Though women have often been granted legislative rights, it is clear that men who hold tightly to power in Africa.

Yet, power is more complex than one over the other, and in our lived experiences we are able to engage with ideas of what it means to be powerful, who has the power, and what our power is for.

What’s clear is that discussions of feminism must come with discussions of power – racial power, sexual power, the power of the voice, gender power, mainstream power, political power, and the power of feminist critique. Every single situation in our lives is imbued with power.

As women, we have exercised our power historically, both in mass mobilisation and in micro-level protest and change within the home, workplace, and media. We know what it means to feel powerful, and also what it is like to be disempowered and powerless.

This September, I invite all of you to write in and tell us your thoughts on power. Send in your fiction (max 2000 words), non-fiction (1000 words), interviews (1000 words), poetry, or pictures of your artwork and they’ll be posted on the blog. Send them all in, with a photograph of yourself and a three line bio, and your social media details to:


Also, keep your eyes on the site for pieces from Rebecca Hodes (SA), Tammy Sutherns (SA), Rosa Lyster (SA), Lizl Morden (SA), Njoki Wamai (Kenya), Kagure Mugo (Kenya) and Marion Stevens (SA).

Keep up the good work feminists!


Female State of the Nation: The health issues we should be concerned about

By Rebecca Hodes, Marion Stevens, and Jen Thorpe

Marion Stevens
Marion Stevens

Marion: The State of the Nation speech happened last week and despite a number of health challenges continuing to face South Africans, far less was said about this than would have been the ideal. In fact, more was said about the Rhino protection programme.

Within health the broad epidemics of HIV, Tuberculosis (TB), Violence against women (VAW) and substance abuse were noted and plans to remedy these through antiretroviral Treatment (ART) and TB treatment programmes, speaking out against VAW and tobacco control were proposed.

As I was digesting this input the face of a black woman with a bruised face surfaced repeatedly on my media platforms, following her expulsion from the House in the EFF scuffle. This disconnect was jarring.

In my area of focus (reproductive justice) women, and in particular black women, continue to bear the brunt of ill health in South Africa. We need leadership and the implementation of our good policies in order to truly transform the lives of women accessing reproductive health services. Schools need to provide comprehensive sexuality education and provide condom access (both female and male). We also need to continue Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination programmes to reduce the risk that women will contract cervical cancer late in life.

Women and girls need information about the range of contraception options available and to be able to have a conversation with a health provider and choose the method that is most suitable for them. Should contraception fail and a pregnancy takes place women should have access to HIV testing and also have access to a safe and legal abortion and not have to have to resort to an illegal provider. Maternal health programmes need to continue to welcome women and to provide them with good information about their pregnancy and planned delivery.

The Department of Health needs to strengthen it’s work on sexual and reproductive health and rights and the leadership needs to refrain from using misinformed language that suggests that women use abortion as a form of contraception. Commodities, supplies in relation to reproductive health from female condoms to IUCDS need to be strengthened. These suggestions are not new, our Department of Health has fabulous policies, but little leadership and stewardship to implement them.

Are Rhino’s more important than the health of women in South Africa?

Rebecca Hodes
Rebecca Hodes

Rebecca:  There is good news and bad news.

The good news:

By the end of 2010, over 1 million people in South Africa had been initiated on ART (Republic of South Africa 2010). By 2013, this figure had escalated to 2 010 340 adults reported to be receiving ART in South Africa’s public health services (UNAIDS 2013: A86). The expansion in ART provision was testament to the efficacy of a broad-based alliance of healthcare workers, patients, activists, researchers, government officials, donors and other partners who continue to collaborate in the expansion and improvement of the national HIV response. South Africa’s ART programme has begun to reverse the precipitous decline in life expectancy, wrought by AIDS mortality, that came to characterise South African demography in the late 1990s. Due to the provision of ART, life expectancy in South Africa has increased by six years, and mortality among children and adults has declined by 43% and 20% respectively (Mayosi et al, 2012). By 2010, the life expectancy of patients initiating ART was around 80% of normal life expectancy (Johnson et al. 2013: 5).

The bad news:

The structural factors that increase vulnerability to HIV infection and transmission pose persistent challenges to the progress in South Africa’s health sector, and to the democratic transition more broadly. These factors are manifest in enablers of HIV infection, including unemployment, alcohol abuse and gender violence. While health and social interventions to diagnose, treat and manage HIV have provided some of the services necessary to address the needs of patients, the deep-seated determinants of risk and resilience towards HIV infection in South Africa have remained largely intact.

In South Africa’s struggle for public access to treatment, the attention of health care workers and activists was focused on initiating patients onto antiretroviral treatment. Now that South Africa has the world’s largest cohort of patients on antiretrovirals, we must confront the challenges posed by sustaining a massive public health intervention at a time in which resources for health are declining and there is donor fatigue for funding HIV treatment programmes (Mills et al., 2010).

The stigma surrounding HIV remains prohibitive, preventing the vast majority of HIV-positive people from disclosing their status openly and publicly. While antiretroviral treatment has saved the lives of many, recent studies have shown that, contrary to the expectations of public health specialists, the public provision of treatment has not alleviated HIV stigma in South Africa.

While the fight for public access to ART has won numerous gains for women, the primary focus on their health outcomes as mothers, and the related prioritisation by public health specialists, donors and activists of Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) initiatives, has shifted attention away from other reproductive health rights. Health interventions that have prioritised treatment for women as mothers has placed primary value on their reproductive capacity rather than their individual health outcomes (Eyakuze, Jones, Starrs & Sorkin, 2008, p. 33).

In spite of the requirement in many healthcare settings that HIV-positve women accept contraception as a pre-requisite for access to ART, social sanctions and individual factors compelling people to become parents continue to play a formative role in the reproductive choices of people with HIV. If the roll-out of ART is to continue to improve the health outcomes of women in Southern Africa, sexual and reproductive health must be repositioned at the centre of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.

South Africa has among the highest rates of rape and sexual assault in the world, but research has shown that very few women report rape or seek healthcare services after being raped or assaulted.[i] Survivors of rape and sexual assault have the right to free medical advice and medications, as stated in the Sexual Offences Act (2007).

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

Jen: In terms of mentioning women specifically, the 2015 SONA limited itself to describing the fact that ‘some progress had been made in fighting crimes against women and children.’ Whilst that can be debated in other platforms, what is important to consider for women’s health is the very strong linkages between violence against women and HIV and sexually transmitted infection contraction.

In addition to what Rebecca describes above, the links between violence and HIV have been well documented by the World Health Organisation and can be summarised as follows:

  • rape and sexual violence usually result in trauma to women’s genitalia, increasing the likelihood of contracting HIV and other viruses;
  • sexual abuse in childhood has been linked to risky sexual behaviour in adulthood, increasing the chances that an individual will contract HIV;
  • violence or fear of violence can reduce the likelihood that a woman feels safe or empowered to negotiate condom use;
  • violence or fear of violence, in addition to societal stigma and the gendering of disease, can make it less likely for women to go for HIV and other STD testing; and
  • violence can make it less likely for women to go for antenatal testing when pregnant, thus reducing the efficacy and reach of programmes designed to prevent mother to child transmission.

Sonke Gender Justice recently called for a National Strategic Plan on violence against women, and this is a call that bears serious consideration.

Another element that was left out of the State of the Nation was South Africa’s extremely high maternal mortality rate, and the fact that over the past years this has only reduced marginally. South Africa is far off from achieving the maternal mortality rate set by the Millennium Development Goals as made clear in Part 1 of this series. The leading causes of death were non-pregnancy related infection (most often HIV related illnesses) and high blood pressure. It seems essential then that the outreach of maternal health services should be widely expanded.

Our teen pregnancy rates also remain high. Early pregnancy has long term impacts on the lives of girls, and because of patriarchal gender norms continues to impact on girls education and life choices far more than it does on boys. In addition, the number of pregnancies that happen in school should be a serious concern as many of these are legally rape. Where healthy consensual sexual activity happens between adolescents, problems with the legislation around sexual offences have the impact of limiting adolescents access to sexual and reproductive health services, making it more likely that they will not seek treatment for sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. Possible amendments to this legislation are currently before the Portfolio Committee on Justice. This must be addressed as soon as possible.

The State of the Nation will never be the speech that will solve all women’s health problems. However, there was certainly more space available to address these significant challenges than was used.

Female State of the Nation: Part 4: Crime and Human Rights

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 ‘Where are We’, Part 2 ‘Women and the Economy‘, Part 3: ‘Energy and the Environment

As South Africans it seems that it is impossible to go a day without seeing a news headline of a violent attack in some form. Between 2006 and 2013, more than one million crimes were committed against women. Common assault was the most common contact crime, followed by assault with the intent to commit grievous bodily harm. The Table below provides a breakdown of the SAPS statistics.

But before you get there, statistics of this scale are often hard to process. It’s difficult to imagine what more they represent. So when you see these numbers, I want you to think of the images you know of the 1956 women’s march that changed our history. In that march, there were roughly 20 000 women.

Crimes against women 2006 – 2013[1]

Year Murder Sexual Offences Serious assault (assault GBH) Common assault Total
2006/7 2 602 34 816 69 132 100 390 206 940
2007/8 2 544 31 328 64 084 94 286 192 242
2008/9 2 436 30 124 61 509 91 390 185 459
2009/10 2 457 36 093 62 143 94 176 194 869
2010/11 2 594 35 820 60 630 89 956 189 000
2011/12 2 286 31 299 57 345 87 191 178 121
2012/13 2 266 29 928 55 320 83 394 170 908
Total for crime category 2006 – 2013 17 185 229 408 430 163 640 783 1 317 539

It’s unfortunate that the crime statistics are not reported in a gender-disaggregated way each year that would allow us to track what types of crimes women are reporting. In 2012/13 however, the SAPS did report in this way, as detailed in the table above. In that year, adult females were more likely than adult males and children to be the victim of sexual offences and common assault. In terms of the total number of crimes, sexual offences against adult females represented 45 percent of all sexual offences, and common assault against adult females represented 48 percent of all common assaults.

So it’s clear that women are more likely to report certain types of crimes – namely sexual offences and common assaults. It’s possible to conclude that these common assaults represent some of the domestic violence statistics which, although tracked daily by the SAPS, have never been reported on.

It is important therefore for those listening to SONA to consider what commitments have been made to women in terms of protecting them from crime both outside and within the home. In the 2014 SONA the only commitment made was that the Government would ‘work to reduce levels of crime’. Following the deaths of Anene Booysen, Anni Dewani, and Reeva Steenkamp, a great deal of noise was made by many Government representatives from all parties about the need to address crimes against women. But now that noise has become an almost inaudible murmur.

Two years ago the Government via the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities launched the National Council on Gender Based Violence (NCGBV). This council was formed to address and monitor high levels of violence against women, as well as to consider strategies to prevent further violence. During 2014, after finalising its identity, the Council seemed to disappear. Another commitment made was the development of new sexual offences courts and the refurbishment of existing courts to become sexual offences courts. This is another development which seems to have disappeared from the agenda. There is also an inter-ministerial committee on violence against women. Yet, the relevant departments are not working together to improve the lives of survivors in a way that is evident, efficient or speedy enough. If these commitments are not discussed tonight, why not? If there is not sufficient budget for these important services, where is that money being redirected to?

Of course, as I explained in Part 1 a useful term to understand is intersectionality. That is, the intersection of various forms of oppression on different people. With crime and violence, it is true that certain categories of women are more vulnerable.

Sex workers currently face a number of human rights violations because of the criminalisation of the sale of sex in South Africa. These have been well documented by organisations like the Women’s Legal Centre and the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce. Excellent arguments exist for decriminalising sex work, and ensuring that sex workers are able to perform their work without fear of violence from police, and from perpetrators.

Violence against Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women is also prevalent, and there has unfortunately been a move away from South Africa’s active championship of LGBTI rights on the continent. The National Task Team on Hate Crimes was formed in 2011, and since then the Department of Justice has made several commitments to introduce new legislation to support LGBTI victims of violence. However, four years later this has not happened. This failure to amend existing legislation to enhance sentences for hate crimes, or to introduce new legislation that will effectively allow for the tracking of these incidents and the prevention thereof, is an indication of a lack of political will to really support the right to be free from discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation. South Africa’s failure to criticise other African states for ‘anti-gay’ laws indicates that we have moved back from the leadership role on these issues. In 2014, a transgender woman undertook a hunger strike after Home Affairs repeatedly failed to assist her in changing the sex status on her ID document.

This is not the time to be inactive or complacent about violence against women. There is a need to identify this as a core issue in tonight’s SONA, and if not, to question how the problem will be addressed in the 2015/16 period.



[1] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013) Page 770.

Female State of the Nation: Part 3: Energy and the Environment

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 – ‘Where are we’ here, and Part 2 ‘Women and the economy’ here

It seems important that I’m sitting in my living room in the dark during load-shedding trying to finish this portion of the SONA analysis on the environment and energy. It couldn’t be much clearer to me that the decisions that the State makes about how we produce and distribute our energy impact on women, particularly those that are already facing other challenges such as poverty.

What does it mean for women when the lights go out, or to have never been connected to electricity in the first place?

In public, it means dark streets, intersections, public transport routes, and footpaths. Any woman reading this does not need any further detail about the sense that this darkness is inherently dangerous, and limits women’s ability to enjoy their Constitutional right to move freely, and to be free from violence. Part four of this series will deal with crime and human rights, and so I will not belabor the point further in this section.

As noted earlier in this series of posts, the NDP makes clear that access to basic services and human rights such as safe drinking water, electricity, and quality childhood education could “free women from doing unpaid work and help them seek jobs.” As already discussed in the section on women and the economy, women’s economic empowerment is critical to the development and well being of the entire family.

Across South Africa, around a third of households do not have access to electricity. When there is load shedding or no electricity, households must use alternative energy sources to prepare food and heat water. As of 2011, according to the census, only 26 percent of households in informal settlements used electricity as their main form of energy for heating, 39 percent used electricity for cooking, and 43 percent used electricity for lighting. In 2011, 57 percent of all households classified as “informal dwellings” (shacks not in backyards) had no access to electricity at all.

According to the 2010 survey of time use, women were twice as likely as men to spend time on food preparation and where electricity is not available, this is likely to take much longer, placing further domestic strain on women. In addition, a Housing Development Agency Report noted that female-headed households in informal settlements are more likely to be overcrowded and house skip generation families, as well as non-family residents, creating an even more extensive burden on these women.

There are multiple risks of using these alternative sources of energy to cook and heat the home. A 2009 World Health Organisation bulletin noted that because paraffin is highly flammable, this can lead to fires either from malfunctioning appliances, placing appliances too close to curtains, or accidents. In addition, the use of paraffin in wooden or cardboard structures, as well as in population dense areas means the risk of fire is further escalated

The energy crisis in South Africa is at the forefront of many of our minds because of the inability to flick a switch and turn on a light. What may seem a more distant issue is the impact of our energy decisions on women in the long term. I think it’s important then to explore what climate change means for women, and how South Africa’s current energy decisions are likely to increase our contribution to climate change and are already affecting the health of many South Africans.

It is well documented that in times of environmental crisis women are often hardest hit. This has been recognized by women’s organisations and institutions for many years: Women and the Environment was one of the 12 areas of critical concern acknowledged in the Beijing Platform for Action developed in 1995. The document states that:

“Awareness of resource depletion, the degradation of natural systems and the dangers of polluting substances has increased markedly in the past decade. These worsening conditions are destroying fragile ecosystems and displacing communities, especially women, from productive activities and are an increasing threat to a safe and healthy environment.”

In South African policy this has also been acknowledged. The NDP notes that climate change will have a negative effect on the health of communities, and that this will disproportionately impact women and children.[1]

It was positive that the 2014 State of the Nation speech called for

” a radical transformation of the energy sector, to develop a sustainable energy mix that comprises coal, solar, wind, hydro, gas and nuclear energy.”

And yet, simultaneously there continued to be investment in coal power at the expense of our renewable electricity infrastructure, and at the expense of the health and livelihoods of many South Africans, many of whom are women.

The impact of these decisions on the health of the population is not something that will only happen in the future. It is already happening. The environmental impact is not only a long term, but current. Witbank in Mpumalanga has the world’s dirtiest air. In The Poisoned People Greenpeace Africa details the stories of the people who live around coal mines, many of whom who are already suffering from respiratory problems as well as other health conditions.

There continues to be this push for coal despite the fact that it already results in hundreds of deaths per year as a result of air pollution, and this could increase when (if) Medupi comes online. This could be as high a figure as 20 000 premature deaths. Eskom has consistently exceeded air quality limits on pollution, and yet in 2014 applied for the right not to comply with Minimum Emission Standards. There continues to be this push for coal despite it becoming a massive financial burden for the State, and it being well over budget. Eskom continues to get State bail outs that could be invested in renewable energy which is labour intensive, will reduce South Africa’s contribution to climate change, and will not have the same devastating health impact that coal is having. It is important then, to listen to SONA tomorrow to consider whether

The decision to continue to invest in environmentally damaging energy production methods such as fracking, rather than redirect investment towards greener energy will impact on women. Other than the aesthetic destruction of environments, fracking is an incredibly water intense activity. Even if the well-documented risks of groundwater pollution do not happen in South Africa, we are a water scarce country. Where water is not readily available, or in times of drought, again the impact on women’s domestic responsibilities is significant.

In addition, around 16 000 women are involved in the formal agricultural sector[i], and many more are involved in informal agriculture in order to meet the food security needs of their families. Women already face additional obstacles to becoming involved in agriculture (such as access to technology and finance), and climate change will only heighten these challenges. Thus, a drought or an impact on the ground water because of pollution will have a profound impact on women in terms of job losses, and food insecurity. This is already happening in countries bordering and near to South Africa.

Our future energy decisions, proposed and discussed in the State of the Nation, will continue have a profound impact on women. As you listen to the speech tomorrow, consider how the decisions about energy and the environment could impact on women.

If women are not mentioned at all in this regard, as has frequently been the case, it is likely that their interests will not be considered. It is clear that any further decisions about our energy future should be made only with specific consultation with women’s interest groups, in order to ensure that our energy and environmental policies are gender-sensitive, and in line with the Constitution which provides every South African with the right to have an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing, and to have it protected for future generations to come.

[1] NDP

[2] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013). Page 252, 253

Female State of the Nation Part 2: The Economy and Women

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 here.

State of the Nation Speeches often begin with a discussion of the economic situation. So that is where Part 2 of this series will enter the discussion.

Women make up the majority of the unemployed across all age categories, but particularly amongst the youth.[1] What is interesting about this figure is that whilst unemployment in general has grown, and simultaneous the number of employed people has grown (as the population grows, this happens), the percentage gap between the number of employed males and females has remained the same.[2] Essentially, what this statistic tells us is that there continue to be barriers for women entering the job market, and these barriers affect men less than they do women.

These barriers are complex and differ for women from different backgrounds. Whilst the official SONA is likely to refer to the infamous triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment, for women there are often more than three factors affecting their ability to find employment, and to remain employed. Academics use the term ‘intersectionality’ to explain how different forms of oppression intersect to create different lived experiences for women, and I think this is a useful term to use here.

The NDP itself notes that patriarchal attitudes remain a barrier for many women. In the old days this might be reflected in a saying like ‘why hire a woman to do a man’s job’. Currently, economic chauvinists are required to keep these opinions to themselves. However, there remain sectors of the South African economy where women are the minority, and often women encounter a glass ceiling to their progress. Most women who were employed in 2013 were involved in trade or in community and social services (including government).[3] As of 2012, only 3.6 percent of Chief Executive Officers were women and 5.5 percent of Chairpersons were women.[4]

Patriarchal attitudes also reinforce stereotypical gender roles meaning that women remain responsible for the majority of household work, even when they are employed.[5] The annual average income figures indicate an even more significant gap between men and women. When the 2001 and 2011 annual income figures of men and women are compared, it is clear that the annual average income of a female in 2011 remains only slightly higher than the annual average income of a male was in 2001.[6]

The NDP also recognises that the provision of basic services to women improves their ability to be healthy and supported workers. The NDP notes that basic services and human rights such as safe drinking water, electricity, and quality childhood education could “free women from doing unpaid work and help them seek jobs.” I would further suggest that the development of better transportation infrastructure that is safe, well-lit, and regular would mean that women would not have to brave violence in public on their way to and from work. In addition, I strongly suggest the consideration of equitable paternity and maternity leave so that the gendered division of child care is reduced, allowing new mothers and fathers to raise children together, and support one another during their careers.

We can all agree that unemployment is a bad situation for everyone and that solutions are necessary for both men and women, so why should we care specifically about unemployed women? For a number of reasons. Evidence suggests that around 38 percent of households in South Africa are headed by a single mother.[7] The education of women also affects women in the future – educated mothers are more likely to have healthier babies, and their own children are more likely to attend school.[8] Women’s education and resultant economic empowerment not only affects women, it profoundly changes the gendered functioning of the economy and society.

Furthermore, ensuring that women have access to their own income can mean the difference between leaving a violent relationship and staying. In a response to a 2013 Parliamentary Question, the Department of Justice reported that around 50 percent of women who dropped their domestic violence case did so because they were financially dependent on their abusive partner. Where patriarchal norms remain the norm, and where violence is readily used by many partners to ensure women are ‘put in their place’, the decision of the state to ignore the feminisation of poverty will mean that they relegate women to remain punching bags for the crisis of masculinity.

So women’s economic empowerment is essential to the development of democracy, and to a more equal situation for many people in the country. This is certainly something the Government has recognized, given the fact that the Department of Women in the Presidency has shifted its focus exclusively to this topic as announced in the 2014 State of the Nation Address. Whilst it is positive that more emphasis will be put on this element of women’s lives, it is certainly not the only topic that requires the attention of the Department, and the assumption that other Departments are mainstreaming women’s issues is problematic. In addition, it is not clear that any real progress in this regard has been made by the new Department from a casual observation of the Department’s work since May 2014. In the 2015 SONA it will be important to consider how women’s issues are being dealt with by other departments, and if they are not mentioned, whether any action will happen on them at all.


[1] Statistics SA (2014a). National and Provincial labour market: Youth. Pretoria, Statistics South Africa.

[2] Statistics South Africa (2014b). Gender Series Volume 1: Economic Empowerment 2001 – 2014. Pretoria, Statistics South Africa.

[3] South African of Race Relations (2013). South Africa Survey. Page 240.

[4] Businesswomen Association of South Africa (2012). Women in Leadership Survey.

[5] The 2011 household survey.

[6] Statistics South Africa (2012). Census.

[7] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013) Page 660.

[8] UNICEF (2014) The State of the World’s Children 2014

Female State of the Nation: Part 1: Where are we?

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

This State of the Nation is one that asks you, for a few moments, to consider to some information about the majority of South Africans. Some information about the biggest population group that is not a racial or religious group. This State of the Nation asks ‘what is the problem’ and ‘what can we do next’. This State of the Nation is about women.

If, at this point, you are not convinced that women make up a significant constituency, let me present you with some very simple facts. Women made up 51.3 percent of the population at the time of the 2011 census that was some 27 million females across the country. At that time 55 percent of females in South Africa were under the age of 29 years. African women make up the vast majority of women in South Africa, with 21 676 341 recorded in the 2011 census.[1]

So when you think about what the President says tomorrow, you need to be asking yourself, what does this mean for women? Have the decisions about budget, and planning considered the needs of this group? How are women being included or excluded?

It is typical to begin speeches like SONA by acknowledging whereabouts in our democratic process we are. I think this context is important not only to reflect how far we’ve come but to remind ourselves to ask where we are going, and whether we are taking steps forward or backwards.

On 11 February we celebrate 25 years since the release of Nelson Mandela from Prison. Nelson Mandela once said

“freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”

This remains true today.

In 2014 we celebrated the 20th year since our first democratic election, in addition, with the elections in May last year, we ushered in the 5th democratic government. In 2016 we will celebrate local government elections, as well as 20 years since the Constitution was drafted.

The South Africa Constitution forms the foundation for the many pieces of positive and empowering legislation that have emerged both to actively promote women’s rights, and to protect women from those who wish to infringe on them. It is celebrated around the world as a law that is progressive, and prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender and sex. Without this powerful and brave commitment it is almost certain that the lives of all women in South Africa would be worse.

The Constitution also establishes the critical Chapter 9 institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality. These institutions, once empowered oversight bodies with the power to recommend changes in the various spheres of government have, sadly, in the recent past have begun to be hamstrung by a political culture that sees criticism as an attack, rather than as something which helps inspire growth and improvement, and has failed to act on the recommendations of these bodies, and failed to allocate them sufficient funding to perform the massive tasks they are required to. Institutions supporting democracy are not add-ons, but part of the very core work of building the country that was envisioned by the drafters of the Constitution, and all those who worked to end apartheid.

2015 is also the year that the Millennium Development Goals targeted as their year of completion. Goal 3 relates to the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. South Africa’s performance in the goals that relate to women has varied. We have met the goal of achieving universal primary education (Goal 2), but lack information on the attendance ratio and survival rates of girls. The second indicator for this goal is the share of women in wage employment, outside of the agricultural sector. In South Africa, women outnumber men in the occupations of clerks, technicians, and domestic work. In all other fields men outnumber women. Thus, the share of women outside of the agricultural sector remains lower than the target.[2] The third indicator for this goal is the proportion of seats held by women in National Parliament. As of the 1 May 2014, South Africa was ranked 5th in the world in terms of gender representation at a Parliamentary level.[3] However, it is worth noting that the number of women in the National Assembly has decreased since the 2009 – 2014 administration (the number of women in the National Council of Provinces has increased slightly).[4] In addition, the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces are both women.

Millennium Development Goal 5 was to improve maternal health for women with two primary goals of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent and achieving universal access to reproductive health care. In fact, between 1990 and 2015 South Africa’s maternal mortality ratio has only decreased slightly, with the Department of Health estimating that 176 women die per 100 000 live births.[5] Of serious concern is that most of these deaths are determined to have been preventable by the Department of health.[6] In terms of achieving universal access to reproductive health this is often measured by contraceptive prevalence and adolescent birth rate, among other indicators. Both of these measures do not paint a good picture for the achievement of these goals, with couple year protection rates around 31.4 percent in 2009.[7] Between 2001 and 2011 the adolescent birth rate declined by a mere 1.7 percent, and a total of 113 240 babies were born to mothers between 15 and 19 years old in 2011. [8]In terms of successes, the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel has increased[9] though this does still vary between rural and urban areas.[10] Since 2003, great improvement in the coverage of antenatal care has been made.[11] By 2005, 97 percent of all women across South Africa accessed antenatal care when pregnant.[12] By 2011 this figure was 100.6 percent and thus South Africa met the target of at least one antenatal visit.[13] The percentage in excess of 100 percent reflects non-South Africans using antenatal care services.

Although we have made progress, we will not meet all Millennium Development Goals that will improve women’s lives. It will be important then to consider the State of the Nation in terms of the Post-2015 agenda, and how South Africa as a country will ensure that these goals are met, sooner rather than later.

The National Development Plan (NDP), South Africa’s blueprint for how things will look fifteen years from now, makes commitments to women’s rights in a number of sections. One of the six priorities of the Plan is to reunite South Africans around common values, especially those of the Constitution. It recognizes the progress women have made, whilst also acknowledging that patriarchal attitudes continue to stymie their progress.

The NDP makes a number of recommendations to address this persistent inequality[14], including the transformation of the economy, the celebration of women leaders; addressing social, cultural, religious and educational barriers to women entering the job market; making South Africa safer, ensuring security of tenure for female farmers; improving the health of pregnant women; improving the coverage of antiretroviral treatment to all HIV-positive people, and offering microbicides to all women 16 years and older. These are not small tasks, and the NDP allocates them to the Department of Women and to the Commission for Gender Equality. I will return to a critique of the Department of Women later, but what is important in considering these commitments is that as you listen to the State of the Nation tomorrow, you listen out to hear whether any of these commitments are mentioned, or any plans to support them are introduced.

The broad commitments made by the NDP have, for the next five years, been refined in the Medium Term Strategic Framework 2014 – 2019, the MTSF. In terms of Outcome 14, by the 2015/16 policies aimed making families better able to foster values such as tolerance, diversity, non-racialism, non-sexism and equity via the development of a draft strategy to strengthen the family should be drafted.

The truth is that despite the beautiful laws we have on paper, the policy commitments that originate from Government, and the fact that things have improved since democracy came into effect, twenty years in, many women are feeling short changed. Many women are feeling afraid. Many women are feeling angry. As I continue now, I would like to say that I think all of these feelings are legitimate.

This State of the Nation will take a number of parts, the next one being the State of the female economy. I hope that you read them all, and use them to consider whether it is sufficient to exclude women any longer.


[1] Statistics South Africa (2013). Census.

[2] South African Institute of Race Relations 2013. South Africa Survey. Page 252, 253

[3] The Inter-Parliamentary Union (2014).

[4] Levendale, C (2014).

[5] Department of Health (2012).

[6] The World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, UNFPA, The World Bank, and United Nations Population Division (2013)

[7] Ibid.

[8] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013). Page 47.

[9] The National Coordinating Committee for the Millennium Development Goals (2013).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] NDP Overview, page 43.

For any clarity on any references here, feel free to contact us on feministssa@gmail.com

Harfield Village: The bold and the befok

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

I moved to Harfield Village in April last year. For a little village that basically lies between two roads (Imam Haron and Kenilworth Road) this place has a lot of issues.

During the time I’ve lived here I’ve witnessed two domestic violence assaults in the street whilst others walked by. The first, described here, was in June and when I called the police, they didn’t respond. On many occasions since I’ve since seen this couple still walking the streets together, their faces set in grim determination. My heart breaks a little every time.

The second, described briefly in the first, second and last stanzas of this poem, happened in September and resulted in the most drawn out interaction with the Claremont police station a person can ever imagine. Suffice to say: they didn’t have the right documents, didn’t want to take a statement, tried to put her in the back of the van with her abuser, refused to open a case, told her she’d never report, didn’t have a printer to give me a copy of my statement, lost my statement, made me give my statement again at another station, lost that somehow, and never really resolved the issue of the failure to give people copies of their statement several months later. This attack was also witnessed by two builders, less than five metres away from the couple, who did nothing, and then verbally abused me the next day for shouting at them for doing nothing. ‘Who the f**k did I think I was to ask them to stop him from hitting her?’ Um, a human being.

Also during this time I have witnessed an elderly white man set his dog on two young black women walking back from Rosmead Spar one evening. The dog viciously barked at and attacked the screaming women before the old white man gently whistled and it ran into his property. He walked in, no sound at all, while the women were left to recover their wits. When I confronted him about why he had done this and had not apologised to the two ladies, his response was ‘I didn’t see any ladies.’ I called my councillor, Mr Kempthorne, who suggested that I read the animal bylaws to see if the old man had done anything wrong (in general, I think this was probably something he should have known, and also general racism isn’t in the animal bylaws, but anyway). In fact, this angry old white dude had infringed by having a dangerous dog without a leash walking around so I delivered a copy of the bylaws, highlighted, to his mailbox, and Mr Kempthorne also asked his office to send someone to talk to the man. Despite my angry eyeballing of his house whenever I walk past, I have seen no more of this racist white man and his dog. But I’m sure he’s still in there.

Also during this time I have been called to a community meeting to discuss ‘security concerns’ where it was clear some form of collusion between the village association and a major security service provider had happened, and where community protests at the exclusion of smaller service providers were met with shut downs from the Chairman of the HVA (but only after he’d asked us if we wouldn’t mind giving a donation because he’d actually spent quite a lot of our annual fees on hiring the venue and the sound equipment). As those of us who thought this meeting a laughing stock walked out, we were threatened with the idea that ‘if we didn’t do something now crime would only get worse.’ A week later, after making the news for this general circus, the security tender was revised, and somehow they all managed to work together in a non-collusive way to protect us all. For a small monthly fee.

So, if what happens outside the houses of Harfield is anything to go by, it is a pretty complicated place full of racism, security threats, inefficient policing, domestic violence, and a bunch of white dudes making decisions for all of us. If that isn’t bad enough, let’s explore what happens inside the homes of Harfield. The easiest way to do this, is to go online.

A few months after living here I was alerted to the existence of the Harfield Village Association closed Facebook Group. Whilst I thought the assault of Cynthia Joni nearby was enough of an example of the racism, classism and sexism that prevails in this community, I was not fully alerted to the unashamed commitment to these beliefs until I encountered this ill-moderated page. On this page, ostensibly set up so the members of Harfield can talk about the community, build community projects, and share information about great service providers in the area, things only get worse. It appears that in fact, inside their homes, Harfield Villagers (or at least some of them) are even more racist and offensive than they let on outdoors. A summary sentence would be: ‘non-white’ is still a category of person for these people.

Examples include alerting other villagers when there are ‘non-whites’ in the area who are not expected to be there (this of course doesn’t happen if those ‘non-whites’ are gardening, cleaning, taking away rubbish, within strict areas, so you can see which house they belong to, in which instances the village welcomes them) or coming up with creative solutions to homeless people asleep on the pavement (see this post, where a suggestion includes ‘let’s tar over them’). This is also a site to sex-worker spot, and to alert other villagers to the general deterioration of the social fabric as referenced by the presence of women making a living (I saw one having sex in the park! says one resident). When I proposed a community discussion on the topic of sex work, of course the resident who had started the whole complaints process said she wouldn’t come (what if she had to realise they were humans!??!). In addition, when the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce approached the Kenilworth councillor to discuss the issue, he refused to engage citing that ‘sex work is a crime’ and we must bring the full force of the law down on sex workers (as an aside, I don’t know any sex workers who work in areas where there are no demands for their service. But I digress..). If you’re interested in supporting the human rights of sex workers, there is a protest march on the 20th to his office organised by SWEAT (Tuesday 20th January, meet at Wynberg Magistrates court at 9am).

The Harfield Village Association page allows what can only be seen as values antithetical to constitutional ones to flourish, unmoderated and without recourse. It should have a tagline ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’.

At a feminist meeting group the other evening friends and I discussed how the use of social media allows us to curate our realities – we follow people who are often of the same beliefs as us, we google search only things that reinforce our particular world view, we unfriend those Facebook friends who say things we don’t agree with, and essentially what we end up doing is living in a bubble where people are either as liberal or conservative as we are. We begin to believe that most people think like us. This is dangerous because it means we withdraw from spaces where our views are different, and we begin to lose our skill for arguing for the values we hold dear.

The Harfield Village Association page is one place where this appears completely true. As it becomes more an more a site for white middle-class people to voice and echo disdain for anyone other than them, the more liberal members of the area exit, and join the other page ‘The Harfield Youth League.’ This leaves these racist, sexist, awful people to pat each other on the back for a job well done and to continue with their diatribes of exclusion. This leaves them thinking that they are in the majority when they’re inside their homes and this mentality can only spill out onto the streets. I think it’s time for those of us who left the page emotionally scarred and exhausted to take a breath and dive back in (if they’ll accept our request) because there is nothing more true than this quote:

“Silence in the the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor” Ginetta Sagan

Black bodies not for your abuse Osrin

Jen Thorpe, feminism, women, South Africa
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Cape Town swimming coach Tim Osrin was arrested last week when he allegedly beat up a middle-aged domestic worker, Cynthia Joni, in the middle of the day without the two ever having said anything to one another. Osrin was driving his car along a road, saw Joni, and stopped his car to beat her up. She sustained multiple injuries. His explanation for this – he thought she was a prostitute. He is quoted as saying “I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.”

To add fuel to fire, when charges were laid against him, Osrin said that Joni had ‘trumped up the charges’ because he was white, and was probably thinking “here comes my Christmas box.” A petition to Virgin Active to remove Osrin from their team of swimming coaches, and make true their commitments to a non-racist society, was successful. His case has been postponed to 27 November at the Wynberg Magistrates Court.

I think it’s important that we unpack this crime for the very many layers of ‘isms’ and wrong doings based on Osrin’s statements.He reveals particular prejudice about sex workers, black women,

1. “I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.”

If you’re hearing loud sounds it’s because you’ve stepped on a minefield. Unpacking the layers of privilege in this statement could take all day but let’s go step by step.

A: These people:

In this statement Osrin was referring to his belief that Joni was a sex worker. Sex work is criminalised in South Africa. Whilst everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the decriminalisation/legalisation of sex work (if your opinion isn’t an informed one I suggest you engage with SWEAT) there are certain facts that are important. These are:

  • Sex workers are people and have human rights like everyone else including the right to be free from violence.
  • It is not acceptable to assault someone because you disagree with their career.
  • Someone being a sex worker doesn’t mean is not an explanation for someone else’s violence.

The point that Joni is not, in fact, a sex worker is discussed in B below. But even if she was, this doesn’t legitimate his violence.

B: These people in our area:

Osrin never explained why he thought Joni was a prostitute, and it seems the only marker that identified her as one of these people in his area was the fact that she was black. The assumption then is that Osrin had some misplaced belief that black people walking in Kenilworth don’t live there, or work there, and if they do work there it’s as a sex worker. This type of active stupidity is not exclusive to Osrin.

This is linked to the racist patriarchal hypersexualisation of black female bodies, to white male privilege that says women are not allowed to choose what they do with their bodies, and to racism that assumes that black people do not have legitimate space in ‘white’ areas like Tim’s (see D below). All of this, is quite frankly, bullshit and should no longer be tolerated as an explanation or excuse for violence.

Deliberate ignorance should not be seen as a mitigating factor in his case.

C: I just snapped: 

Assault is not a legitimate response to frustration. So the excuse that he snapped, unless he had some sort of mental break that reduced his criminal liability (which I doubt because he was able to drive off in his car, and to give subsequent statements to the media), then he was directly responsible for his choice to beat someone up who had not instigated any violence against him.

If Osrin has in fact ‘snapped’ then he should be admitted for psychiatric evaluation before he can stand trial.

Importantly, it must be made clear in this case that violence against sex workers is unacceptable. Particularly because this type of violence can be considered a hate crime – it is motivated by hatred for sex workers as a group and sends a message to other sex workers that it is not safe in that area.

D: Our area: 

Public spaces, including streets, are, well, public. Anyone is entitled to walk in any area that is not access controlled. So it’s not actually your area Tim, it’s Kenilworth, and Joni has every right to be there.

E: The prevalence of sex workers in Kenilworth as a cause for concern

Sex workers are workers. This means that they often work in places where there is a demand for their services. I’m not quite clear on why this is a problem, and don’t agree that having sex workers in an area automatically brings shame/disgrace to an area.

However, Osrin alleges that the sex workers expose themselves to children in the area, and this is certainly not acceptable and criminal behaviour. In the same way that sex workers are entitled to be in public spaces, children are entitled to live in spaces free from violence. This behaviour, if it is happening, cannot be condoned.

So if Mr Osrin seeks to address the issue, perhaps what would be more useful than assaulting individual women, would be a community dialogue with sex workers, sex worker organisations, community members, etc to discuss why sex work is thought to be a problem, and how the community feels about it, given that sex workers are clearly part of the community.

I think that type of dialogue is an imperative after such an incident of violence, and that it should happen as soon as possible.

2. Here comes my Christmas Box

Osrin’s counter allegation is that Joni is trumping up the extent of her injuries in order to exploit him in some way. This statement points to some racist and sexist assumptions:

  • Black people do not tell the truth – of course, Joni couldn’t just be detailing her injuries.
  • Black people are out to exploit white people and see white people only as a source of personal enrichment – through laying charges, Joni wasn’t trying to achieve justice or prevent Osrin from assaulting other unsuspecting women, but was trying to get money out of him through a court settlement.
  • Women don’t tell the truth – her injuries were probably not as bad as she said they were (if you see the earlier links, he only slapped her once, so ‘any injuries she sustained were a result of her fall’).

These assumptions seek to undermine Joni’s right to report violence against her, and will certainly cause secondary vicitimisation. Women who are abused face discrimination from police often, and their injuries or lack thereof are often commented on in court cases. What is important is that this was a physical assault, and secondly it was an assault to Joni’s dignity.

3. Shock is not enough, we need action

It’s clear that Osrin is a complex guy – he is angry, violent, mistrustful, racist and sexist. Part of ensuring that incidents like this don’t happen again is removing the conditions for their acceptability – addressing the intersectionality (the ways that his various prejudices converged upon a black female body and not a white female body, or a rich black body, or a white male body) that facilitated this abuse. It’s important that stereotypes and racist and sexist assumptions like those that Osrin made are addressed at a community level.

I think it is vital for the Kenilworth, Harfield, Claremont village associations and ward councillors to host a discussion inviting all members of the community to discuss the following:

  • racism
  • violence
  • socioeconomic inequality
  • sex work

And I’m sure a number of other areas. If you live in an area where you face similar issues, then I suggest you contact your councillor and ask for a dialogue.

If you would like to do more, and participate in an event outside the court where Osrin’s case will be held on 27 November you can find details of one here.

Should men contribute to FeministsSA

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

I’ve seen a few images lately that got me thinking about whether FeministsSA should continue to publish posts by men.

I agree that men can be committed to the values of feminism and gender equality. I agree, that they have valuable insights about the way that men can address patriarchy and inequality. What I’m not so sure about is giving them the space to do it here, on FeministsSA, when they should be doing it out there in the world where it actually has more potential to make men uncomfortable. I started thinking about this in relation to this picture.


What it made me think about was the fact that men writing about feminism on FeministsSA.com are essentially preaching to the choir. We’re all going to agree and be receptive to what they’re saying. In essence, it doesn’t disrupt. It doesn’t challenge the chauvinists that are out there on more mainstream websites.

Of course the same goes for women writers writing about feminism. But, FeministsSA was also started to make more space online for women writers to have their say, in an internet that is filled with articles written by men. If FeministsSA becomes a space that gives more space to male writers, is it living up to its aims? I’m not sure it does.

I also thought a lot about this picture.



Feminism does certainly hold that men are capable of more than rampant harassment and sexual denigration. It holds that men can and should do better, and that gender equality will be better for both men and women. The question I wonder about then is ‘If men are only trying to do better in women’s spaces, is that enough?’

I guess what I have started to become uncomfortable with is the ‘exceptional’ essence of what men on feministssa become. They become the good men that are the exceptions, right? They become the men we accept and support. But, are they also saying this stuff to other men? This is what I’m asking. I see that contributors like Gcobani Qambela, Thorne Godinho, and Kameel Premhid are also writing about these issues on other sites like Thoughtleader and News24. This is, I think, more valuable than men contributing to FeministsSA. Because it opens them up to the possibility of challenge and debate from other men – and it is other men that male feminists need to challenge most.

Part of this thinking also stemmed from the #notallmen hashtag and how common it is for men to come to feminist gatherings and feminist spaces and to continue to be the first person to put up their hands or speak the loudest. How they are desperate to assert that they are a ‘good guy’, the exception, and they just want to dominate the space to make sure we as women know how much they support us.  The bottom tweet in this last image sums it up.

notallmen 2

It got me thinking about whether these good guys, and I really do believe that they are good, are also having the difficult discussions in other public spaces about what it means to be a good guy. And whether, by giving male feminists, the good guys, a space on FeministsSA means that they don’t have to do that.

I’m not decided. And so for this week I’d like you to tweet back to FeministsSA using the hashtag #feministssamen and let me know what you think. You can also comment on the blog, or post on the Facebook Page (see the link on the right of the page). Let’s discuss this. Or, vote in the poll at the bottom of the page. And that means you too men.

feminism vs misandry





An ordinary evening


Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

On a Thursday evening not so long ago I decided to stop by Woolies on the way home. I got off the train earlier, got some groceries, and undertook the walk from Claremont to my house in Harfield. I had underestimated the weather. It was howling with wind and I spent most of the journey trying to hold onto my long coat and my shopping bag. It took me longer than usual and so it was darker than I would have liked when I got to the street nearest to my house.

In the distance I saw a couple walking towards me. They were walking beside one another but I could see that they were arguing without being able to hear them. Their body language told me that they were intoxicated. They were stumbling, he in battered down jeans and a muddy jersey, carrying a big bag; her in a grey track suit with a beanie on, hands in her pockets.

As we drew closer to one another, me on one side of the street, them on the other, I could hear their shouts more clearly. They spoke Afrikaans, a language that imbued a ‘fuck you’ with a forceful f and cutting k. He was screaming it at her as she stumbled behind him shouting back. Just as they passed she shouted ‘fuck this. I don’t want to be with you anymore. I don’t want to sleep on the streets. I want to go home.’ I slowed down worried about what was going to happen.

He turned to her, without fear or worry about who was watching, and body slammed her into a four by four. Before I could shout, he stood back and began to kick and knee her in the stomach. His movements and violence seemed practiced, routine, methodical. He didn’t even stop to put down his bag. This was not the first time he had silenced someone by hurting them. This was not the first time he had kicked a woman.

As I shouted and started to cross the road towards them he pulled a bottle from his bag and raised it up to strike her. I was in the middle of the street by this stage and still screaming but he showed no signs of stopping. At that point I experienced time drawn out and elongated. I had a lengthy split second of wondering whether I would keep walking and get between them, and if I did what would happen.

I was saying to myself as my feet kept moving, well at least if I get between them and he hits me, it will be more likely that he would be arrested. After all, he doesn’t know me. The police wouldn’t be able to write it off as a domestic dispute. They wouldn’t be able to ignore his violence as something ‘private’ or ‘explicable’. It would have to be recognized for what it was. Assault.

A car pulled up next to them and a man jumped out. The man withdrew his bottle from above his head. Others came from the restaurants around the street. We all began to shout, telling the man to stop and the woman to walk away. She wanted to follow him. She began to follow him, all the while crying and shouting ‘please phone the police, he hits me all the time. Please’.

The crowd begged her to walk the other way. We moved closer, sensing that the violence was, for this few minutes at least, at bay. We got closer telling her it was her chance to leave and go home. That she shouldn’t follow him. Eventually she turned and started to walk in the direction they had just come from. He, full of bravado, shouted after her, swearing at her all the while. Threatening her.

His bravado angered the crowd, in particular the men who had gathered. They shouted at him to move along, that they would ‘moer’ him if he tried to follow her. I watched the violence and anger in them so easily come forward and wondered where they normally channeled it. I began to call the police, and watched as he turned, now bored with the attention from the onlookers, and slowly walked away.

The police took his description and the name of the road he had walked down. They didn’t take my details before they hung up. I have no idea what happened to either of them. I wonder what happened to her. Did she sleep alone on the streets that night, or did she look for him? Was she able to find shelter?

Women’s shelters and NGOs in the Western Cape and across the country have faced funding cuts for the past few years. Many of them have had to close down or severely restrict the services they provide. One shelter, Sisters Incorporated, ran at a loss in 2011, 2012, and in 2013 operated on only two months worth of reserve costs at any one time. Organisations like Rape Crisis have also publicised frequent financial challenges.

This is not because of competition between NGOS, or because the State is providing sufficient services on its own, but because of severe cut backs in funding to those NGOs from the Government. Between 2010 and 2013, 100 jobs were lost between just 17 organizations. And the job losses are not the only losses – that means that those organizations were not able to deliver full services to the women that needed them. Many survived on the efforts of volunteers and dedicated staff, but what about the ones that had to close down? What happened to all of the women who would have used their services?

MEC cannot ask for an ‘apology’ for the sexual violation of learners

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jennifer Thorpe

This is your chance to show that you take children’s rights seriously and object to the violation of female sexuality in our country, and in our schools.

It is Child Protection Week this week in South Africa. Last week a bloodied condom was found in the girls bathroom at Jordao College, a private school, in Gauteng. Instead of using this as an opportunity to encourage positive and healthy discussions around sexuality, the principal instructed teachers to conduct ‘tests for sexual activity’ on all female learners between grades 10 and 12 (average age at starting grade 10 – 15 years old). The way they chose to do this was to force female learners to remove their underwear so it could be inspected.  Girls were not given a choice.

In South Africa we have clear legislation around virginity testing. A guide by the Children’s Institute at UCT on the Children’s Act makes it quite clear that virginity testing can only be conducted in South Africa under very strict circumstances and by qualified health care professionals.

The guide states:

“The Children’s Act, Section 12(4) prohibits virginity testing of children under the age of 16 years. Anyone who contravenes the prohibition is guilty of an offence and can be fined or imprisoned for 10 years or be given both a fine and a term of imprisonment (section 305(1)(a) and (6)). Virginity testing of children older than 16 may be performed but only under strict conditions that are specified in the Act and the Regulations:

• the child must consent to the test – i.e. it must be the child’s choice

(the child must sign Form 1);

• the test may only be performed after the child has been counselled properly;

• the child’s age must be verified;

• each child should be tested individually and in private;

• the test must be done in a hygienic manner (in particular, a separate pair of sterile surgical gloves must be used for each child);

• only a female can test a girl child and only a male can test a boy child;

• the results of the test may not be disclosed without the child’s consent; and

• after the test, the child’s body may not be marked in anyway (i.e. the outcome of the test must be kept confidential).

It is an offence not to comply with these requirements and a person is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for up to two years in some cases, or even up to 10 years in other cases, or to both a fine and imprisonment.”

Instead of taking decisive action against all those involved in this violation of girls’ dignity, and stigmatisation of female sexuality, the Gauteng MEC for education has simply asked the teachers to write an apology, to the parents of the learners, not even to the girls.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007 also describes the offence of ‘compelled self-sexual assault’ which applies to this situation. It states as Section 7:

“A person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally compels a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, to:  (b) engage in any act which has or may have the effect of sexually arousing or sexually degrading B, is guilty of the offence of compelled self-sexual assault.”

The Act defines consent as follows:

“‘consent’ means voluntary or unforced agreement.”

It is alleged that the girls were not given any choice, and in fact were threatened by teachers. If this is the case then these teachers have committed a crime in terms of the Sexual Offences Act and should be removed from their positions with immediate effect, and charged for the failure to do their duty to protect learners from harm.

Nowhere in the article does it make mention of inspecting the boys and thus this is a clear instance of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence cannot be something that is let off with an apology. That is what we have the law for. It is not acceptable that we continue to allow the violation of children’s rights, especially not in such a critical period as children’s week. The MEC has an opportunity to show South Africa that the Government takes children’s rights seriously.

An apology is not enough. I encourage you to email the MEC and the Gauteng Department of Education (gdeinfo@gauteng.gov.za) and ask him to follow the law in terms of removing the principal, removing those teachers involved in this abuse, and holding all responsible parties accountable. Girls should not face fear when they go to school, and should not wonder about whether their dignity will be violated.

4 Helpful links for elections 2014

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

Compiled by Jen Thorpe

Some of you might be interested in finding out a little bit more about how the election process works, who your representatives currently are, or how people in your neighbourhood are voting. Here are some key links that will be useful to you:

  • How does the electoral system in South Africa work? click here
  • Find out who your representative is via the People’s Assembly website, click here
  • Check out your voter registration details here
  • Who are your neighbours voting for? click here

If you know any other good links to get information about elections, or that are helpful for all of us, please share. Otherwise, make sure you’ve read our feminist political party analyses here.

How much does violence against women cost the South African Government?

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

If you live in South Africa, watch the news or social media, or listen to the radio you’ll be aware that violence against women is common. You might also know that in the last five years around 60 000 rapes have been reported each year (that’s each year, not over five years). You could know that estimates vary but that statistically most women do not report a rape against them. You might know that most sexual offences committed against women are committed by someone they know, and that one in four men in South Africa has admitted to raping someone he knows.

When it comes to domestic violence you probably know a bit less. This might be because the South African police services do not report on domestic violence statistics annually, because ‘domestic violence’ is technically not a crime. Why technically? Well, because it depends on what type of violence that is, and it’s up to the police to record it as an incident of ‘domestic violence’. This means that sometimes it’s recorded as assault, assault with the intention to do grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, murder, etc. So, when the police report on these crimes against women (if they disaggregate their data at all) they don’t report how many of them were related to domestic violence. One figure we do have (you’ll see them in these interesting research reports at the bottom of this blog) is that over 200 000 new incidents of domestic violence were reported in 2011. That’s new and reported.

Suffice to say that we have a significant problem of intimate partner violence and violence against women in general in South Africa. There are two main laws which govern these types of violence – the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 and the Sexual Offences Act 32 of 2007. These laws define the crimes, prescribe the role of various Government Departments, and make requirements on those Departments to provide particular levels of services. What these laws (and others that affect women’s rights to safety, housing etc) don’t do, is require Government Departments to budget together. This means that each Department (that’s the South African Police Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, and the Department of Social Development) has to try and estimate the scale of the problem, and ask for money to do their bit, separately and in a way that is not connected to working with other Departments or ensuring that victims of violence against women get the best and least traumatising service. Add to the fact that when the scale of the problem is so massive, these services are not going to come cheap.

Yes. I find it as strange as you do. When laws require Departments to work together in implementing them and don’t make sure each Department has enough budget to do so, they are essentially setting themselves up for failure. Even more importantly, when laws don’t make exactly clear what each Department has to do, it is really very seriously tremendously (do you get my point) unlikely that Departments will altrustically go on spending sprees to make sure those services are available.

At a research recent seminar three papers were produced on Government spending in relation to gender-based violence. Two of these looked at specific departments – the South African Police Services and the Department of Justice – and asked Departments to report on exactly what they were spending. The other tried to consider Government spending as a whole. This was almost impossible for a number of reasons:

  • Government Departments do not budget specifically for violence against women services;
  • Not all Government Departments provided information to Parliament on their spending when requested to do so;
  • Sometimes Departments simply did not know how much they spent because they included some services in general budgets.

Nevertheless, the third paper reached an estimate of Government spending at at least R311 051 687 in the 2013/2014 financial year alone. This excluded the costs of the Department of Health and Social Development who did not report. It also excluded the costs of the Department of Correctional Services (who had not yet been asked on their spending on the perpetrators imprisoned for violence against women), the Departments of Education and Communication who should be responsible for awareness raising and preventing violence in schoools, or the Department of Community Safety.

Violence against women is thus significantly costly for the Government. Urgent prevention programmes and responses are required to ensure that equal spending is invested in prevention as is spent on the response. Critically, Government needs to begin to consider how it could budget more holistically to ensure that services are standardised, and that each and every victim of violence regains her right to safety.

What’s important though is that the highest cost is obviously borne by the victim of violence. It is borne by those who survive it, and those who do not. It is also borne by those young South Africans trapped watching their family members inflicting violence against one another, and learning that this is the way that things are resolved. These costs have not even begun to be measured but it is certain that they will be very high.

To read the research reports, click the links below:

Lorenzo Wakefield: SAPS and planning for gender-based violence, an update

Joy Watson: The cost of justice in South Africa

Jen Thorpe: The 2013/2014 financial year estimates for spending on gender-based violence by the South African Government

Elections analysis: Agang

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

South Africa has more women in parliament than any other country in Africa, with the exception of Rwanda, and more women in cabinet than any other country in the world, again except Rwanda and Scandinavia. “Yet we have a pandemic of gender-based violence in this country,” Ramphele told the crowd. “Why? Because we didn’t do the work that enabled men to live with strong women and for strong women to bring up strong men and for women to stand up.” – Sourced from this article on the Daily Maverick 

Woman at the top, but woman for women?

Agang’s have never contested in elections before, so there is no way of telling who they will put in Government or Parliament if they win their seats this time around. We also can’t evaluate them on past behaviour. So all we have to go by is what’s on the surface. They are one of two parties with a female political leader at the head of the party (the other being the DA – analysis on them to follow), but thus far a female political leader has not necessarily meant a feminist political leader.

Could Mamphele Ramphele become South Africa’s first female President? She is no stranger to firsts – she was one of the first people to be detained under the Terrorism Act, the first South African to hold a managing director position at the World Bank and the first black female Vice Chancellor of any South African University (UCT). She has an extensive academic background and is a qualified medical doctor. She is certainly a leader, but is she a leader for women? She is currently one of only two women in leadership within her party.

Our country is at a crossroads – Agang and policy

Agang’s five political policy areas are economy, education, health, public service, safety and security. A dominant theme is ‘our country is at a crossroads’ suggesting that unless something drastic happens to change the status quo, we are heading for disaster. They have a further section titled ‘Zwakala – Be Heard’ where members of the public (that’s you feminists) can help them to formulate policy on other issues. Currently they are asking for input on black economic empowerment and affirmative action.

In terms of economy, the policy narrative explains that current measures of economic redress have resulted in the creation of political and economic elites rather than achieving the trickle down empowerment of all as hoped. They end the section with “To boost our economy and job creation, we must make decisions based on what’s best for the next generation and the future of South Africa, not short-term political gain.” If it were me, that best thing would be the empowerment of women tout suite.

Their solution is five fold: make government accountable, build infrastructure and create jobs, unleash small businesses, let business get to work, and invest in South Africans. These five targets don’t explicitly mention women, although they do mention other vulnerable groups such as the youth and informal traders – many of whom are women – and the need to economically empower them and provide further opportunities. Mamphele Ramphele also noted in her launch speech, that black women specifically face challenges in accessing their rights.

The April 28 Edition of the Sunday Times this year provided a table on the average monthly earnings of women in South Africa based on the 2011 census. 16 108 650 women provided information on their earnings and of them 8 591 823 (53.34%) did not have any monthly income, and a further 1 025 400 women earned between R1 and R400 per month. Any political party that does not address gender inequality in the labour sphere as a core and explicit part of its economic policy, will perpetuate existing labour conditions.

In terms of education Agang’s plan aims to make South Africa a top ten education system globablly, and to immediately make our pass rate 50%. Strategies to achieve this include: put students first, fill 15 000 teacher vacancies, upgrade infrastructure, set minimum standards and top-up social grants for education results (i.e. they’ll give additional social grant money to families for students who achieve a 70% pass in any year and for matriculation). The last idea is interesting, in that it recognises that a good education requires the support of a family. Whether this idea is financially viable however in terms of a our current economic climate where the 2013 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement introduced significant cost-cutting for departments is not clear. It is also not clear where they will get all the teachers they need to implement this strategy, but that’s a conversation for after elections I suppose (textbook suppliers, please be ready this year).

A major gap from their strategy is ensuring that schools are safe places for learners to go. In 2009 and 2010 alone, there were 81 918 learner pregnancies in SA schools. 1 666 of those learners were between grades 3 and 6 (i.e. between 9 and 12 years old). In terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007, sex with any child under the age of 12 is rape, and sex with any child under the age of 15 is statutory rape (unless the sex occurs consensually between two children between 12 and 15). Teen pregnancies should be a significant concern of any political party that wants to empower the youth through education, or achieve an economy that grows and is supportive of the people. Teen pregnancies affect girl learners far more significantly than they affect male learners, and it is thus imperative that Agang consider the issue of learner safety as central to their policy on education. Training on sexual health and safety for all teachers and learners is important. If these are not included in a political party’s education strategies, they will leave girl learners behind.

Health:Agang recognises that the health system is in crisis and is largely polarised into poorly equipped public health for the average South African, and well equipped and serviced private medical care for the wealthy few. Positively, Agang recognises child and maternal mortality as two issues that are highly problematic. Their plan to solve the crisis includes: increasing health professionals (including the re-opening of nursing colleges), expanding local control (strengthening district and provincial health care systems, making public hospitals non-profits and using the private sector to run supply chains), making performance transparent, increasing private sector access (by providing tax incentives for private providers to work in the public sector and letting the private sector run some public assets) and turning around health outcomes by tackling HIV, TB, maternal and child mortality.

Access to adequate health care is essential for women, and it is true that in some areas in South Africa this is simply not happening. The two leading causes of maternal mortality in SA are HIV/AIDS and high blood pressure. These deaths are preventable and something must change. However, Agang’s drive to privatise much of our health care makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I’m left with questions like: how will we ensure that medicines remain affordable for the average South African if the supply chain is privatised? How will we ensure that if public health facilities are transformed into non-profit entities they will not face the same funding challenges that other non-profits are facing as the government insufficiently funds them and international donors move elsewhere? How will we ensure that our National and Provincial health policies do not become problematically controlled by the interest of pharmaceutical giants and corporations?

Another critical issue that seems to have been left out is the expansion of access to health care through mobile clinics which are able to reach areas where there are simply no health facilities, and the building of more health care facilities in general, though this is mentioned briefly in their ‘vision’ section. If it were me writing the policies here I would also include something on the increased access to contraception and termination of pregnancy facilities so that all women are able to make choices related to their fertility and sexual health. At the moment, it is simply not clear what they think about those issues.

Public service is really the policy section where Agang comes out swinging, and if you monitored any of the initial statements made back when they were just a ‘political party platform’ you will realise that they are a party that is sick and tired of corruption. They site the fact that only 22% of Government Departments received clean audits in 2012, as well as the presence of politicians who have already been found to be corrupt within government (many have just moved to another department e.g. Bathabile Dlamini, the Minister of Social Development, a vital department in securing support and empowerment for women). Their solution includes the introduction of new legislation to ban government officials and their families from conducting business with government as well as legislation to protect whistleblowers. It also includes the allocation of better budgets to the auditor general and public protector, and the ban of officials found guilty of corruption from running for office, holding government positions, or receiving government contracts for five years. Finally it includes training all government officials and employees in anti-corruption requirements.

These suggestions sound promising – especially given the fact that a number of Departments, including the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, have experienced corruption in the past. Thankfully the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities undertook to root out corruption, however it is certain that those resources could surely have been better used to support the rights of women. Perhaps an additional policy should be the cancellation of all events that do not have a measurable impact in terms of the lives of the population they are meant to serve. See Helen Moffett’s take on this here.

In terms of Safety and Security Agang sites a lack of South African Police Service capacitation, high crime levels, and a lack of convictions as major problems. Their solutions include hiring more police, investing in the police financial and other resources, de-militarising the police, training police, ensuring that police work more closely with communities and private security companies, and improving and investing in the national database that manages and tracks crime.

Through the articulation of the problem in this way, Agang situates the essence of the problem of violence and crime with the police, rather than the largely dysfunctional justice system as a whole. To my mind, it seems imperative that police are equipped both in terms of human and financial resources (and please god, with debriefing so they are all not traumatised by the thousands of scary situations they are placed in daily). However, it also requires that that the Department of Justice and the Department of Correctional Services are equally equipped to convict perpetrators of crime, and to ensure that when they are incarcerated they are able to develop and reform respectively. If not, they are either not arrested, not prosecuted, or released whilst still a danger to society.

In addition, their problem statement and solution does not mention violence against women specifically as part of the problem, despite the scary prevalence of this in South Africa. They also don’t discuss how much of the violence that is perpetrated in South Africa occurs in the home – an area that makes policing incredibly difficult. A stronger and clearer focus on this would do much to strengthen Agang’s policy in this regard. However, it is clear that the fact that violence against women is a complex issue is understood by Ramphele, as her statement in her piece on Women’s Day suggests:

From our family behaviour, to the violent anger of some men, to the police handling of victims and the ability of the judicial system to successfully prosecute rape and abuse cases, the distortion of patriarchal traditional societal norms and the numbed reaction to stories of horrible acts, we are in danger of sending the message to victims that it is something normal, something that women just have to deal with.

The fact is that violence against women is an extreme symptom of the failure of our democracy to provide opportunities for all South Africans. It is a manifest failure of government to address the humiliation of men, especially black men at the hands of apartheid.  The disempowerment that men feel is taken out against women closest to them.

Women’s role

Agang’s Interim Constitution provides for the establishment of a Women’s Forum. As yet, it’s not clear whether this has been established. This year, Agang released a statement on Women’s Day that was in line with most political party’s rhetoric on the celebration of women past, the praise for women present, and the hope for women future (somehow this is reminiscent of Scrooge). I have mentioned some of the other statements that came out of that speech, but one statement (about the praise of women present and past) caught my attention:

Women have power that remains under-utilized in our society.  Women in my life understood the power that is women – their essential role as bearers and nurturers of future generations of both men and women, their capacity to be connectors of the extended family, their ability to empathize with the vulnerable, their organizational abilities to collaborate to tackle complex problems and their capacity for joy. 

I think the picture that this paints of women and their role is extremely tied to patriarchal gender-norms that imply that women are nice and caring and want to make babies so that the population can thrive, and go on to become the economy that we need. But, this implicit essentialising of women’s empathy and men’s anger doesn’t really do much to challenge gender norms. It seems to suggest that we can all keep the gender roles that fitted in well in the old system, get rich, and be happy. I don’t think so. I think something more fundamental needs to shift in our perception of women’s strengths and men’s weaknesses. Gender inequality is bad for everyone because it limits our ideas of what men and women can be, and are in their essence.

Gaps: A clear section on furthering the rights of women, LGBTI people, the disabled, and children could add some pinache and would indicate the strategic thinking that is required to make real change. I also think that a section on their energy and environmental commitments is important given the fact that climate change and our carbon intensive energy commitments will have a negative impact on the environment and will result in further scarcity which negatively impacts women most profoundly.

Overall, there is potential, especially for feminists like you to get involved and contribute to policy. I recommend that you do. If you do, let us know how it goes. 



How you can tell if someone is a real rape survivor

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

How should a woman behave to convince us that she was raped?

When she breaks down, is hysterical, is rabid, is broken, is ripped apart, is together, is calm, is cold, is hyper sexual, never wants to have sex again, is manic, is depressed, is this right?

Should she report and save others, report and wait for years, report and hope for the best in a criminal justice system that has a roughly 6% chance of convicting her rapist, report and be laughed at by police, report and have hurried rushed meetings with her prosecutor, report and wish that she didn’t have to wait in court all day thirsty and starving because she’s poor and can’t bring her own food in or afford food from government vending machines, report and possibly have no access to a working toilet whilst she waits hands clenched to see her rapist in a court room, report and have to see him say he did nothing, report and see him get off, report and have him lay a civil charge of slander against her, report and get supported by NGO representatives holding her hand and reminding her that she was right to do this – that she is strong, report and get justice, report and hear that his sentence has been reduced in a higher court, report and hear that he gets life, report and live in fear of retaliation? Which of these are right?

Should she not report and stay home fearful that it could happen again because he’s still out there or in her home, not report stay home and have others ask her why she didn’t, have others question whether this means she wasn’t sure or that he didn’t do it, not report and wonder whether she should have, not report and go to work everyday as if nothing happened until she feels on the precipice of death, not report and get better and go for counselling and heal, not report and spend time reading websites about others who did or didn’t report and feeling sympathy or empathy or nothing for them, not report and keep quiet about it, not report and scream from the rooftops, not report and become an activist, not report and never say anything about it again? Which of these are right?

Should she defend others decisions, encourage them to report, discourage them from reporting, bombard herself with stats that she has become a part of, join hands with others, form groups, be in solidarity, be in silence? Which of these are right?

Should she seek support from her colleagues and family members or keep quiet because rape is a personal matter and shouldn’t be brought up at work or at christmas? Which of these are right?

When she tells them should she feel shameful, or brave, or afraid, or disgusted, or dirty, or liberated, or free, or light, or tainted? Which of these are right?

What should she do? What do we expect of her? What ideas do we draw on? What myths do we support? What would we do? Do we know? Are we right in having any expectations at all? 

Obama, women, and hope

Jen Thorpe
Jen ThorpejEN 

There I sat, five hours after leaving home, sunburned and wind chapped. I was hungry and thirsty and had spoken about engineering and women’s rights and weddings and which city in South Africa was the best. I had travelled thousands of kilometers the day before, and despite the anticipated excitement, at that moment I just wanted to get back to the love of my life who was sharing nine of our fourty hours together this month with this event. But, as it is when your heart and imagination are so desperate for a political leader that can inspire, as soon as Barack Obama walked in I was in awe. I felt hope.

He is a man that walks onto the stage with confidence, and at the same time seems to invite you to challenge him. His body language says ‘I’m doing a great job, but dare me to do better and I’ll accept the challenge’. He is a leader that speaks with such obvious love and affection for his family that it is heartwarming. He makes you imagine dinner conversations around the table that are heated and passionate and aimed at making a better man and president out of him. He has the privilege of being surrounded by three strong women before he has even left the house.

He spoke with compassion and kindness of Mandela, with pride in the economy in America (he is obviously a big Apple fan), with honesty about ending wars and the damaging impact of colonialism. The questions people asked gave him the opportunity to appear as though he had things under control. I was glad that the last question focused on something a bit more difficult – the US environmental policy. 

We know that the US has a poor track record environmentally – a perfect example of how legislation protecting the environment is not nearly as good as not polluting it in the first place. Recently Obama has changed his tune, saying that he’d stop dangerous and environmentally disastrous projects like the Keystone pipeline if they showed that the environmental impact would be negative. 

In South Africa, the Constitution provides the right for all of us to live in an environment that is not bad for our health. Yet we see so often that environmental impact assessments just make sure that companies meet the bare minimum rather than actively going out of their way to protect the land and environment that belongs to all of us. I hope that when President Obama evaluates the impact of Keystone on the environment, he does so in broad strokes, not in a narrowly defined minimum norms and standards type of way. I think the question should be simple – will the innately valuable biodiversity, beauty, and sanctity of the land be improved by Keystone? As someone who grew up in Hawaai, I know he knows the answer to this question in his heart.

As a feminist South African, I know that the environment I live in affects women’s lives most tangibly. I know that in times of scarcity violence against women increases. I know that times of scarcity will surely follow if we do not address climate change (something Obama readily admits is the biggest environmental challenge we have ever faced in history). I have hope that Obama will begin to lead the world in making the right decisions about the environment – I hope too that the South African government will also evaluate the real impact on its people of treating the planet as something expendable in the path to economic growth.  

If I had been given the chance I would have asked something even more closer to home. I wanted to ask how as President, he would ensure that the rollback of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in the USA came to a stop so that when Malia and Sasha are grown up, they will know that they have a right to make decisions about their own sexuality and sexual health. But this question of course impacts many women around the world who are dependent on US aid in order to access these rights in their own countries. If the anti-abortion movement in the US gains strength, how will it affect the conditions of our own sexual rights? 

We all know that abstinence only programs are a slap in the face to many women who cannot negotiate safe sexual interactions because of a patriarchal system that says that men have a right to have sex, or because they face physical and sexual violence when they refuse a partner’s sexual advances. We know that most men who will ever go on to rape do so for the first time in their teens, and that as much as 30% of all girls at school have already been the victim of sexual violence.  We know that early pregnancy has a profound impact on young girls lives – they are less likely to continue schooling, more likely to be stigmatised by the education system than supported by it, less likely to complete schooling and further qualifications that can allow them to succeed, escape poverty, or exit violent relationships. Nobody is advocating for abortion as contraception – what feminists and sexual and reproductive health rights activists are saying is that women are best placed to gage their readiness and ability to raise a child, and that they deserve the right to make decisions about their own bodies. How then does he feel about the restriction of women’s rights to abortion and sexual health services?  How does he feel knowing that when he leaves office, Sasha and Malia may have fewer sexual rights than when he went in?

I don’t doubt that Obama is a good man – perhaps that’s naive, but he is a man that inspires hope. I believe that he wants the best for his daughters – that he feels delighted that they are strong willed. I believe that he would never want them to have no access to decision making power over their own bodies. I believe that he is aware that women’s right and need to access sexual and reproductive health rights is something that makes democracy stronger. I hope that when or if he gets the chance to make decisions about how best to consider these rights, he makes the decision to advance them rather than restrict them. Because, President Obama, it is your responsibility as a father and a leader to make sure women are supported.

I may never get the opportunity to ask that question, but I hope that it is one that he has asked himself.

On not walking past

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

It’s Sunday. I go to a mall to get some art supplies. It’s an ordinary mall, outdated even, with strange linoleum flooring and an assortment of second-hand stores and haberdasheries  It’s the type of mall your gran goes to for wool, or other assorted items needed when growing older.

So imagine my surprise when I walk past a new framers and see the worst poster I have ever seen. It’s A3 size and pale pink: the sort of pink you see on little girls birthday cards, or pregnancy cards. It’s amongst a host of other coloured posters all with sayings made up by the framers’ staff. The font is serif, bold and large. The content of this particular poster is so shocking that I scream ‘WHAT!’ very loudly, causing my boyfriend Mike to come spinning back to see what has happened to me, concern etched on his face.

“Keep calm and slap that bitch hard” is what the poster says.

I don’t even give Mike a chance to comment on it himself. He’s shaking his head and following me, as propelled by rage and shaking with it, I go to the door of the framers and bang on the door. It takes a few times for them to hear me because they’re drilling and building what I presume are the shelves where all the marvellous frames will go.

A middle-aged, dark haired, white sweaty man comes to the door smiling. He thinks I’m about to ask when they’re opening, his eyes are filled with information just waiting to come out for potential customers. I don’t give him the chance.

“I’m incredibly offended by your poster. It is ridiculous that you would ever think something like that was funny. We live in South Africa for heavens sake – we have such high levels of violence against women I can’t even begin to understand why you thought this was OK. I mean, come on, every eight minutes a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. What were you thinking…”

He interrupts me, his smile is gone and in its place is a rather stern frown.

“I’ll take it down. You’re the first person to say anything.”

I walk away, still shaking, unable to really focus on art supplies and trying to choose a pen unsuccesfully. When I walk back, the poster has been taken down. I go back to say thank you, he says “It’s a pleasure.”

Kenny Kunene’s comments on rape require investigation

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

NUMBER 1 – Transactional sex is not only really uncool, it is also really dangerous

Kenny Kunene went on Noleen last week with five of his fifteen girlfriends (who he only likes to be under the age of 24). Multiple concurrent partners are, as we all should know by now (yet a certain Simply Red song echoes), very risky in terms of the transmission of sexually transmitted infection and HIV. HIV tests as we know must take place regularly, which KK and crew say they do, but as we also know HIV has a window period where your blood does not reflect anti-bodies. Thus whilst KK sleeps with 15 people, and they sleep with 15 people, and they sleep with 15 people, a lot of sexual juices are being paid forwards. Because women’s vaginas have a larger surface area for exposure to the virus than male penises (especially very tiny ones) they are more likely to contract the virus. This is just plain stupid sexual behaviour in a country with such high HIV infection rates. I understand that, as adults consenting to sex, we make choices about whether we will practice it safely, but as far as I am ­concerned unsafe sex with multiple partners is not safe or sexy.

Why is this sex transactional? Transactional sex is defined as ‘sex with a partner which was primarily motivated by material gain, defined as provision of food, cosmetics, clothes, transportation, items for children or family, school fees, somewhere to sleep, or cash.’ It seems clear from the recent media coverage of the situation that these women receive numerous financial and economic rewards for being part of the group. In addition, those he favours are able to recruit others into the group. He has stuff, they don’t. It’s unequal for all the reasons that Lizl Morden spells out here. The emphasis on collecting women as objects of his desire clearly indicates that his masculinity is founded on problematic ideas of sexuality where men consume women, and where male virility and sexual prowess at the expense of narratives on women’s pleasure, and at the expense of women’s health. It means that his masculinity is only really as good as the number of women he can sleep with.

NUMBER 2 – Threatening someone’s wife with gang rape ignores the experience of rape survivors, and incites violence. Once again I am reminded, as I was with Durex’s cock up two years ago, that violence against women remains a joke to most South Africans, and that there is little understanding of the connection of social messages that sanction this violence (eg invite men to use their penises as a weapon) to the violence itself. Threatening someone with gang rape incites violence. Acting as if this is no big deal promotes myths that rape is not a serious crime. Something that I said back then sadly still applies:

Norms and myths sustain our social identities. They help us understand the expected interactions between ourselves and others. Norms are themselves sustained by our actions. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Norms that say men’s most important attribute is their penis, and that a woman better celebrate that by taking what she can get, are part of rape culture, which I argue is bad for everyone.

South Africa has an incredibly powerful rape culture. This culture is sustained by many things: low conviction rates for perpetrators, an unpleasant criminal justice system that alienates survivors and reduces reporting, a history of South African violence, and inequality among the sexes. It is also sustained by our laughter at jokes that condone violence against women. Rape is not funny.

NUMBER 3 – Describing his own consensual sex fest as rape further illustrates his ignorance, and diminishes the experience of rape survivors

In one swift move his tweet undermines gang rape survivors trauma, pain and suffereing, and tries to suggest that they should have enjoyed it whilst they could. Saying you get ‘gang raped’ all the time and enjoy it reinforces problematic myths about rape that say that it is enjoyable for the victim. In addition, it ignores that a lack of consent is key in rape, and that a consensual sexual situation is not rape. According to Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s website, myths about rape have powerful negative effects for survivors that affect their healing and increase prejudice against them. In other words, the promotion of social norms that encourage violence increase the likelihood that a survivor will suffer secondary trauma and will experience rape trauma syndrome.

NUMBER 4 – Sex with minors under the age of 16 is statutory rape, and a crime under Sexual Offences Act 32 0f 2007

On Phat Joe’s show last week, Kenny Kunene admitted to sleeping with some of his students whilst he was an English teacher. He admitted that some of these students may have been under the age of 16. Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act states that any person (A) who commits an act of sexual penetration with a child (B) is, despite the consent of B to the commission of such act, guilty of the offence of having committed an act of consensual sexual penetration with a child. This is commonly known as statutory rape. Section 16 states that any person (A) who commits an act of sexual violation with a child (B) is, despite the consent of B to the commission of such act, guilty of the offence of having committed an act of consensual sexual violation with a child. This is commonly known as statutory sexual assault. Thus, regardless of the fact that a child agrees to the sexual activity, the law does not recognise their ability to consent, and therefore a crime is committed. In addition, all sexual activity without consent is rape.


Kenny Kunene has admitted to being a statutory rapist, and has threatened violence against another woman. Claims of statutory rape should be investigated by the SAPS.

In addition, he should make a full apology, and should be required to make a substantial donation to an NGO working with rape survivors.

Then I think it’s best if he stops talking. For good.