The Jewish Report Editorial

Still protesting the same old epidemic

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“I can’t believe I’m still protesting about this,” reads one of the thousands of different posters carried by women protesters in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, this week.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Aug 27, 2020

The women were furious that yet another young girl was raped. This time it was a 16-year-old at the hands of about 30 men. Even the thought of it makes my skin crawl. What kind of animals do this? How do human beings do this to another human being? How do men do this to a woman?

I find it so horrifying and yet the very same incident could just as easily have happened here in South Africa – in fact, it stands a better chance of happening here. Or in Turkey. England, perhaps.

Just one week ago – as Gabriella Farber writes in her opinion piece on this page – a first-year student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) was brutally murdered in front of her 10-year-old sister by someone alleged to have been her boyfriend.

These are just two incidents that have been made public in the past week of Women’s Month, but there have been countless such murders and rapes in South Africa and the rest of the world.

In fact, South Africa has a femicide rate that is more than five times the world average. That refers specifically to the intentional murder of women because they are women, it doesn’t even touch on rape and other gender-based violence (GBV). How horrifying is that, and how great is its implication for the safety of every woman in this country?

We have a GBV epidemic here that is left to run rampant in spite of many an inspiring speech by our leaders. Internationally, we have a GBV pandemic. However, it’s not being dealt with any way close to the way the world is tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Not by a long shot.

This is partly because it’s about women’s lives, not men’s, and because it’s not something borne in the past year. It’s a situation that has been around a long time, and has grown as our society has got more and more violent.

In fact, there have been short bursts of enthusiasm for the campaign against rape and femicide when the details of a particularly violent incident is made known to the public, but it never seems to last. It never seems to amount to any real action taken that even slightly stems this scourge on humanity.

As Dr Nechama Brodie said recently when she launched her latest book, Femicide in South Africa, we only ever hear of a fraction of cases of femicide and rape because the news media latches onto certain cases and not others. It isn’t even always because they are the most gruesome.

On Wednesday this week, Eyewitness News reported that five women had been killed in Gauteng in the past 48 hours, allegedly by men they knew. You are unlikely to hear more than that about the cases.

However, the first-year Wits student – herself a GBV activist – who was murdered made news and inspired a protest that wasn’t just about her, but the thousands of women attacked this year.

Such a burst of enthusiasm or fury occurred in Israel this past week following this teen being gang-raped in a hotel in Eilat. The country – mostly women, it appears – was outraged. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “crime against humanity”, and demanded a thorough investigation. However, as horrific as this incident was, it was just one case and the numbers, even in Israel, are ridiculously high.

According to Orit Sulitzeanu, the director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, it’s a manifestation of something very bad going on in the country. Rape is rife, and nine out of 10 rapists go unpunished, with 84% of such cases being closed without prosecution, Sulitzeanu says.

The numbers are nowhere near as bad as in South Africa, but clearly there’s a problem.

I’m curious to see if anything comes out of the outrage in Israel other than the conviction of a few of the animals who forced themselves on this teenager.

As the woman carrying that poster I mentioned above, I find it hard to believe that we still have to protest rape and sexual abuse. How long do we have to do this before something is done to prevent it?

How do we make sure that we don’t carry it to the next generation? How do we teach boys to respect girls and women, and know that when they say ‘no’ it means ‘no’, and that violence is inexcusable, especially against women?

Sometimes, hearing teenage boys talking about girls, I get extraordinarily uncomfortable because many of them – even in our schools – objectify women and speak of them with no respect. I rarely keep my mouth shut.

But I wonder why they do this, and where it comes from. Mostly they come from wonderful families with seemingly enlightened parents. Is it the society? Is it the fact that violence and misogyny is so entrenched in our psyche that we don’t even realise what we are doing or saying?

How many times have you heard women say, “She shouldn’t wear such a short skirt, she’s asking for trouble” or similar retorts? From people we know and love.

We have to prioritise this epidemic. We have to consider what we and our children say and do in terms of gender disparity and violence.

I love that young women like Gabriella are unafraid to stand up for women’s rights, but we should all – men and women – do this in our everyday lives. This is all of our problem. GBV could have an impact on your mother, sister, wife, girlfriend, or you.

It all begins with respecting women. This can’t be something we do only in August, Women’s Month.

Shabbat Shalom!

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