SHE’S STRONG BECAUSE SHE’S A WOMAN!
By: Sonam Bhagwandas
The month of August in South Africa is distinctly recognised as Women’s Month with the nation celebrating Women’s Day on 9 August. It is a month set aside to honour and celebrate the strong, resilient and determined women of our nation that would stop at nothing to protect and fight for what they believe in.
However, that does not stop the daily crimes against those who mother us, feed us, provide love and warmth for us as they are taken advantage of by men who simply do not understand a woman’s worth. Both men and women are abused and raped by their partners, family members as well as complete strangers and victims find it extremely difficult to report the crime.
It is estimated that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime and that only one in nine rape cases are reported. It is also estimated that only 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted in South Africa.
In 1997, violence against women was added as one of the priority crimes under the National Crime Prevention Strategy; nevertheless, the rates of reported rape, sexual abuse of children and domestic violence continue to rise.
According to the report by the United Nations Office on Crimes and Drugs for the period 1998–2000, South Africa was ranked first for rapes per capita. In 1998, one in three of the 4,000 women questioned in Johannesburg was raped, according to Community Information, Empowerment and Transparency (CIET) Africa. While women’s groups in South Africa estimate that a woman is raped every 26 seconds, the South African police estimate that a woman is raped every 36 seconds.
With rape statistics so high in South Africa, it certainly makes you wonder how those who commit these crimes against the women of this country view their mothers and sisters. *Razia Smith, a 21- year-old girl, has been brave enough to tell her story so that others in a similar situation are able to speak out against their perpetrators.
“He was a pastor and elder at a church that I had attended for eight years. Because I came from a broken home he decided that God had led him to help me once I got out of school. I began going to his house and building a strong bond with both him and his wife. Instantly I began feeling really uncomfortable around him because he would make sexual comments. One time he got too forward with me and that’s when it happened. I was so ashamed to tell anyone,” said Smith, looking down in disappointment as she spoke.
Smith also admitted that it continued until she was able to find the courage to tell her Pastor about the abuse.
“Unfortunately because this elder was rich and famous and funded the church, they kicked me out thinking I was after his money. It has been three years since this happened but it is a scar that will take a very long time to heal,” she said.
Many women such as Smith are violated and abused daily and many are told it is their fault. Women are so distraught at that moment and then believe they have caused what has happened to them.
Smith spoke about how she blames herself for what happened to her and believed that it was her fault. “I most definitely blamed myself and felt that I had caused what had happened to me and I still feel that way. I believe if I had spoken up earlier it may have not happened, but I realized I was a still so young and fresh out of matric. The world is already so big and for this to happen I was totally lost and didn’t know what to do or say,” Smith admitted downheartedly.
In keeping with the theme of Women’s Month, Smith felt that abuse, rape and violence against women are much looked down upon as well as the need to break down the stereotype of women being the weaker sex.
She stated that it is important to determine the role that women play in society. “I believe that it is of extreme importance for people to understand the role of women. Once you begin to understand why women are here and why we’re cut above the rest, only then can there be a difference. It all starts with appreciation, true appreciation! Only then will the world begin to be different. Yes, many women have fought for us in the past, but woman are still fighting today, fighting against rape, abuse, to keep their children safe and their families fed,” Smith said.
She added, “For those who have been through what I have, all I can say is lift your head high! It all starts with forgiveness. Speak up! Don’t be silent and wait until it’s too late!”
Many of us feel as if we have to continuously prove ourselves to the other sex, but that should never be the case. Be proud to be a woman and be proud to do the things you are able to do that no man on this earth could possibly do.
(The name *Razia Smith has been used to protect the identity of the victim)