Women Don’t Need Sanitary Pads, But Freedom From Gender-Based Violence

rights women hiv/aids Gender equality gender-based violence
Wednesday, 2 February, 2011 - 08:40

Government should address challenges such as the raping of women and children, killing of lesbians and decriminalising same sex coupling, decriminalising of sex work and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. I’m not sure about the sanitary towels…

As we roll out 2011 and we ready ourselves again for new struggles, battles left unfinished in past and opportunities ahead, I am afraid that this is the same pattern as of last year and the many years past. In 2010 the announcing of the next 10 years as the decade of the women left a lot to be desired. The calls and numerous statements made to stop gender-based violence, raping of women and children, killing of lesbians and decriminalising same sex coupling, decriminalising of sex work and HIV/AIDS have gone unheard with no response from our leadership in Africa. And all we get are sanitary pads.

So I am not going to bore you with another World Cup story or adventure seeing that I am not a fan anyways. I am merely pointing out the facts of gender-based violence and the fact that as resolution for 2011, we are talking about these same issues. It bothers me deeply that we have not progressed as much and I am not comparing. In 2010 many things happened that caused the hair on my neck to stand.

I bet with the President offering free pads to women who cannot afford them, perhaps he ought to have found out what happened during the World Cup when female condoms were scarce. I say to you, “President Zuma, I want to empower myself and others in this decade of the women. I need female condoms to be available so that I can protect myself from sexual transmitted diseases and not have another baby. In case I also get raped even by my spouse I can be protected. By virtue of the condom I will not become a statistic of HIV/AIDS and thanks I do not use sunlight soap.”

When the two men in Malawi were convicted of homosexual acts which were against the country’s sodomy laws, President Zuma just about, whispered that South Africa condemned these arrests in Malawi, in time for the United Nations secretary-general’s Bang statement condemning the treatment of the two men in that country, resulting in their release.

On the 25th of October, the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) rejected the observation of the rejection of the application for observer status made by the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). The decision was devastating to the human rights communities and activists alike. In the following weeks on the 16 of November another blow was dealt. South Africa voted against the inclusion of sexual orientation on a resolution condemning extrajudicial killings during UN General Assembly in November of 2010.

As if that was not enough with the rejection by ACHPR is still very fresh on our minds on the 2nd of December, the Star newspaper published a story of yet another lesbian death in Bhambayi, KwaZulu-Natal. Ncumisa Mzamelo was murdered and burnt to a crisp in a toilet and all that remained to confirm who she was, was her dental records. Other victors like Millicent Gaika whose pictures are posted on the AVAAZ website stirs anger and much strength to my efforts for gender justice. She was bound, raped repeatedly and strangled just so she can be woman who desires men and not women. Perhaps women bleeding from wounds of torture can use pads-not!

My point is that there seems to be a pattern here. In 2009 for example, the Anti-Gay Bill was hot in the news in Uganda and David Bahiti spent a lot of money pushing for the Bill, what did South Africa say? Nothing! For a country that drives and takes on a constitution that the western world finds amazingly progressive on same-sex marriage, this is seemingly becoming false and the true prejudices of South Africa are showing. It makes me sick to realise that the only thing that the President has thought of to empower women so far is to stop the bleeding on the seats of buses and home affairs office benches by providing sanitary pads. Where did that idea come from Mr. President?

South Africa has damning crimes against women and lesbians and yet these take a long time for the National Prosecuting Authority to even find time to convict, unlike petty crimes during the FIFA World Cup. It feels as though men have been given the ticket to rape women in South Africa. With as little as four percent of speeches that mentioned gender-based violence made by government personnel according to research on gender-based indicators by Gender Links and the Medical Research Council, it is not surprise that there continues to be open grounds for sexual predators in South Africa.

Most of these crimes that violate women and human rights just fade into the next year when we start the 16 Days Campaign and in time for elections. I imagine a scenario of a woman reporting sexual abuse at the police station. “I was raped and beaten last night and I want to open a case, but thankfully the pad stopped the bleeding on my head were my lover hit with a cooking stick. These pads are good for it thanks to President Zuma.”

So the UN Assembly vote by South Africa on the resolution condemning extrajudicial killings on the basis of national, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic group status has passed and we wait by the abattoir. That goes for anyone else who thinks they do not tick this box your turn is now, be aware.

With fatigue of funding HIV/AIDS in Africa, I feel that the announcement by the African Union (AU) on the next 10 years being for the African Women is just another jackpot for donors to pour in money to Africa. Why have we not questioned this statement made to include stopping violence against women? What does decade of the women mean when most are beaten, raped, killed and murdered for the next 10 years?

The ACHPR rejected the application by CAL for Human Rights status. It was demeaning and incomparable, yet it happened. All human rights issues by the way and yet again we are already planning for the Commission on the Status Women (CSW55) this coming end of February and March 2011, and in that are plans for the 16 days of no violence. What does this mean really? Will we continue chasing our tails here and wait for the free pads whilst we bleed to death on violations that affect women in South Africa. I challenge you President Zuma to take a stand to end violence against women in return you can keep the pads for our freedom.

- Glenda Muzenda is the 2010 Human Rights Advocate at Columbia University NY, USA. She lives in Johannesburg were she writes on gender justice issues and loves her cat.

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