I remember when I was in a classroom at my all-girls school and the teacher highlighted a statistic about how 1 in every 5 of us are dying of some terrible disease, and the girl next to me counted the students and for every fifth girl, she pointed her fingers like a gun and said, “poof.”
According to the most recent Stats SA publication, an estimated 28,986 households have at least one victim of a sexual offense. It is also estimated that for every 100,000 women, 158 women will be raped and about 3 women are killed daily in South Africa. (Before I go on, I would like to speak directly to the people who read that and thought “it could be worse” — you are part of the problem, because we should not accept any human being being abused in any way for any amount of time).
“Ending gender-based violence is an urgent national priority” — this was what South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his State of the Nation address in February. Now we are in September, and women are still very much victims of gender-based violence.
Many people were horrified — not only by the violence, but also by the response. Many men resorted to defending themselves and saying horrifically insensitive things. An important way to combat sexism is through discussion. If you have young boys in your family, talk to them about these issues, because no one else is going to. School, society and sadly, many of our parents, don’t value emotional intelligence and social awareness.
Schools, especially boys’ schools, need to step up and ensure that they have a vocabulary that supports equality. I have read and heard too many stories of homophobia, racism, xenophobia and sexism by children in public and private institutions. Schools, for some reason, think it is not their responsibility to address these issues — they believe it should be left for the families to discuss, and that their staff may have differing opinions so it will be too complicated to talk about.
Firstly, if your staff does not support equality in every way, you need to rethink your recruitment process. Secondly, schooling is the prime place to encourage controlled discussions and aid children in healthy arguments. Teach children that it’s okay to have differing opinions but to always support equality. Stop looking away — deal with the issues at hand.
It is up to the few educated people to teach young people, especially boys, boundaries and respect. When the world is telling these young boys that they are entitled to anything they want, to take without asking, we have to stand up and teach in the best way we can, that we are all equal. Be prepared to have arguments with your family, be prepared to be disappointed by some of the people around you, but know that every time you stand up for a cause, you are being brave and it is a form of activism.
Coming from an Indian home in South Africa, I completely understand how difficult it can be to challenge discrimination at home, but it has to be done. What you say matters and you are more powerful than you know.
We have to change mindsets. It is not women that must change to protect themselves; it is men that must change to not be attackers.
(Featured Artwork: Hanna Barczyk)