minds and in our newsfeeds as they became victims of horrible crimes.  

W24 spoke to some women about what their fears are and what they would like to say to the men in their lives who just don’t understand. 

READ MORE: #AmINext hashtag reveals the fear and anxiety SA women have to live with and it's terrifying

I am overly cautious in every aspect of my life because I live in constant fear of when (not if) my life will end in the hands of a man.
Paige, 22

Paige Newman is 22 and lives in Cape Town. She says many men don’t understand her fear for her safety, including her boss.

“They don’t understand why I walk with my thumb on the trigger of the pepper spray I keep in my pocket. They don’t understand why I re-evaluate my outfit before leaving the house to make sure I’m not showing too much skin. They don’t understand why I, as a woman, have to do these things because if something happened, I know I will be asked: ‘what were you wearing? Why were you there at that time? Why weren’t you carrying pepper spray? Were you drunk? Was your behaviour suggestive?’” says Paige. 

She says she would like the men around her and the men who think they’re allies to consider this: When was the last time you left your house and feared you wouldn’t return?

For all South African women, it’s not just a thought, it’s a reality. 

READ MORE: Unbelievable - following an outpouring of survivors who prefer not to report their cases, this is how this local attorney could help you reclaim your power

If I ever mention being scared, he tells me I’m being hysterical and ‘misinterpreting’ cat calls when I walk my dog or I’m just exaggerating.
Ayanda, 37

Ayanda Khumalo is a 37-year-old from Johannesburg says her husband has a massive issue with the Men Are Trash conversation without ever really having discussed it. He has called her “too much of a feminist.” One night they had a fight about it and Ayanda mentioned something about her rape and her replied with the ‘not all men’ rhetoric. It became ugly and she was thrown out of the house and after driving around for hours, she slept in the driveway of their house. 

“When a man in our complex hit me in the face last year, because they got into an argument and I took the punch, my husband kept making excuses for the guy. When I told him a few weeks ago how I’d been triggered with Uyinene’s death, he called me ridiculous and said it was silly because he thought I was over my ‘thing’.

“I’d like to tell him that his own ignorance scares me. I’d explain that I don't believe all men are trash, but that we spend so much time feeling scared and having to be vigilant, we always have to assume every man guilty until he’s proven himself to not be trash,” says Ayanda.

READ MORE: 3 women are killed by their male partners in SA daily and we have the world’s highest rate of rape – we need more than slogans and summits

We've made complaints but they just spoke to him, they didn't actually do anything. I don't think he's even gotten written warnings for it.
Refiloe, 32

Refiloe Mashaba is a 32-year-old from Port Elizabeth and she has had many issues at work with a new colleague who is extremely aggressive. “Anything sets him off. He bangs the table, throws chairs, shouts, swears, throws his headphones at me from across the room and slams his fists a few times on his laptop [when something sets him off],” she says.

READ MORE: Two-time Cape Town rape survivor Hlumela Halom tells her story

This man told Refiloe, “I will [profanity] kill you,” after she jokingly said that she was going to throw his phone out of the window because of the annoying message tone constantly going off. She left it for a while because she was scared, but when she eventually reported it, nothing was said to the colleague and Refiloe was raked over the coals for being a ‘bully’.

Refiloe says there’s also another issue where a man was hired at her workplace, but he’s kept separate from the rest of the staff, wasn’t introduced to them and doesn’t mingle with the team. Refiloe often works late and she surprisingly learnt that this man does too after finding him still there when she thought she was all alone in the office and about to lock up. She feels unsafe, so her husband bought her a knife. 

Refiloe says she would like to tell her boss: “I wish he listened to me, and that he took these things seriously. I would tell him that some things aren't a joke, and he can't just laugh the, off - he needs to be more present.”

READ MORE: ‘I was gang raped by 6 men and left for dead’ – A survivor’s story

I've had knives to my throat and guns to my head. These assaults, like the experiences of so many women in SA, have been perpetrated by strangers and trusted people, in broad daylight and in the dark.
Amal, 36

Amal Jacobs is a 36-year-old woman who lives in Pretoria. She says she’s experienced a very big lack of empathy from the men in her life when she talks about being scared as a woman in SA. 

“I have been assaulted many times, and have PTSD as a result,” says Amal.

“Recently, I was talking to a close male friend about someone who'd hurt me. The friend asked whether I have tried being more empowered, and putting down boundaries. The victim blaming was very hurtful - I knew I could no longer trust my friend to empathise, listen or support me. And I could not trust my friend to question his own responses and attitudes.” 

READ MORE: From honourism to colourism to surviving horror: 8 documentaries every woman should watch

What would she like to say to those men who call themselves allies, but are still problematic? 

“In order for a community to thrive, people need to look out for each other. That means that when people are telling you they are hurt, or frightened, or that their ability to live a normal life is limited, you listen. You stop and you listen,” she says. 

“And you hear that human being, and you acknowledge their fear. And if you care, and you don't know how to help, you ask how. Ask if you can walk with them when the anxiety is really bad. Ask if there's anything you can do to help them feel less debilitated by fear, and, more importantly, to help make SA safer. You acknowledge that the fear is real, and that the person in front of you lives a life you don't. You listen with humility. You respect the story. You thank them for being vulnerable with you. And when you hear or see a man use violence or joke about it, you call him out. Because when you invalidate or ignore a woman's suffering, you have shown that you can't be trusted.”

Do you feel fearful existing as a woman in SA? How do you deal with the fear? Share your thoughts with us here.

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