New Internationalist

Women of the world unite!

Wednesday 25 November saw the start of 16 days of activism against violence against women.

What is meant by gender-based violence? According the Women's Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC), it is 'any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.'

In May 2007, I wrote a post about my own experience of violence, to break the taboo of silence. I hope that women - and especially young women - are today less likely to 'put up and shut up'.

This is a story which is repeated every day, all over the world, for millions of women. Only in telling our stories can we stop the conspiracy of silence that normalizes violence against women.

One fundamental problem is that because gender-based violence is so common, it has been 'normalized' through actions, language, imagery, pornography. It is this 'normalization' that has to be broken. I spoke of my own personal experience of domestic violence, but the violence didn't start there. Starting from my childhood, I have had a lifetime of it: sexual harassment, touching, misogynist language, presumptions, jokes, looks, homophobia - it becomes a constant battle not to internalize the abuse. As a teenager, I used to think it must be my fault - 'I am too sexual and that's why this is happening'. There was also the added racial element, which expressed itself differently depending on whether I was in Africa or in the West. I did not know where to turn, or how to deal with any of this. All of us girls were experiencing similar abuse. Looking back, I probably thought it was normal - 'we girls and women are the ones responsible for arousing men who then cannot help themselves'. Unfortunately, much of society still believes and accepts this ridiculous explanation for acts of violence against women.

Fungai Neni posts a short story from Zimbabwe on the violence unleashed on millions of women across the world - poverty. Added to this overwhelming form of violence, from which there is little escape, is domestic violence and the possibility of a virus which will further wreck havoc on Chipo and her son:

Just as she was beginning to doze, Chipo heard a loud rap at the door. It was Thomas. Using her lit candle, she looked up at the old wall clock. It read a quarter to midnight.
With her candle in hand, she slowly made her way to the door, unlocking it and allowing her drunken husband to stumble in.
"Where is my food?!" he demanded, giving her a pointed look with his blood-shot eyes.
He didn't even bother to greet her.
"It is by the table, Baba," she responded, shepherding him to the low table and pair of chairs that constituted their lounge.
Once he had sat down, she kneeled at his feet, offering him a bowl of water in which to wash his hands. She then opened up the two enamel bowls and served him the meal of sadza and boiled cabbage leaves.
He took in one mouthful, after which he proceeded to spit out and question,
"What is this?!"
"It's your supper, Baba," responded Chipo, timidly.

A poem by Roshila Nair
(2001, quoted by Pumla Gqola)

let's say it loud
about the other day
how we were talking
about the Comrade X
who went home
and gave his wife
a blue eye,
after we'd all clapped
an hour before
for the liberation
speech he gave
with such conviction

Additional resources:
ACAS - Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Africa
Violence Against Women Blog
Carnival Against Sexual Violence

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