Scholars, artists and writers from South Africa and India explored sexual violence in their home countries at a two-day conference hosted by Wits University.

South African and Indian feminists gathered at Wits University in Johannesburg to discuss and explore sexual violence within the legal system, universities, and political movements in both countries. The workshop, Intimacy & Injury: In the wake of #MeToo in India and South Africa, took place at the Wits Club on February 14-15.

The speakers, which included writers, researchers, artists and activists, gave presentations which drew on on histories, political movements, universities, media, and art to discuss the nature of sexual violence and the responses to it in both countries.

Professor Srila Roy, head of the Wits Governing Intimacies project, said her project has worked collaboratively with Indian colleagues and this workshop was part of the effort to explore other areas of collaboration. Roy added that the #MeToo collaboration was borne out of the similarities that India and South Africa share in terms of their histories and social movements, as well as their labels as ‘rape capitals’ of the world.

“This workshop was about South-South collaboration and bringing feminists of colour from the Global South into the same space,” Roy told Wits Vuvuzela. “One of the really great things that has come out of this has been the amount of people who’ve told me [to say] that they have been struck by the similarities between the two countries, particularly in terms of tensions around race, class, and caste that are common and alive.”

Throughout the workshop, references were made to anti-sexual assault movements such as #EndRapeCulture and #RUReferenceList, as well as oppressive systems like class, and caste in India. Varsha Ayya, a feminist scholar of the Dalit caste and a presenters at the workshop, said she became involved in the workshop when a colleague  recommended her for the conference because of her work. Ayya’s work looks at the intersectionality between caste and gender, and her own accomplishments as an academic.

“It’s an incredible conference,” she said. “In India these spaces are dominated by upper caste women and the ratio is disproportionate. I was expecting to see too many white people on the panel here and was happy to not see that,” Ayya said.

The workshop was co-hosted by the Wits Governing Intimacies project, the Wits Gender Equity Office (GEO), and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) from India and was attended by about 30 people.

FEATURED IMAGE: Prof Srila Roy hosted the #MeToo workshop which ran from February 14-15 at Wits University. Photo: Naledi Mashishi