State of Emergency – the War on Women’s Bodies

By: Gillian Schutte
Photo: By Savanna Duarte

Women’s bodies have been the locale of war since the inception of patriarchy  — a misogynistic trend that saw the female body become the site of restraint, control and oppression. Thus for many women around the globe the female body has become an experience of violence, suffering and exploitation rather than joy, pleasure and autonomy.

Rape is an excruciatingly cruel male practice fueled by a horrible concoction of masculine entitlement, entrenched patriarchy, misogyny and fear. In some cases it is driven by the lack of self-esteem of the unemployed frustrated and furious disenfranchised, emasculated male. In other cases, rape is driven by the sheer arrogance of the wealthy entitled privileged male who reduces his partner to a trophy or an object to be owned. Many times it is ordinary men who are known to the victim, such as uncles, neighbors or the man in the grocery store.

It does not matter who the rapist is, the damage to women is the same.

In South Africa the war on women is nothing less than a national calamity as women and children have become victims of a current crisis of masculinity. Whether it is centered on white paranoia, privileged entitlement or economic desperation, the rage is turned onto women.

In fact South Africa has been listed as the fourth most dangerous country to live as a woman.

Over the past few years we have been subject to a wave of headlines centered on violence against women. In 2012 we saw an explosion of movements proliferate around the issue of violence against women after the brutal disembowelment and genital mutilation of a 17-year-old girl named Anene Booysen who died from her injuries.  This coincided  with the global outrage against the gruesome gang rape and torture of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the young Indian woman who also died from her injuries.

In the same month a nameless married woman was beheaded by her husband, another young woman’s torso was found legless and armless in her neighbor’s drain; two young girl’s bodies were found sexually mutilated and strangled in the veld.  Since then a number of Black lesbians have been killed in townships because of masculine disapproval of their gender non-conforming sexuality, women have been killed on farms, in mines, in bedrooms and kitchens and even at the hands of the police.  But many of these incidents remained minor headlines and were soon forgotten in the wake of the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp by Paralympic gold medalist, Oscar Pistorius and the subsequent media frenzied trial period.

The fact that these victims and perpetrators are from different social strata and race categories challenges our society to re-examine their prejudices about who exactly it is that is capable of murder, rape and violence. The truth is that though the levels of violence against women are higher in economically-deprived communities, misogyny and violence against the feminine knows no class or race or cultural barriers. It exists wherever men and women exist.

Violence against women is endemic and stretches across the globe. It is embedded and mammoth. According to UN Statistics one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. We can put the blame squarely at the feet of patriarchy — a dominant ideology and occupying system with its many repugnant manifestations around the world.

Patriarchy plays out in various degrees of private and public brutality and oppression in different countries. Each country has its own homespun masculanised means of violence imposed upon women to control and dictate to them whether they are allowed to be educated, to develop, to be sexual, self-realized and independant or empowered. In many cases women are simply chattel with no personal freedoms to speak of whilst in other cases women are repressed in more subtle ways.

In the West patriarchy is seen in world domination patriarchal practices, in church structures where institutionalized misogyny is rife — as it is in the corporate and governmental structures. It is seen in brutal foreign policies and wars declared on innocent civilians in zones earmarked for oil appropriation. It is also seen in incidents of rape and domestic violence.

And let us not forget that Europe remains the biggest consumers of the flesh trade in the trafficking of women and children through an entrenched sex slave industry, which reveals a lot about what a repressed patriarchy is capable of becoming. The realities of this underground world of subjugation and horror has not even begun to be revealed because the truth is there are very few survivors of this well-managed and well-hidden machinery of systematic rape.

In Africa and other patriarchal societies, women are under siege as they fight to resist the onslaught of male antagonism and control often in devastation of war zones, while trying to survive economic hardships that are hard to imagine.

As noted by playwright and feminist Eve Ensler at an African women’s symposium in Kenya, “Whether in Zimbabwe, where widespread rapes occurred during election violence or Somalia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia and Masailand where the oppression of women, early marriage and female genital mutilation is prevalent or Guinea where women suffered horrendous rapes in their political turmoil or Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Congo, where many thousands of women have been raped and methodically desecrated, women in Africa are having a war waged upon them.”

Not without the help of the West either.

Studies show that rape statistics are higher in countries subjected to on-going wars, as in the Congo where rape is used as a means to secure minerals for corporations throughout the West. Here this practice of destroying women’s bodies is becoming a weapon of multi-nationalism that is being used as a way of securing minerals. By raping women and destroying communities and villages though femicide, militias get access to mines and natural resources.

It is clear that sexual violence is becoming an instrument for corporations and capitalist interests in a self-serving partnership between Western and African patriarchy – generating an apocalyptic landscape in which the war on women manifests in alarming levels of rape brutality in what plays out as a perturbing and terrifying echo of colonialism.

Back in South Africa, in a country of 50 million people, three women are killed by their intimate partners every day. We are told that a woman is raped every 17 seconds, yet only one out of nine women report it. It is also reported that only 14% of perpetrators are convicted.

Some have said that these statistics are comparable to rape statistics in a war zone. Surely this situation is untenable?

Surely it is time that we, as a society, get it together to tackle this problem head-on and determinedly. It is  women who spend an inordinate amount of their energy protecting themselves from this onslaught of male violence.

We need to rise up at every occasion and form a unified voice around ending rape and violence on all women — whether a black lesbian killed in a township by homophobic gangsters or a top white model shot to death by her celebrity boyfriend — the reaction needs to be the same.

We need to form mass protest women’s movements to scream out that enough is enough.

We need to pick up pots and pans, drums, our primal screams, our banners, our outrage and gather outside magistrate’s courts and police stations and in the locale of the struggles to show our rage. We need to join those voices that are working to make sure government hears our demands loud and clear and we must find ways to make sure they can no longer ignore the state of emergency that needs to be declared for the women of South Africa.

We need to fight this war within the wider issue of social causes and demand a world in which communities are given services, equal opportunities and social justice in a manner that creates safer environments for women.

We need to reject the corporatisation and pinkwashing of anti-rape campaigns and follow the lead from women whose lived experience is central to their struggle.

We also need to find our intersections and respect our differences and find ways to work together to dismantle the hold that patriarchy has over our language, our popular culture, our media, judicial systems and institutions of learning. This is all part of the battle.

Misogyny is institutionalized. It is entrenched in our daily lives and it is invisible to those who have been handed this so-called ‘God given’ right to claim procurement and superiority over women.

And while we acknowledge that not all men are rapists, patriarchs or misogynists, consider this: only a small percentage of men will speak out against rape in their lifetime.

Until this changes, the silence of the majority of men about the reality of this war on women implicates the male collective.

Now is the time in which both men and women must rise up and end this war on women’s bodies, women’s psyches, women’s intellect, women’s emotions and women’s abilities.

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Schutte is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and social justice activist. She is a founding member of Media for Justice and co-producer at Handheld Films.

Read more articles by Gillian Schutte here.

This article fist appeared on Huffington Post

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