We are women, hear us roar for justice

Ideas

We are women, hear us roar for justice

Women are calling for a total shutdown on August 1 to mark the start of Women's Month

Journalist

My mother met him when I was two. Married him when I was three. He sexually molested me from age three to 12.
Then he raped me, and let his drunk friends help themselves to me.
My mother was beaten, strangled. Once he beat her so bad she had to crawl. He molested our friends.
I buried my mother when he beat her for the last time. She never went to the doctor or the police.I lived with my dad as a toddler. He and my mom had parted ways. He would rape me every single night and then beat me up with a pipe while making me bath with cold water “to clean the naughtiness off your body”. 
I was five years old. The rape lasted for just over 15 months.
One day I decided after school I won’t go back home, instead I will go to my maternal grandparents’ house. I was smuggled to another province at 2am, by my grandmother, in a suitcase big enough to fit my tiny body.The Total Shutdown movement began as a social media post. It quickly grew to more than 100,000 participants, many of whom have shared deeply personal and harrowing stories. Those above are just two among the outpouring of pain and grief.
Many of the women who have found catharsis this way say they have drawn strength from the numbers, that the supportive group has enabled them to safely and anonymously share painful memories that some have kept hidden for years.
On August 1, Total Shutdown is calling on women to march to strategic centres around South Africa and petition representatives of national, provincial and local government to do more in terms of protecting women and deterring the perpetrators of gender violence.Dress code is “black with a splash of red” — black to signify mourning for the victims and red for the blood that has been spilt — but this is a lot more than a #MeToo gimmick.
Total Shutdown spokeswoman Lesley Ncube said the memorandum being delivered to targeted officials contains specific requests, including the demand for a dedicated sexual offences court and professional training for those who receive victims of rape and abuse, so that they are not re-traumatised.
It asks for sensitivity training so that a 14-year-old in a rape trial is not asked for her sexual history. For abortion rights. For more than the three hospitals that currently provide medication and surgery for gender reassignment. And for protective mechanisms to assist migrant women exploited and abused by their employers.Although they acknowledge the role of men who do not abuse women, and men who are equally appalled by gender violence, the group has requested that this remain a women-only march.“For many women, men equal violence,” said organiser Avela Faye. The march is supposed to be a safe space and, given that some marchers may have experienced gender-based   violence, a sense of safety is vital.
There will be psychologists and counsellors on hand to help those whose emotions might be triggered by finally speaking out about experiences they have suppressed and pain they have endured.
Men who employ women can help by granting their  employees leave to participate in the march, said Faye, and women unable to miss work are requested to down tools between 1pm and 1.30pm “to observe a moment of solidarity as we mourn the lives that have been lost due to gender-based violence and femicide”.The call is not just for marchers but for all men and women who oppose rape and abuse to stage an economic protest by as far as possible not spending any money on August 1.
The group has already held rallies at community organisations and places of worship. Total Shutdown is not aligned to any religion or political party and its message of unity among women is gaining momentum.Those leading the movement hope to receive responses from the three tiers of government by the end of August.
“What are we celebrating on Women’s Day on August 9 otherwise?” Ncube asked. “The world is watching to see how the South African government will react to us.”
South Africa might not come to a standstill at 1pm on Wednesday. Our femicide statistics, the worst in the world, might not immediately decrease. Prosecutions may not step up a notch and abuse victims may not be treated any better by the authorities. But women will have been heard, and that’s a start.
• For updates, follow WomenProtestSA on Facebook, @WomenProtestSA on Twitter, and @TheTotalShutdown on Instagram and YouTube

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