Being a woman in South Africa means you live in constant fear, if not for your own life, then for the life of the women and girls around you.

I grew up with the idea of a man being respectable and honourable not only behind closed doors but in public as well. This idea was largely influenced by my father and till today I judge the stature of what a man is against what my father stands for. Unfortunately, I learned that my idea of a man was not what society had in mind. 

By the age of 15 I was fully aware of violence against women through social media and the reality of being a woman in South Africa. My faith in men and society at large changed when I witnessed a close friend being brutally assaulted in Protea Glen, Soweto by a bitter ex-boyfriend who showed up from nowhere and asked to talk to her.

Things escalated so quickly, he attacked her right there in my presence with cars passing by and people who would stare only to turn away as if they were not seeing this or hearing our screams. I remember begging him to let her go and every time I would insert myself between them he would push me away. 

This was my first experience with violence directed at a woman and it was not the last. Till this day I ask myself, if bystanders can watch and turn a blind eye in broad daylight what does this mean for us as women?  

While being a woman means many things it also means you are susceptible to being a victim of gender-based violence at the hands of a partner, colleagues, friends, family and even strangers. Being a woman in South Africa means you live in constant fear, if not for your own life, then for the life of the women and girls around you.

Police minister, Bheki Cele released the crime statistics for the first quarter of 2021 on Friday, May 14. Addressing sexual offences in his report, he said, “While there has been a decline in sexual offence cases, 9 518 people were raped between January and March. This is a decline of 387 cases, amounting to an almost 4% decrease compared to the previous reporting period.” He added that, “A sample of 6 893 of the rape incidents revealed that 4 130 of these incidents took place at the home of the victim or the home of the alleged rapist, which means those people might have known each other.” 

It is numbers like these that foster a sense of fear in me and many other women despite the decline. One victim is one too many. I know I am not the only woman who feels like this when my friends send me their locations or the number plates of the ride they are taking. We adopted this as friends just in case we go missing or end up in a ditch somewhere. 

Women are forced to carry pepper sprays, and to be nice to men or give them their phone number only to block the person later. A simple “No” seems to carry no weight at all.

The irony is that my best form of protection has become the presence of another man. One thing I have learned over the years is that men respect men. I noticed that at social gatherings having a male presence with me, be it a friend or family, offered some form of protection from harassment. I would not be exposed to being catcalled or slut shamed because I chose to wear a mini skirt. 

Society remedies the actions of women but not of men, to a problem largely caused by men. “What was she wearing? What did she do to provoke him?” These are just some of the accusatory questions that paint the victim as a problem, and persecute women for the actions of men.

FEATURED IMAGE: Sinenhlanhla Sibisi