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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Time for Civil Disobedience?

On Thursday, November 25th, while many people in the Northern Hemisphere "gathered together to ask the Lord's blessing" on their Thanksgiving festivities, some also joined the rest of the world in the observance of "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence".

I've been keenly interested in watching what is going on in this country and in other parts of the world in terms of raising awareness.

Most of the "activism" is designed to raise awareness about that which is obvious to many women and men:
all forms of violence against women is a human rights issue and the act of perpetrating violence against women is a human rights violation.
There are prayer vigils and art shows, candle light marches and church forums. Women and men are trying to do something - anything - one small thing - to raise awareness and encourage action.

Amnesty International has put together this short video clip to bring the issue to the attention of the world. The need to continue to have to make these simple claims for women - to teach women that they have a right to them - is astounding to me:
"You have the right to decide for yourself:
Whether and when to have sex,
to start a family
to have a child
and to receive the education
and health care you need
throughout your life"

I confess that the very fact that we have to raise awareness about these simple truths gets me so frustrated that I occasionally become so angry I want to holler and scream at the top of my voice.

Indeed, I hear the call of Zackie Achmat, at the Center for Law and Social Justice, who writes "16 days of talk, hand-wringing, weeping, listening to “stories” of the survivors or victims of gender-based violence will capture national and international headlines and airwaves. Is it time to ignore the 16 days of talk about gender-based violence? Is it time for sustained civil disobedience by feminist men and women, girls and boys?"

Achmat is asking this in response to an editorial which appeared in the Mail and Guardian last week, which carried this story about the gang rape of a 15 year old girl in South Africa.
The allegations of the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl on the Jules High School campus in Jeppestown rocked the nation.

It wasn’t just that she was drugged; that the heinous, brutal attack was recorded on a cellphone; that the recording of the vicious act was circulated and — if we believe some early reports — that some educators laughed when they saw the video that was so devastating.

It wasn’t the chilling comments from the school pupils, some of whom told our reporters that watching the incident was “like watching soccer” and that the victim looked like she “was enjoying herself” that makes it so shocking.

It wasn’t even the reports of police not initially arresting the boys suspected of being involved because they needed to take their exams; nor was it their later release, reportedly because of a lack of evidence, that makes the incident entirely deplorable. And it wasn’t the fact that the latest reports seem to be an attempt to discredit the victim by saying she was drunk, not drugged. No.

The saddest part of the entire case is the fact that our outrage probably won’t last another week. We’ve known about this problem in our schools for years. Baby rape is rampant, “corrective rape” of lesbians is accepted practice in some areas, and gang rape all too prevalent. There is a war against women and children in our country and the weapon is rape.

The truth is we leave it to civil society to deal with. We wait for Sonke Gender Justice to condemn leaders such as Julius Malema, who was only backing President Jacob Zuma’s account of his rape accuser when he made his “she enjoyed herself” comment.

Then we shake our collective heads in disbelief when those comments come out of the mouths of babes.

We hope women like Lisa Vetten, the director of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, will continue to shout on our behalf, that Gender Links will keep holding 16 Days of Activism each year in its too often unheard effort to tell the world about violence against women. We, the media, tell the story of the victim and unravel the horrific details.

And the next hour, day, week, we, too, move on. Until the next woman or child or baby is attacked.

We can’t leave this up to civil society any longer. We need to shift our national mentality. We need awareness in every crevice of our nation. We need to have the SABC broadcast public service announcements, with leaders like Malema telling the nation that real men don’t rape women — and don’t even utter comments that undermine women’s rights in this way.

We need every type of media to tell the stories of our daughters, our nieces, our grandmothers, our mothers, our wives, our girlfriends, our sisters and our aunts, so that every man, woman and child clearly understands that rape affects us all.

Will this be the one case, because of the shock factor, that won’t allow us to avert our eyes, that will force us to admit how bad it really is? We doubt it. And that might be the saddest part of it all.
I understand.

I feel so overwhelmed, so shocked by the "shock factor" of this story, and so many other stories from around the glob, that it feels paralyzing.

What is to be done?

What can I do?

What can one woman - one person - do from the illusions of safety in our own home and the comfort of our assumptions about what all decent human beings believe?

I think it may well be time to begin to move 'awareness activism' like these annual 16 Day Campaigns into daily, local supportive mechanisms for actions of civil disobedience in places where these obscene acts of gender violence are occurring.

Indeed, I intend to bring up that very issue with the organizers of the 16 Day Campaign. It's going to take sustained, world-wide pressure to change cultural attitudes about women and girl children that are deeply ingrained and embedded in the psyche of many countries.

But, it can be done. It starts with one. It begins with me. It begins with you.

There is still time to raise awareness in your community. Visit the Rutger's web site for more information - especially the link "How to Get Involved."

While you're there, you can download a "Take Action Kit" in PDF or Microsoft Word format, and in English, Spanish and French. Each kit contains:
- a campaign profile & description of dates
- a list of participating organizations and countries
- a bibliography and resource list
- a list of suggested activities
- a current campaign announcement
- supplemental information relevant to this year's theme
You can also visit the Episcopal 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Blog where you can leave your own stories or prayers and/or liturgies.

Next year, I'm hoping we are able to have a way to provide sustained pressure in those places where gender violence is a tragic way of life.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed and powerless to help myself or others, I try to remember the advice of Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can".

Today's "story" from "StoryPeople" seems to affirm that wisdom:
I held out my hands & asked
where I could help &
somebody grabbed me &
pointed me towards the
future & said, You've got
your work cut out for you &
I said, isn't there anything
easier? & he laughed & said
you could dig around in the
past, but it's just busywork
& that made perfect sense
so I shrugged & started
right where I was, along
with everyone else

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