Press Release – for immediate release

Tuesday 03 February 2015

Released by:

Childline South Africa; The Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape; The Centre for Child Law, University of Pretoria; and the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town, the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children; and the Women’s Legal Centre


Today the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services was briefed by the Department on an amendment bill to the Sexual Offences Act, which deals with the issues of consenting sexual activity between adolescents and with the placing of the names of child offenders on the National Register for Sex Offenders.

The Committee indicated that they have received over 400 submissions on these issues at this stage and most of the discussion in the meeting focused on the issue of consenting sexual activity between 12 to 15 year olds.


Consenting sexual activity between adolescents

The bill does not change that any sexual activity without consent remains the very serious crimes of rape or sexual assault even when committed by adolescents.

The bill does not change that any person over the age of 18 (adult) is committing an offence of statutory rape or statutory sexual assault when they engage in such activity with a person from 12 to 15 years (between 12 and 16). For this reason the bill does not lower the age of consent from 16.

The bill does seek to protect adolescents 12, 13, 14 or 15 year olds from being criminalised when they engage in consensual sexual activity with each other. It also adds some protection against 16 and 17 year olds being prosecuted if they engage sexually with other adolescents who are no more than two years younger than them.

Currently the law criminalises adolescents from 12 to 15 for engaging in any consenting sexual activity including kissing, sexual touching, heavy petting as well as sexual intercourse. The fact that it is a crime has extremely serious negative effects on these adolescents. They may be arrested by the police, questioned or interrogated by police and prosecutors, and stand accused in criminal trials. If they are found guilty their names are included in the sex offender register which can have long term effects on their employment options as they reach adulthood.

“This issue raises an emotional response and many people get extremely concerned at the idea that these acts should not be a crime. The most common misconception is that by de-criminalising we are encouraging adolescents to have sex. No one is encouraging adolescents to have sex, in the children’s sector, organisations agree that we need to discourage unhealthy sexual behaviours. These are behaviours for which adolescents are not developmentally ready, which may expose them to STIs, teen pregnancy, and emotional distress or psychological trauma.” Explains Shaheda Omar, director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children.

Our organisations, have seen that criminalizing adolescents can result in public humiliation, shaming and deep long term psychological distress for some adolescents.” Stated Omar.

The current provisions affect girls more negatively than they affect boys, girls are likely to experience greater levels of public shaming and humiliation as a result of being criminalised.” Argues Sanja Bornmann an attorney at the Womens Legal Centre

Vivienne Mentor-Lalu of the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape argues that: “the consequences of this consenting behavior being criminal are extremely severe and are not rational in light of the behavior that is being punished, the current law does more harm than good”.

The Constitutional Court has looked at the issue in great depth and ruled that the law as it currently stands is a violation of adolescent’s rights and that there are more effective and less invasive measures that the state can take to respond to adolescent sexual activity when it is consensual.” explains Prof. Ann Skelton of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria.

Organisations working to promote child protection and children’s rights agree that criminalising consenting behavior is not the best way to protect children and that it is a waste of scarce resources which could be used better in the child protection system. They argue that state intervention regarding unhealthy sexual behavior should not be dealt with in criminal law, but rather through laws that require the state to implement programmes to support children, their families and other professionals to help adolescents make healthy and age-appropriate decisions.

Dumisile Nala, the Director of Childline South Africa argues that: “The evidence of what has been shown to work to delay the age that adolescents start having sexual intercourse is not by making it a crime, it is implementing programmes to support parents, teachers, and health professionals to communicate with children and adolescents about relationships and their sexual decisions without judging them.


Children on the National Register for Sex Offenders

The bill also addresses the process that should be followed in placing the names of children who are convicted of sexual offences on the Sex Offender Register. Currently the SOA says that any person who is convicted of a sexual offence must have their name placed on the register, this also applies to children. Once a person’s name is on the register they may not be employed in any circumstances where they work with children or people with intellectual disabilities, nor may they foster children. Names may be removed from the register after a number of years under certain circumstances and if the person has only been convicted of one offence.

The Constitutional Court ruled that SOA violates the rights of children in conflict with the law. Although the register is an important tool to help us protect children and people with intellectual disabilities from sexual abuse, children who commit sexual offences are more likely to be rehabilitated and are less likely to pose a risk to children in the future.

“The Sexual Offences Act includes such a wide range of different crimes and some of them when committed by children do not have the same implications as when they are committed by adults against children. For example an adolescent who takes a ‘selfie’ and sends it to their boyfriend or girlfriend can be convicted of two offences and their name must be placed on the register for life, this is unacceptably harsh.” explains Samantha Waterhouse of the Community Law Centre, UWC.

In addition research indicates that child sex offenders, even of more serious sexual offences, are not necessarily likely to continue to commit sexual offences in adulthood and that they are more likely to respond positively to rehabilitation. The Constitutional Court has stressed that children are developing beings and that the law must take this development into account and not treat them in the same way that it treats adults.

For these reasons organisations are arguing that although some children’s names should be placed on the register, this is not true of all children convicted of sexual offences. They are arguing for there to be a process included in the law in which a court has discretion to order that a child offender’s name be placed on the register and that it should not be automatic. To achieve this they are arguing that children must be assessed by a professional, before the court makes this decision.

The Portfolio Committee plan to hold public hearings on these issues on Tuesday 10 February, however they have indicated that due to the volume of submissions they may have to extend the dates for oral submissions.



For further comment relating to either of the two issues above contact:

Dumisile Nala Childline 082 868 3000
Prof Ann Skelton Centre for Child Law, UP 082 443 2702
Carina du Toit Centre for Child Law, UP 071 603 8292
Shaheda Omar Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children 083 557 3720
Vivienne Mentor-Lalu Community Law Centre, UWC 082 494 0788
Sam Waterhouse Community Law Centre, UWC 084 522 9646
Lucy Jamieson Children’s Institute, UCT 082 388 4815
Sanja Bornmann Women’s Legal Centre 083 522 2933

A tragic tale of child abuse or just another police crime statistic?

Claudia Lopes
Claudia Lopes

By Claudia Lopes

Three years ago, a 6 week old baby girl, Jamie Naidoo, was saved from the brink of what could potentially have been a life of sexual servitude. While the odds that Jamie would lead a better life increased, after her father’s attempts at selling her to a man for R100 were foiled by the Durban Metro Police, this idealist hope was cruelly extinguished last week Thursday when her lifeless body was found at the home of her grandmother. Jamie had been tortured, raped and beaten to death. Her mother and grandmother have since been taken into custody. The Child Welfare Centre in Chatsworth, a non-profit organization which had placed this young girl in the care of these family members following a court order, had on previous visits with the family found no evidence of Jamie being mistreated. But surely somewhere along the line the system failed her, even if perhaps it started just as soon as the judicial system thought it prudent to return her to her family.

As we head into another 16 Days of Activism on No Violence against Women and Children one ponders what impact this annual campaign really has. While the 2013/2014 police crime statistics released earlier this year boasts a decrease of reported cases of sexual offences and rape, extracting any form of meaningful information on the rates of domestic violence is not as evident. The police, although expected to record this information, do not release this data but instead assign domestic violence cases to other categories of crimes i.e. common assault, assault with the intention to inflict grievous bodily harm, attempted murder and murder. Of these categories, murder was found to have increased by 3.5 %.

Whether the statistics reflect a decrease or an increase, the reality is that there is not a single day that goes by without one being confronted, in one way or another, by tales of a mistreated child or a young girl being gang raped; of a woman being killed by her intimate partner or a grandmother being physically and sexually assaulted. The loss experienced by each and every one of these victims, be it the loss of a life or the loss of one’s dignity and sense of safety and self-worth, is one loss too many.

The Chatsworth based Child Welfare Centre which had managed Jamie’s case reports that it deals with at least 5000 cases on an annual basis and due to lack of resources the organization is only able to employ 10 social workers to carry this workload. Let’s unpack what this really means: a case load of 5000 at a rate of 10 social workers equates to each social worker having an annual caseload of 500 or about 42 cases on a monthly basis. If one supposes that each social worker works a standard working week, i.e. 20 days a month, then he or she needs to provide practical and social support, care and/or supervision to at least two children a day – a situation far less than ideal and one which is untenable considering that a social workers job entails far more than attending to children.

The Welfare Centre is however not alone in this predicament. Most non-profit organizations are ill-funded, understaffed and overworked. Take shelters for abused women for instance, in 2012 and 2013, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre undertook two provincial studies on shelters, one in Gauteng and the other in the Western Cape. Both studies revealed that shelters were significantly underfunded by the Department of Social Development. Not only was it a daily struggle to cover their financial short-falls but they were also not able to deliver the full bouquet of services that they needed to provide. The demand for shelter services was also far greater than they could meet. Although funding post these studies have increased quite positively, it remains insufficient. St. Anne’s Homes and Sisters Incorporated for example, two established and well-respected shelters in Cape Town, record that they are forced on average to turn away 40 women and their children every month due to space and financial restrictions, reinforcing yet again that South Africa has a significant problem of violence against women on its hands.

Although we all need to take responsibility to prevent violence against women and children, it is also the government’s duty to ensure that its citizens are safe and thus logically the state should be ensuring that organizations which provide social welfare services on behalf of the state (as this essentially should be government’s responsibility) are given adequate financial resources and support. Government pleads poverty when challenged to provide these resources yet there is not a year that has gone by that we have not heard about the maladministration of funds by this or that government department.

The year ahead looks bleak. The gradual dissolution of the National Gender Based Violence Council (which never really took off although it has cost thousands of Rands to establish) and recent shocking patriarchal and anti-feminist rhetoric at the launch of the new Ministry for Women’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, some serious questions need to be raised. One key question that comes to mind is what is government’s thinking on these issues and does it really deem addressing violence against women and children a political priority? With the 16 Days of Activism on the agenda for the next two weeks, one wonders how many resources government will be pumping into sporadic events across the country and what meaningful impact this will really have on the lives of children like Jamie, in the long-term. For Jamie though, it is sadly too late, she is now just another number on next year’s crime scorecard.

Claudia Lopes is a Programme Manager at the Heinrich Böll Foundation specializing in women’s rights activism, with a particular focus on violence against women.

Is Parliament any better than the Women’s Ministry? Not really.

By Helen Johnston

The recent media release circulated today related to the Ministry of Women in the Presidency’s failure to take women’s rights seriously got me thinking. Earlier this year FeministsSA considered the electoral manifestos of political parties to assess whether they were women-friendly or not. I also wrote a piece earlier this year for Heinrich Boll on whether voting in this year’s election was a vote for gender equality. The resounding answer for most of them was that a lot more could be done.

But if political parties and the executive aren’t fulfilling the constitutional mandate to promote gender equality, who is responsible for checking on them? The answer to that is Parliament.

In the previous term, Parliament had two committees dedicated to furthering the rights of vulnerable groups – A Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities and a Select Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities. In addition, there is Multi-Party Women’s Caucus dedicated to resolving gender issues in Parliament and allowing women to thrive. Over their five years in Parliament they held numerous meetings on issues related to women, including public hearings on the domestic violence act, meetings on the costs of gender-based violence, maternal health, sex work, hate crimes against LGBTI people, the gendered implications of climate change, the empowerment of rural women, the implementation of international conventions, and HIV amongst others.

In the new Parliament, it appears as if all those vulnerable groups have been dropped from the parliamentary agenda. In the new formation of Ministries, issues of children and people with disabilities were re-allocated to the Department of Social Development. It seems as though the Portfolio Committee on Social Development and the Select Committee on Social Services have picked up on this re-allocation and begun to allocate more meeting time to addressing these vulnerable groups. As the issues concerning these groups is broader than grants, it is positive to see meetings related to violence against children and early childhood development. Though more could certainly be done to take up some of the outstanding issues from the previous committees focussed on these issues.

There is still a Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency, that has remained active in its oversight over the new Department, and the CGE, even sending the Department of Women back this week because of a failure to produce documents on time. But to date, it isn’t really clear what this new Department is doing – perhaps the reason why their attempts at  considering gender-based violence are so misguided. It’s certainly not clear what has happened to the National Council on Gender Based Violence, that the former Department went on about as if it was going to solve it all [which is why you should sign the petition after reading this article].

In the National Council of Provinces however, there is also cause for concern. Trying to find the minutes for women’s issues in the NCOP, you are redirected to the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs who are already given the mammoth task of oversight over local government issues in South Africa. In the minutes available on PMG this year there only seems to be one reference to women’s issues – one meeting that happened on the 14th of October relating to women and youth unemployment. Can it be the case that out of six meetings at Parliament, only one  has considered the needs of women? Can that be correct?

Is this a problem of political will, or the allocation of too many issues to NCOP committees? With local government elections coming up soon, if women aren’t currently on the agenda, how on earth will they stay on the agenda then? It’s not clear at this stage, but there is certainly the need for all of us to keep our eyes on what is happening for women in Parliament.

The benefits for young adults of the amendment to the Sexual Offences Act

Sanja Bornman
Sanja Bornman

By Sanja Bornman

On 15 January 2013 the Pretoria High Court declared sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act unconstitutional. Before the judgment, sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act made it a crime for children between the ages of 12 and 15 to engage in any and all conduct of a consensual, sexual nature with one another. The judgment is a great victory for the constitutional rights of children in South Africa, most especially girl children, and I would very much like to explain why this is so – and why all of us, as feminists, should be happy about the judgment.

First, this judgment is NOT about sexual activity that happens when a girl does not want it to happen. Any such activity is rape, or sexual assault, and those crimes are listed in sections 3 and 5 of the Sexual Offences Act (SOA). The judgment is also NOT about sexual activity between a child and an adult. The judgment does not affect the status of rape, sexual assault, or statutory rape at all (sex between a child and an adult).

This judgment is about the fact that sections 15 and 16 of the SOA criminalised any form of sexual activity between children aged 12 to 15 – even the kind that is part of healthy, natural, and normal developmental behaviour . The SOA defines sexual activity so widely that effectively this meant that it was crime for girls and boys between 12 and 15 to have penetrative sex, but also anything from hugging, kissing, holding hands, to cuddling, and petting – even if both consented to it, and wanted to. Both the children would be guilty of this “crime”.

If this law were in place, the following would happen to children if they are caught? Well, they may be arrested, and brought into a police station. They will have to appear before a magistrate, and come into contact with an investigating officer, and could be asked to sign a “warning statement”. In cases where they are not arrested, the children will be issued with a “notice to appear” for an inquiry in a Magistrates Court. The children will be assessed by criminal probation officers, and their parents will be present at this interview. The probation officer must then “discuss” the sexual conduct, and assess whether the children admit responsibility for the offence. Then they will have to participate in diversion programmes along with sex offenders, or they will have to face a trial. If they are found guilty, their names will be entered into the National Sex Offenders Register, where their names will stay for life. This will prevent them from ever working with children when they grow up, and every prospective employer will find their names there.

Think of your first kiss, or the first time a boy or girl took your hand, or touched you in a way that made you feel good. Statistically, most of us are around the ages of 12 – 16 when this first happens to us. What impact would it have had on you to be criminalised, to have to face the criminal justice system? To be arrested for kissing or petting? To have to discuss your most private and intimate feelings with magistrates and probation officers? To face a trial for touching the boy or girl you like in an intimate way? Would this have fostered a positive, healthy sexual outlook? Or would it have traumatised you and made you feel deeply ashamed? If we think about these questions, I believe it is obvious that these laws would traumatise far more than protect.

Which brings me to the most important point I want to make. Before this judgment, the sections in question posed a particular threat for girls! In law there are what we call “competent verdicts”. This means that when a prosecutor cannot get a conviction on, for example, rape, they must try to convict on a lesser charge. In the case of the SOA, section 15 and 16 are regarded as competent verdicts for rape and sexual assault. Now, imagine a date rape situation. A 14 year-old girl is raped by her 15 year-old boyfriend. She reports this to the police, but the police cannot prove that it was rape – as so often happens – due to insufficient forensic evidence. Legally, the boyfriend must now be charged with Section 15 (“consensual sexual penetration”) as a lesser charge, and competent verdict. But here is the catch: section 15 and 16 require BOTH children to be charged! So, the girl starts off as a victim, but is transformed into a perpetrator! Do you suppose that girls will be more likely, or less likely to report rape or sexual assault to the police, if there is a chance that they themselves can be charged with an offence? Girls are also the only ones that can bear a physical marker of sex, in the form of pregnancy, where boys do not. This makes girls “easy targets” for prosecution. Clearly section 15 and 16 affect girls disproportionately to boys, and for that reason alone the sections violate all girls’ constitutional right to equality before the law.

There is a world of difference, as the judgment also points out, between not condoning something and criminalising it. Society may not condone two 12 year-olds having consensual sex, but there is absolutely no evidence, nor was any presented in court when this matter came before a judge, that criminalising consensual sexual activity discouraged, regulates, or corrects the sexual conduct of teens. The law is simply not the right tool for fixing every social challenge we face. We must learn from the failure rate of abstinence campaigns, and realise that the only way we will ever make sure out teenagers are protected, is by being able to have open, honest conversations with them about responsible sexual behaviour, what consent means, and the responsibility of sexual autonomy.

However, as they stood, if an adult became aware of any consensual sexual activity between children aged 12 to 15, section 15 and 16 also made it crime for that adult not to report it to the police. This means that nurses, doctors,counsellors, parents and any other adults that seek to create an open relationship of trust with teenagers would be severely restricted, and inclined “not to ask too much”. How can teens speak openly about their lives and seek guidance if they will get in trouble with the law, and even endanger the very adult to whom they are most likely to speak?

Section 15 and 16 also clashed severely with laws aimed at recognising children’s constitutional rights to access health services, and autonomy in decision making. The Children’s Act states that no person may refuse to provide condoms to a child over the age of 12. The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act says that no consent other than that of the pregnant woman or girl shall be required for a termination. These very laws that recognises the reality of the South African context, in which we would rather provide children with condoms and access to reproductive health care services, than preach abstinence only, and risk them contracting HIV, STIs and having babies they cannot hope to care for. But section 15 and 16, with the adult duty to report, would undo the strides these laws have made towards gender equality, and empowering women and girls to make their own reproductive decisions, and to have control over their own bodies.

In the end there is simply no rational connection between section 15 and 16 as they stood, and the aim of protecting our children. It is our collective responsibility as adults to empower our children, most especially our girl children, and to help them to develop healthy, positive sexual behaviour. We cannot abdicate that responsibility, because we are too busy or embarrassed to talk about sex, by inviting the criminal justice system into our children’s private, emotional lives. By doing so, we would in fact be harming our children, exacerbating under-reporting of rape, and severely compromising the fight for gender equality.

PRESS RELEASE: Harmful Provisions of the Sexual Offences Act declared unconstitutional!

17 January 2013
On 15 January 2013 the Pretoria High Court declared sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act unconstitutional. This is a great victory for the constitutional rights of children, especially girl children. The Women’s Legal Center acted as a friend of the Court, together with the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC), in order to emphasise to the court the discriminatory and disproportionate effects of these sections on girls between the ages of 12 and 15 in South Africa.

Before the judgment, sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act made it a crime for children between the ages of 12 and 15 to engage in any and all conduct of a consensual, sexual nature – including hand-holding, cuddling, kissing, and other behaviors part of a normal adolescent sexual development. The court agreed that apart from creating strange anomalies, when read with other laws relating to children, these sections infringe a range of children’s constitutional rights, including equality, and are not rationally connected to the purpose the state claims it sought to achieve with these sections. The court found that the state had failed to provide any evidence that criminalising normal, consensual teenage sexual behavior would deter or regulate unhealthy sexual conduct by teens, or that such criminalisation would provide “protection” to children – a point that was conceded by the state in legal argument. The court found that exposing children to the criminal justice system would only result in trauma and stigmatisation, whereas what is required is open and frank discussion between children and adults about positive sexual behavior.

Sanja Bornman, attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre, says “These provisions were particularly harmful for girl children, as girls can bear a physical marker of sexual intercourse in the form of pregnancy, where boys do not. Girls would thus be ‘easy targets’ for prosecution under these misguided laws. Far from deterring risky sexual behavior, these sections would have promoted it by discouraging girls from reporting rape for fear that they might instead be charged with so-called ‘consensual sexual penetration/violation’.”
Acting Director at TLAC, Nicky Vienings, asserts “Should girls experience a defamatory and negative interaction with the legal system at an early age for an incidence which is deemed ‘unlawful/criminal’, but is in fact part of their natural development in sexual exploration, they would be less likely to report any incidences of sexual or domestic violence that may be perpetrated against them later in their lives. This not only puts them at risk, but also lends itself to girls experiencing deep psychological scarring from the discrimination they would experience from the state and quite possibly from the communities in which they live.”

“The Department of Justice has been reported as saying the judgment has far-reaching implications in the escalating rate of sexual violence among children under the age of 16 years. But this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. It is irrational to suggest that criminalising children’s normal consensual sexual behaviour will result in a decrease in child rape or sexual assault, which is covered by entirely different sections in the Sexual Offences Act.” concludes Bornman.

Issued by the Women’s Legal Centre.

For more information, contact:
Sanja Bornman (WLC): 083 522 2933
Nicky Vienings (TLAC): 011 403 4267

About the Women’s Legal Centre

The WLC is a non-profit, independently funded law Centre, started by a group of lawyers in Cape Town in 1999, with a vision to achieve equality for women in South Africa. The Centre has identified five strategic focus areas. These are: violence against women; fair access to resources in relationships; access to land/housing; access to fair labour practices; and access to health care (particularly reproductive health care).

The WLC has been at the forefront of legal reform in relation to women’s equality in South Africa since the Constitution came into effect, having won several precedent setting cases in the past.

The WLC is targeting socio-economic rights of women as an important area for advancement by litigation and advocacy, and will challenge the most unenviable forms of indirect discrimination that act to prevent women from achieving real equality.

In order to empower women through knowledge of their rights, the Centre also offers free legal advice to women. Women are assisted or referred to the relevant body, NGO or court for assistance.
About the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre

The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women (TLAC) is a non-profit organisation that promotes and defends the rights of women to be free from violence and to have access to appropriate and adequate services. Our key activities include research and policy development, litigation and advocacy, training and public awareness.

The organisation was established in 1996 and in the same year its first Director, Joanne Fedler, became a member of the South African Law Reform Commission’s Project Committee which drafted the 1998 Domestic Violence Act. Since then the organisation has argued before the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, as well as appeared before a number of parliamentary committees to present its research and law reform proposals. In 2011 Tshwaranang was accredited as a law clinic.

Are parent-friendly policies unfair? A tricky question for feminists

Tracy Morison
Tracy Morison

By Tracy Morison

Parent- or family-friendly work policies are pronatalist, some have argued. Feminist scholar Alena Heitlinger, for example, has claimed:

Parental leaves, childcare services, flexible work arrangements, re-entry training programs, and social security and taxation policies that do not penalize women for motherhood have been promoted as measures of equal opportunities for women, but they can be also seen as having a pronatal potential, irrespective of the increase in the birth rate being an explicit objective.

In fact, Laura Carroll (author of The Baby Matrix) argues that, in general, policies favour parents.  She maintains that, given the steadily rising population rate and continued environmental degradation, government policies generally reward the wrong people: parents of large families. Instead, of giving tax relief or financial assistance to larger families, for instance, people should be rewarded for not reproducing or for having smaller families. By way of example, Carroll suggests parent carbon tax or providing adoptive parents with larger tax exemptions and parents with only one bio-kid a nominal exemption.

With regard to workplace policies specifically, Heitlinger, and other feminists, suggest that making work-life balance easier for parents—sometimes at the expense of ‘non-parents’—inadvertently encourages people to have children, or at least makes it easier. In short, these policies are pro-natalist.

The issue of course, as feminist studies have long highlighted is that the ideal worker is childfree, which historically has also meant male, and most family-friendly workplace policies emerged in response to women’s entry into the workplace, as Heitlinger points out above. Motherhood has often acted as a barrier to paid employment, particularly when women in partnerships with men are expected to fulfill the traditional caregiver role and were forced to choose between a career and parenthood.

The question then is whether altering or removing parent-friendly policies could mean re/marginalising women. Many women in heterosexual partnerships, in South Africa at any rate, still do the bulk caregiving. One could also question how would sole or same-gender parents could be affected?

Some say that we have moved beyond these kinds of gender politics. They argue that benefits and policies–like paid parental leave or flexi-time and telecommuting for parents–are fundamentally unfair, especially when others at work are required to pick up the slack. For example, in a forum discussion on The Childfree Life someone maintained that “You [as a childfree person] should not have to experience different treatment because you made a different choice” (Personal Communication, 2012). An article from BBC News quotes ‘non-parents’ responses to a survey about family-friendly policies as follows:

One manager told the [researchers]: “I do not have children and sometimes resent the emphasis put on people who do being the only ones who want more time at home. I have commitments and a life too, and I would like family-friendly policies to be home-friendly policies instead.”

A woman manager … said: “People who don’t have children resent the things they miss out on, such as maternity/paternity leave, and sick leave taken as a result of problems with children.”

Another manager said: “People who choose not to have families do so for good reasons and it is unfair to burden them with additional work so others can have additional benefits.”

Perhaps the answer is thinking more broadly about what ‘family’ means. A broader understanding of what counts as family, would mean that family-friendly policies could be extended to a range of people beyond parents only. This could potentially affect the gross disparity in parent leave in South Africa (the 4 months maternity leave for mothers versus the 2 weeks paternity leave for fathers).

The complexity and luxury of being pro-choice

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

Last week Sunday while driving through Cape Town on my way to Seapoint, I saw that there was an anti-abortion protest near the Cape Town International Convention Centre. I was in the car with my sister, a friend and my 8 year old nephew who asked in vain, “What is abortion?”  His question was ignored and the silence in the car was palpable.

I didn’t answer the question because I felt it was not my place to do so seeing as his mother was in the car as well. Also, I wondered when it would be appropriate to tell an 8 year old about abortion and whether I could do this objectively by presenting the two-sides of the argument: pro-choice and pro-life.

Living in a country where people have the freedom to protest and pronounce their beliefs openly, I realised that the silence in the car was indicative of the silence around the issue of abortion and other  issues affecting women and their bodies.

The abortion question is still wrapped in moralistic debate about who has the right to decide when life begins or ends and whether one is in fact killing a baby or terminating a pregnancy, a (seemingly) clinical procedure. I am pro-choice when it comes to the abortion question. The ethics of abortion always seem to be a toss-up of women’s rights and the right to life of an unborn child. There are also the emotional arguments about the damaging effect abortion (obviously) has on women. Then there are the questions of how women should learn to control their bodies better in order to avoid pregnancy at all costs. These are complex issues given the context of women and rape and their chances of getting pregnant if they are raped. When one is openly pro-choice, they run the risk of being perceived as an anti-natalist (as eloquently discussed in Tracy Morison’s post recently).

A recent class discussion with the Grade 9s I teach led me to consider the issue of reproductive rights for women and a country’s fertility rate. The discussion we had was sparked by statistics related to the fertility rate in developed and underdeveloped countries. One of the learners asked, “why do women in poorer countries have more children than women in wealthier countries?” The implicit question suggests that if a women is poor she should know better than having more children. This speaks to the complexities of class and gender and how this affects reproductive rights as well as access to health care and education about making the right choices when it comes to reproduction.

I have the luxury of being pro-choice because I have access to information and services that allow me the freedom to explore this idea. The reality is that this is not the case for many women across the world. Abortion and other reproductive rights are yet to be more central in conversations about women’s rights. Maybe, instead of celebrating women’s day (by having rallies and meetings for the “vulnerable group”)we should dedicate more effort to informing women about their reproductive rights and stop the imagined or real silence on a political and private struggle in our society.

Childfree: It’s your choice but…

Tracy Morison
Tracy Morison

By Tracy Morison

“Where there is only one real option and no genuine choice there is no autonomy” (Diana Tietjens Meyers)

As feminists we often speak of reproductive choice and freedom. Most would agree that reproductive rights are central to the advancement of women’s rights. Of course, the issue of women’s reproductive rights are by no means a neatly sewn up issue—whether we cast our eyes West or East—but most people would, in principle, support the idea of choosing not to have children (in Westernised contexts at least). Yet, when presented with the idea, most seem to be incredulous and defensive, some even hostile. Examples of these kinds of reactions appear in the Facebook posts below, responding to a link from my research group’s blog and an article about the normality of not wanting children.

[A] I think that with the way the world is at the moment, bearing a child into the world does not rely on “want” but on can you afford it…

[B] If the desire to become parents is regarded as “unhealthy” and becomes accepted on a grand scale, goodbye the human species. This leans a bit into the direction of eugenics and all that goes with it.

[C] Be fruitful and multiply!

[D] Even trying to explain to people that you chose to have only one child is hectic. Apparently it’s selfish to only have one child, I am repeatedly told!

[E] Having or not having children is a choice. We are all entitled to make our own personal choices in life, as we have to live with them. I myself love children and like my house and my life, full of laughter. I loved watching my children grow up, loved to see how they all had their own peculiarities, their likes and dislikes, even growing up in the same house. Today, in my so called old age, I love to watch and see how my grandchildren make choices. I myself would never change my life, or regret the choices I made about having children. They, my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren is a joy to me, they complete me. I have friends my age that has never had kids, they all say they regret it, their husbands are dead and they are alone, nobody to visit or send a card or call them. I am so sad for them. As my children and grandchildren will call me and chat daily.Make your choices; do not let people bother you. If you want only one or if you want 10, you have to provide for them. Have a wonderful forever!!!
[F] I also agree with [E], it would be so terrible to not have my kids, I love them so much and have enjoyed them so much, the challenging times and also the fun times, and would change nothing except maybe, have another because they have brought me so much joy and have fulfilled my life so much. There is always the choice of course, and it is neither right nor wrong to want or not want to have children. As long as we don’t try to convince one another that there is no choice, just like you said ♥

As these responses show, having children is often defended as biological imperative (species continuation), a godly mandate and, as a result, is often seen as something altruistic. As some of these responses show, people often see not wanting to have (several) children as threatening, as eugenicist, for example, or as an indictment of their own preferences or choices. I’ll return to the idea of ‘choice’ later, but first I want to point out two central issues that repeatedly crop up in this discussion. People support the idea of being voluntarily childless in principle, but then go on to say (1) having children is wonderful (the glorification of parenthood) and (2) not having children will have negative consequences (loneliness, regret etc. – the denigration of non-reproduction). These are really two sides of the same coin in that they dismiss child freedom as a truly viable alternative.

Research, including my own, suggests that parenthood choices are motivated as much by fears of the consequences of not having children, as the perceived benefits of parenthood. We can see this in the cautionary tale in bold in post [E]. If this is the case—that non-reproduction means not only missing out on the joys of parenthood, but ending up sad and lonely—then not having children is not really a viable option. How autonomous are parenthood choices then really? Although parenthood is usually surrounded by highly voluntaristic rhetoric, choices about childbearing do not appear to be freely chosen as they could be.

What is unacknowledged in the responses is that some regret or don’t enjoy parenthood. Gasp! No, not sociopaths, but people honest enough to admit, “I love my kids, but if I could go back, I’d make a different choice” (albeit usually via the anonymity of the internet). In The Baby Matrix, Laura Carroll discusses the harm of pronatalist assumptions, causing everyone to believe that they should have children and, I would add, making childfreedom a non-choice.

Of course, we must be aware of the limitations of understanding procreation solely in terms of choice. As the quotes above show, the idea of personal choice can easily be used as a ‘whatever works for you’ justification but nobody would “have a wonderful forever” if we all chose to have 10 children. Choice also assumes that everyone has equal access to contraception and reproductive health services and is equally able to refuse sex. Perhaps the idea of ‘reproductive justice’ might be more useful as it acknowledges issues of unequal access and power and allows for the right not to have a child in addition to the right to do so. And this is the point: until both reproduction and non-reproduction are seen as legitimate choices, then no choice is freely made.


My worth is not found in the womb

By Nobantu Shabangu

It is always that question, that maddening question that makes me go into frenzy. “Do you have children?” they always ask, they being the hedonistic men who are always hitting on me. “Why not?” they ask appalled that I have no children, no boyfriend and I’m not seeking either of the two.

First of all I am twenty one, a student, freelance writer and casual worker, having a child at this stage would be utterly devastating, selfish and quite frankly stupid. Secondly the last time I checked it is the year 2012 and the stature of women has changed from merely being baby producing machines to actual beings with aspirations, dreams and choices to have children or not.

I have lost count of the number of men who when they find out that I have no children are disappointed; it is as if I am a product that has some deformity and is then rejected to oblivion.  I thought this sort of thinking by these men attributed to their old age but even younger men (as young as me) don’t understand why I don’t have children.  I fumble to understand their way of thinking.

My cousin told me that some of these men think that if a woman does have children she may not have HIV. I scoffed at this reasoning because it is dangerous and baseless. If men think that way then the HIV rates in South Africa are only going to climb exponentially higher. HIV is a serious epidemic, especially in South Africa and if stupid reasoning about HIV infection continues like this, the young women and children of South Africa are in grave danger. Education on how HIV works needs to be emphasised in every way, every single day, in the workplace, at home, in the malls- everywhere.

Another reason for this thinking is that men still do not see women as possible life companions, there is no romanticism to being in a relationship; the females are simply there to produce offspring for them and serve their men until God knows when. Could this way of thinking by men be the reason for the high teenage pregnancies? I don’t know but women, young women need to understand that their worth is not found in their fertility, that children are not bait to tie a man down and that most importantly that is not the only reason they are on this earth.

I am okay, I am not insane, and I don’t need a man or child to put my life into perspective. I understand how HIV is contracted and no thank you I do not want a dose of it. My worth is not found in my womb, it is found in my actions to society, it is found in my individualism, it is found in my talents, it is found in my mind, in my heart, in my soul. Do young women know where their worth lies but importantly do men?

Cattle markets and glitter guns

Alana Baranov
Alana Baranov

By Alana Baranov

What is this world coming to? Really now, what is going on? I’m not even talking about the deplorable wholesale slaughter of an entire civilian population in Syria, or the violent trade in blood diamonds in Zimbabwe’s eastern Marange region. Yes these current affairs, and sadly countless others, fly in the face of our concept of human rights, freedom and dignity and are a dark stain on the record of human history. But we don’t even need to look outside our own homes to really worry about the moral health and direction of our generation. Let’s just turn on the TV.

A recent addition to DSTV’s bouquet of channels, TLC, is currently screening a show the low moral fibre of which would even make Jersey Shore’s orange-tanned, drunk-at-breakfast ‘meatball’ Snooki cringe uncomfortably. You may have already guessed the offending program in question – the ever controversial ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’,which tracks the budding careers of a handful of American tots and their pushy moms as they compete in the cutthroat world of beauty pageants.

Like a car crash you just can’t take your eyes off, we all gasp with righteous indignation at the mom who bursts into tears when her little darling isn’t crowned ‘grand supreme’ (a title which sounds more fitting for the leader of some sort of cult) or even chuckle at the absurdity of a parent literally bribing their kid with cash to do as they say and ‘make mommy proud’. However, this show does give us some very disturbing insights into the way in which society views, and raises, our young girls.

Under the bright lights of primetime television, these little girls are taught, or perhaps a more fitting description is the word‘forced’, to act seductively and learn suggestive dance moves whilst parading themselves around a stage in sexualized costumes, painfully applied and age inappropriate hair and make-up, all the while being subjected to restrictive diets in order to lose weight for a competition. Is it just me or is this kind of twisted?

Surely enough research and analysis has been carried out to date to make the dire physical, emotional and psychological consequences of the sexualisation of young girls and boys a universally known and condemned problem? The toxic culture of the beauty pageant world, where the superficial and external physical is adjudicated and lauded over any acknowledgement of emotional, spiritual or intellectual talent, is unhealthy in every sense of the word.

Self-objectification and sexualisation is in turn linked to a host of diseases and ills which affect young people, particularly young women – eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem among a host of others. Young people in these milieus are treated like objects to be weighed up against each other in a ‘livestock market’, a phenomenon which damages all those involved.

The subliminal value system being disseminated through this type of entertainment erodes the audience’s own sense of right and wrong as such outlandish behaviour becomes ‘normalized’ when broken down into weekday episodes in convenient time slots. Particularly for the impressionable children taking part who have not yet reached the emotional-intellectual milestones of understanding who they are and their own worth, a process where they are given recognition based solely on their looks does not foster the creation of ambitious, hard-working and successful females who contribute to society. Why bother with all that when you can slap on some lipstick and a mini skirt and play to the crowd for your fifteen minutes of fame? And what do we know about the long term damage done through chemically dangerous spray tans, bedazzling glues and hairsprays on developing bodies?

These little girls ultimately become infantilized adults as their parents and coaches do whatever it takes, or whatever the indulged ‘cash cows’ throw a tantrum for, and win the ultimate prize – you guessed it, money. All healthy boundaries, self-respect and unconditional love seem to fall by the wayside in this scenario.

Let’s be honest here, the responsibility for this situation cannot be laid squarely at the door of one cable TV show. Indeed everywhere one turns our culture seems to be teaching young girls and boys a very narrow version of beauty, transforming their bodies and creating pressure to conform to socially engineered and artificial roles. In a progressive world, it is not just the ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ moms who need to re-evaluate their actions.

Why is it still acceptable in this day and age for people to dress young girls up in full make-up and veils as brides acting out a wedding or damsel-in-distress princess, whose sole purpose is to be married or rescued by a man on a white horse respectively? In the 21st century can we not find a better way to allow girlsto reach their full potential and true purpose through their own achievements and abilities? Can the next generation not strive for something higher than being an object of beauty, a victim to be rescued or defined by a relationship to a partner?

Everyone has the right to make their own decisions and certainly some of these young girls, if they were ever actually asked mind you, would say that they want to participate in these competitions. I would argue that this would be a result of certain influences at home but nevertheless I agree that the decision would ultimately lie in the young woman’s hands. However, surely this call could only be made at an age when they could reasonably be expected to make an informed decision on how their body is portrayed to the world? Or in the context of an environment where they understand and appreciate the value of all aspects of their own identity – be that physical, emotional, and intellectual? The consequences of how they wish to project themselves to others and how they will view their own substance, must also be understood or at least explained to them.

While I’m on this soap box, let me say another thing: surely TV audiences have tastes slightly more discerning than to find unhappy toddlers in sequined Vegas showgirl outfits being cajoled into performing by obnoxious mothers, vicariously living out their dreams through their children, riveting viewing? What does it say about each of us that there is even a market for shows of this nature? I think it’stime that we stepped back and took a long look at the messages we are sending the youth of today. If we have this much spare time on our hands maybe we should focus our energy on making a difference in the injustices I described at the beginning of this rant. Oh yeah, and pageant moms? Put the glitter guns down and step away from the rollers.

Teaching boys in a sexist society

By Athambile Masola

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

I am a teacher. Part of the joy of teaching is interacting with my learners. I teach in a co-ed high school. I spent 12 years in an all-girls’ school and I come from a matriarchal family so my experience of boys has largely been through interactions in public spaces, friendships and university. However, as a teacher, I now have to interact with teenage boys daily.

The boys I teach are mostly pimple-faced, scrawny-looking and some are shy. Those who aren’t shy are usually the ones with the loudest voices, often get attention from girls easily and don’t mind telling me how charming they are and how girls fall for it. There are also the burly characters who communicate an aggressive demeanour simply by sitting in my classroom. They all wear their insecurities as teenagers in different ways, beneath the “too cool for school” swagger. I’ve already witnessed a fist fight between two boys; however, within two weeks of the fight they were friends.

Gender in education is a minefield filled with many generalisations. Some are as simplistic as which subjects boys and girls show different performance levels in. The assumption is that girls are better at languages and boys are better at maths and science. As a language teacher I was fascinated when I discovered literature about the “feminisation of language instruction”. Educationists suggest that the way language is taught in schools is targeted towards a particular kind of learner: typically one who can sit in the class and listen quietly while the teacher speaks. Because girls are seen as compliant when it comes to classroom behaviour, they often do better in language education. Language classes require learners to be reflexive and this thinking is couched within the assumption that girls are better at this than boys.

I have tried to relate this to my lessons and I have noticed that beyond the behavioural problems I often have in my classes, the boys I teach simply want to play outside, where learning is about sport (life is a party and “boys will be boys”). Their writing is often not as verbose as the girls’. This is not to say they do not perform as well as the girls, but they are also more inclined to drift and lose concentration when I teach.

Apart from the academic aspect of teaching, I have tried to create space for conversation in my classroom. Where there are any sexist incidences, I try using these for further conversation and teaching. I recently witnessed a boy “tap” one of the girls in my class (on her butt). The girl’s response was that of any woman whose body has been made a toy: she retaliated by slapping the boy.

Anyone else may have suggested that this is the nature of teenagers who have raging hormones so I shouldn’t worry myself too much. When I intervened, the boy seemed confused. This is a common joke amongst boys and girls at school, but the girl was firm that she felt disrespected. I tried to ask why he thought it was an acceptable joke that he can “tap” girls and he simply saw this as a game.

My focus on boys in my classroom (and the school as a whole) is that there are enough positive images directed at girls for how they can be in the world. But I find there aren’t nearly as many positive messages indicating a different way of being for boys. It is accepted that teenage boys are violent, permanently horny, and disinterested in anything that might provoke any thinking. There are also underlying messages for what it means being a boy in a poor community and the norms that are expected in that social setting.

I have no doubt the challenges young boys are facing and the pressures to become “manly men”, but being a young feminist teacher I do not want to be the teacher that harangues boys about the gender question. When the gender debate emerges in class, boys are inclined to get defensive which isn’t a surprise because they are young boys growing up in a sexist society.

I don’t want to be the person who tells the boys who or what they should be, but I do wish I could engage them about the invisible sexism they perform daily without even realising it. And I would like them to seriously consider what it means being a man without dominating space or women.

This is a conversation for both girls and boys, it’s about being human. But between teaching grammar and “characteristics of a short story” it’s not that easy.

Why feminists (and all men and women) should care about paternity leave

By Jen Thorpe 

When two people decide to have a child, is it fair that one of those people gets more paid time away from work to bond with that child? Is it also fair that this situates parental responsibility firmly in the hands of the parent with more leave?

In South Africa, women are given up to four months paid/unpaid maternity leave when they fall pregnant. Women make up around 38% of the formal work force (though, as we know much of the work women do in South Africa is part of the informal economy, so this number is therefore an underestimation of the amount that women actually contribute to the economy), and are entitled to these four months by law. This time allows them to rest and prepare for the actual act of child-birth, and then allows them time to recover and bond with their child.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act has the following to say about maternity leave:

Workers may take maternity leave 1 month before their due date, or earlier or later as agreed or required for health reasons. Workers may not go back to work within 6 weeks after the birth unless their doctor or midwife says it is safe. Based on Legislation in Section 25, of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act

However for men in South Africa, the law only provides for three days paid family responsibility leave (Section 27 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act). It makes no real mention of ‘paternity leave’ at all. This means that if a family member passes away, or a familial emergency occurs in the same year that these three days of paid leave have been taken, the man cannot ask for these as paid family responsibility leave.

Whilst we as feminists and women should certainly appreciate and be glad that we have the opportunity to keep our jobs whilst having a baby, we need to recognise that something is amiss here, and that the legislation we have at present is starving fathers of the opportunity to fully engage with their children when they are at their youngest, and is setting a precedent that places the psychological and physical burden of child raising firmly with women. The legislation that we have places no pressure on employers to recognise that men should be equally entitled to spend time with their newborn child, or to take responsibility from the very beginning for raising the child.

In 2009, the Commission on the Status of Women held their annual meeting with a focus on shared responsibilities between parents, particularly in the light of the HIV/AIDS infection rates in the developing world.  The health minister at that time, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, called for a change in the law relating to paternity leave in order to recognise that the country was under pressure to empower women, and that men needed to take responsibility for child raising.

“We must encourage family friendly policies… which will encourage a paradigm shift in that employees of both sexes are given the same opportunities to organise their family and work responsibilities,” she said.

She was quite right. It is both sexist and unfair to assume that men do not want to spend those first weeks with their child, and sexist to assume that women do.

Overseas, countries such as Norway (men get 10 weeks paternity leave) and Italy (men get 13 weeks) have provided men with the opportunity to balance their economic responsibilities to the state, with the responsibilities of developing a home.  Is it perhaps that the South African state has chosen the economic value of men’s contribution in the formal economy over the responsibility of men to contribute to the development of the next generation of workers?

This limit that is set by the law stereotypes men and women before they have even had the opportunity to become parents. It assumes that women are better primary care givers than men, and that men are more economically important, or that men prefer their economic responsibilities to their familial ones.  It also assumes that mothers will be better at raising children than fathers, which could negatively influence good dad’s chances of getting custody of their children in a divorce. These assumptions, and this legislation, has a very real impact on the way that men and women are treated in society, and the assumptions that society makes about what men and women are capable of.

We must recognise that both mothers and fathers have a shared responsibility for developing their children, and that allowing men to bond with newborns, and to take on some of that responsibility is an important step in the recreation of a South African masculinity in which it is acceptable for men to be good fathers, and to be involved in families in a way that steps outside the ‘man as strong’, ‘man as breadwinner’ trope.  In addition, we need to support women in their choices to become breadwinners, and recognise that allowing men to have time off will better allow women to recover from the physical strain of child-birth, and will help to share the load in the first few months of a child’s life which will help women to sleep better, live better, and return to their jobs feeling restored rather than flattened.

I think it’s time to change laws that box men and women into narrow categories of parenthood. And if we can’t change the law, then lets start having these conversations with our employers, and encouraging them to develop policies that recognise that children are every parent’s responsibility.

The next generation

By Claire Martens

Two things that two different people have recently said to me have had an impact on my thoughts about feminism. More accurately, I have started to think about discrimination in all its forms and how to change the society we live in. Admittedly, there is no one way we can change society, but we can change our thinking about society and perhaps through this, we can make small changes around us.

Gender is not only about women, but is about men tooSo what was it that these people said that so changed my life? It began with my lecturer at University, who said that when we think of the word “gender”, we associate it with women. But gender refers to men too; therefore, any policy which hopes to improve equality between genders needs to target both genders (or more correctly, all genders, trans-genders included). I agree with this wholeheartedly, having written about the need for a movement called “masculinism”.

The second profound comment came from the census guy. He told me that one of his fellow census workers was told by a white lady that she won’t allow any black people in her house, and that her census form should just be placed in her post box to be collected the next day. We both had a good laugh and I remarked that there are still people like that out there. He returned this by saying that it is mostly the older generation, whereas I told him that this is not really true. Even people in our generation (we are the same age) have racist thoughts. He agreed with me, admitting that we are all children of the “rainbow nation”. What touched me was that he said that we will be judged by how we bring up our children.

Discrimination has been entrenched firmly into the psyche of this country and all its unfortunate but blessed citizens. We cannot deny that we have not been tainted by the past. Centuries of racism, and concurrently patriarchy, shape our thoughts and actions. People discriminate, they differentiate, they alienate and they stereotype. It’s part of human nature.

Perhaps it stems from fear, but “ours” also comes from history. This is not an argument to condone discrimination, but rather to understand that it exists and that we can see its manifestations in everyday life. I would go so far as to argue that this is not about right or wrong, who should be blamed and hence feel guilty, but about curbing the negative manifestations, anyway we know how.

So how do we address it? Well, if we combine the two thoughts above, that we need to target all genders and that we should target our children, then we have one small, but possibly vital, answer. We must bring up our children to be the generation who breaks the cycle of discrimination. We all know that the scars of South Africa will not heal in one generation’s lifetime, nor because of the actions of this one generation, but we can make a significant beginning.

There exists no reason why our children should be raised in the same way we were. We must raise a generation of free-thinkers who have ideas about morality which are based upon those values which our country is supposed to live by; freedom, human dignity, self-worth, non-discrimination. My generation is so insecure, so violent, so confused. Apartheid erased the confidence of so many young people. However, we can raise our sons and daughters to feel worthy, loved, wanted. It’s a small gift to them, just like they are to you.

There is no freedom or innocence

By Tammy Sutherns

The breeze in your hair, the coins clanging in your pocket and later, the sweet taste of a fruity lollipop, the cold against your tongue or maybe even a chocolate bar melting in your mouth – it didn’t matter, the choice was yours.

Being allowed to walk up to the shops all on our own was like a childhood rite of passage for us. My brother and I reveled in the freedom, clambering up the hill with our small change. We were never much for driving somewhere when we could walk – a rare treat in South African neighbourhoods littered with loiterers and horror stories. Our mom would sometimes ask us to nip up and grab some bread, which weren’t some of our most pleasant trips, but were safe – and free –  to do so nonetheless.

That rite of passage is one that is unfortunately tainted for many kids. I met with the Midrand police on Monday for my weekly crime report and learned that two sisters – aged 12 and 10 – were allegedly raped while journeying up to Noordwyk Spar to grab something for their parents at the weekend.

The sisters were allegedly picked up by a local security company vehicle, where the guard told them that he was escourting them to the Spar as he had seen them stealing the day before.

He drove them around for a while before raping both sisters in the car on a road in Blue Hills. He then dropped them off at home with the promise to kill them if they told their parents.

The security guard has been arrested and the police are following up on investigations.

There is simply nothing more that I can say, the facts speak for themselves and are sick enough without any added emotion.

But I will say this – if that security guard is guilty it means that he used his power as a man in uniform, an officer of what young girls may have believed to be the law, to break their childhood innocence, their freedom to step outside of the perimeters of their home and their rights as children and as human beings.

How will a parent ever ask their kids to run up to the shops again while there are people in this country who crave and thrive on power and control, using little children to play out a sick idea that they are real men?

As Jen has said time and time again, we need to be addressing the issue of the rapists, not just the rape victims. Prevention is, after all, better than cure.

And my heart goes out to those little Noordwyk sisters who will never be able to taste ice cream again freely or safely.

Stats show some messed up shit

By Tammy Sutherns

I can be quite a serious person by nature, so I prefer to try to find the funny side when I’m writing (just so the people in the back seats don’t start contemplating Prozac while reading my work).

Unfortunately though, there isn’t any funny side to the number of reported cases of rape in our country (note that I say ‘reported’) rising to over 50 000 in the last year. There is certainly nothing light-hearted about the 711 cases of sexual offences against children. But I suppose, we can always take refuge in the fact that ‘slightly less adult women are being raped’. But then there are more adult women being murdered so it all kind of even outs if we have some sort of sick, violence balance sheet.

Forgive me, the rest of this will be rather depressing, infused with some aggression. I can direct you to the nearest Prozac outlet if need be.

Child Welfare reports that three children go missing in South Africa a day and five are murdered every day. Sexual offences may also occur among teenagers, but it is children UNDER the age of 15 who are actually being raped.


Never mind the government or the perpetrators, I feel that I have somehow failed as a woman and as a sister of this nation.

We are not reaching enough platforms and we are clearly not getting through to the people who are using violent forms of control and oppression on our sisters and children. So much for the rise of feminism and equal rights in this country – our violent landscape looks more dire than even before.

As Mangosuthu Buthelezi said, the depth of our civilization can be measured by how safe our children are within our society.  Why are over 700 children being sexually abused? That is not a reflection on the crazies in South Africa, that is a reflection on something very, very wrong with our nation as a whole. We need to know why this is happening! Is there not enough medical help or institutions available to put these people away? Are there not enough police officers to lock them up?

And yet these only address what could be done after the act and after the fact.

Why are our women being raped and murdered? Why are our children being pillaged? There is something psychologically <insert curse here> wrong going on here.

We need to leave our safe, feminist spaces. We need to leave our comfort zones and our families. We need to not preach to those who academically already understand all too well the subjects of masculinity and feminism in South Africa. And we need to start infiltrating the rest of the country. We need to break down cultural beliefs that allow women and children to be subject to such horrors. We need to not let religion and belief be an excuse for patriarchy. We need to teach our people right from wrong.

When the number of sexual offences against children is zero , when rape has dropped to zero, when children aren’t going missing and when women aren’t being murdered, I’ll contemplate being PC again. But for now I’m one pissed off feminist and I’m ready for war.

Media as parents to our young.

By Rethabile Mashale

When I was growing up my grandmother used to say: “behave or I will help you meet your maker”. A powerful warning coming from a fierce Sotho woman raising 2 granddaughters. I invoke this memory of my late grandmother because it reminds me of a time when children were children and adults used to care and nurture them, guide them in their growth and reprimand them in their deviant behaviour.

Today I watch my six-year-old cousin growing up in front of the TV and listening only to what she sees on the TV set. She shakes her little body along to music videos, sings along to most songs on MTV and Trace, dances to all the dance moves on Jika Majika and can name most celebrities.  She wears make up and will walk the whole day in high-heeled shoes because it’s part of the outfit. Similarly her 16-year-old sister is addicted to the small screen. She watches Gossip Girl, Teen Wolf and Pretty Little Liars to name but a few. The 16-year-old calls herself a clothes addict and a Fashionista, whatever that means. She sleeps with make up on, just in case there is a fire in the middle of the night and has to suddenly run outside and be seen by people.

In watching a few episodes of Gossip Girl and the other teen series out there, I have become “schooled” in what young people are consuming.  These days to be  “cool” or the IT girl, you have to be mean-spirited, devious, fashionable, a reckless binge drinker and use whatever means you have to get what you want. At times sex is used as a commodity to achieve social status and to prove one’s worth.

What concerns me is not that they both watch TV and are blessed with the ability to imitate and parrot off all the songs they hear. I am concerned about the content that they are exposed to, the images they aspire to and the language that they now use. They watch videos of girls clad in next to nothing, the songs contain messages about sex and the TV series are mainly about sex and competition for status.

The media has sexualised the female body for decades, even with the advances made by many women. The female body is still a commodity and treated as a blank canvas used to sell sex and particular lifestyles.  The human body, particularly the female body, is more of an advertising space now than ever before.

South Africa as a nation has fallen privy to the influences of international media and programmes, our music is internationally influenced, our music videos are girls in bikini’s shaking their booty, our shows are based on international formats and more recently our local SABC’s air mainly international programmes. Images of sex are found in magazines, advertising campaigns and drama series, we are bombarded with sexual images every day. We subscribe to pay channels, buy magazines and leave them lying around where children can access them.

In the changing climate of parenthood and the ever-increasing “new age” parenting styles, children have become more vulnerable than ever to the influences of the media. Young girls aspire to these sexualised images they see on TV and parents sit helplessly as their children are raised by the media.

Little 6-year-old bodies now wear skinny jeans, fashion blazers and ankle boots, carry hand bags and own cellphones.

16-year-olds have strong opinions about everything; do what they want, when they want, go to school in tiny little skirts and cyber-bully each other on social networks. Parents have become helpless spectators in the shaping and growth of their own children. This to the detriment of children who are the custodians of the future. We are raising future generations that are conceited, conniving, materialistic, superficial, insecure and sexualised.

I am sick and tired of watching our children become sexualised beings with no sense of their worth in the world. Their self definitions have turned into what the Serena’s and Blair Waldorf’s are dictating. Their bodies are taking strain from being shaken like the Beyonce’s, Rihanna’s and Shakira’s of this world. As for my cousins, in the absence of strong women like my grandmother in their lives, I worry about the type of women they will become.  I am a pissed off sister, aunt, future mother and I choose to ACT and intercept this sexualisation of our children.

Have R100 extra per month? Invest it here.


The Nkanyezi Stimulation Centre for Children with mulitple disabilities is the only one of its kind in Soweto, Johannesburg. They care for 55 children on a daily basis, encouraging them to become self-sufficient.

But, the Centre is running short of funds, and needs support. They’ve developed a nice information pack about their needs, and a tax certificate which enables you to get all the money you donate returned to you via tax.

If you have R100 extra to spend every month, then this seems like a perfect place to do invest it.

For more information about their needs check out this doc:Star Supporters Club

And to fill in a form and become a Star Supporter, click here: Nkanyezi Stars Supporters Club Tax Certificate information and contact form