The impact of violence and the fear of violence on women and girls in South Africa has shaped the way we dress, the way we act, when we go out and who we go out with. It affects even very simple tasks, such as going to the restroom. Personally, I do not like to show off a lot of skin for fear of attracting attention to myself. I don’t walk around at night, and I wouldn’t ever go into a public bathroom by myself.
I know many girls who experienced sexual assault, or molestation at a young age. Because these issues affect so many girls and young women, the fear of violence is constant. It leads to thoughts of, “what if I am being followed” and “what if he doesn’t listen when I say no”. This fear holds people back. It has led me to try to blend into the crowd, so as to not draw any attention from anyone.
Violence on campus
When dating violence hasn’t happened to you directly, it can be easy as a young woman in South Africa to feel comfortable and stay ignorant to the scale of the issue.
During my first year at Rhodes University, my eyes were definitely opened. Large-scale protests against rape-culture took place, sparking debate and discussion across the country. Although I knew of how unsafe it can be on campus for women, I didn’t quite fathom the severity of these issues until the protests took place. Since these protests I’ve also become more and more aware of ‘subtle violence’ – constant catcalling that makes you feel unsafe.
Speaking out to stop the violence
Taking part in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ Voices Against Violence training also opened my eyes to the scale of the issue, and how damaging violence and the fear of violence is for girls and women. Voices Against Violence is a non-formal curriculum which empowers girls and young women to understand and assert their rights - and supports them to recognise violence and negotiate healthy relationships.
I’m a volunteer leader with a Guide group for girls aged 10 – 14 in Boksburg, South Africa. I want to support the girls in my group to understand issues around violence. I want them to feel safe and free to be themselves. Running the Voices Against Violence sessions with them is an important part of this.
Tackling dating violence
Alongside this curriculum, Girl Guides South Africa are beginning work to raise awareness of dating violence across the country. Dating violence is a really important issue in South Africa because often women do not know where the line is between loyalty and staying with someone toxic.
This important issue has been ignored. Talking about dating violence can seem taboo, which leads to victims being silenced by fear – both fear of their partners, and a fear of not being believed by others.
Victim blaming is a big problem in our society. Often women are asked what they did to provoke violence instead of questioning the person who has treated them like this. Women often feel as though the violence they face is their fault.
Being the target of violence is never a girl’s fault
I want women to realise that violence is never their fault, no matter what they wear or how they act. They don’t owe anyone anything.
In South Africa we see people manipulating and coercing women into situations they would rather not be in, or taking advantage of women who are intoxicated or even drugged. Society makes women feel guilty by telling them that had they done something differently this could have been prevented.
I want every woman to know that this is not true. Violence is not their fault, regardless of what people say.
To find out more about how the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is working to stop violence against women and girls visit: https://www.wagggs.org/en/what-we-do/stop-the-violence/16-days-activism/