By Cynthia Kinyera
Sometimes I think, we Africans have a talent of focusing on all the wrong things. We’ve built a society that loves sweeping uncomfortable things under the rug, and actively convincing ourselves that they do not exist.
Rape, for example.
Did you know that the top four countries with the highest rates of rape in the world are all African? And most African women face some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes? Sexual violence has been a long standing problem in Africa, and it’s still far from solved. It’s still a problem today because the objectification and dehumanization of women has been so normalized that for many, it’s second nature.
A woman being groped as she walks down the street is considered normal. A young girl being married off before she finishes high school is considered normal. A woman disappearing and never being heard of again if she ventures outdoors beyond midnight is considered normal. Hundreds of East African women being shipped off into slavery in Dubai is normal.
The corona pandemic has only made cases skyrocket. Uganda has seen cases of defilement and child abuse climb as economic conditions worsen. In South Africa, the situation is so extreme that the president Cyril Ramaphosa was forced to address the nation on the gender based violence which he referred to as “barbarism”.
To quote Ramaphosa; “In far too many cases of gender-based violence, the perpetrators are known to the victim, but they are also known to our communities. That is why we say this is a societal matter, and not a matter of law enforcement alone. Gender-based violence thrives in a climate of silence. With our silence, by looking the other way because we believe it is a personal or family matter, we become complicit in this most insidious of crimes.”
And it’s true. Society as we know it protects rapists. This is the only reason that incidents like the Bery’s Place scandal exist, where a Bernhard Glaser, a German national openly abused girls in Kalangala for years.
The thing is that no African woman really has complete immunity from this. No matter how rich or educated or protected you are, one day your life can end just because a man decided to.
Let’s take a look in the mirror. What advice do Africans usually give in response to rape? Nine times out of ten it will be something along the lines of ladies changing how they dress, walk, maybe learn some fighting skills. All the while ignoring your friend, your classmate, your workmate, your brother who is preying on girls.
But how’s that worked out so far?
No amount of policing women’s bodies; telling them what to wear or how to look or who to be with, will ever stop rape from happening. Only holding rapists accountable and real action will. Policy change, law reformation, social justice.
Educate yourself. Teach people and speak out on your platforms. Demand for better from your local leaders. Donate to needy groups. Open up women’s homes and shelters. Push for reformation of old antiquated laws that enable abuse. Reform police systems. Call out rapists and rape apologists and stop protecting them from the repercussions of their actions. Break social stigmas.
The question is, what are you doing about it?