Can a taskforce stop the "corrective rape" of South African lesbians?

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 9 May 2011 22:33 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Gay rights groups say 10 new cases of "corrective rape" occur weekly in Cape Town

By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI (TrustLaw) – South Africa’s weekend papers reported the rape of a 13-year-old lesbian in Pretoria, just days after the government set up a task force to address the problem of “corrective rape” – where lesbians are raped by men to "cure" them of their sexual orientation.

 Gay advocacy groups estimate about 10 new cases of “corrective rape” occur every week in Cape Town, with 31 women murdered because of their sexuality in the last decade.

 It took last month’s brutal rape and murder of 24-year-old lesbian Noxolo Nogwaza to spur the government into action.

 Nogwaza was found dead in an alleyway in Kwa-Thema township on 24 April. Her face was crushed beyond recognition, her eyes out of their sockets, her brain spilt and teeth scattered on the ground. She had been stabbed several times and a beer bottle thrust inside her private parts, according to an activist group.   

Nogwaza was a member of Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee, which was set up in 2009 in response to the murders of two other lesbians, Eudy Simelani and Girly “Sgelane” Nkosi.

 The government’s belated response raises questions. Is it serious about this taskforce? Or is it simply caving in to mounting domestic and international pressure to act? What can the taskforce realistically hope to achieve?

Homophobia is near universal across much of Africa, condemned by presidents and parliamentarians alike as “unChristian” and “unAfrican”.

 When a prominent gay rights campaigner, David Kato, was murdered in Uganda earlier this year, East African colleagues felt no shame in making comments that can only be categorised as hate speech.

 It’s one of those cultural issues, like polygamy and abortion, where many Westerners find it is fruitless engaging in debate with people whose life experiences and social reality are so different from their own.

 It took 170,000 signatures from 163 countries to a petition calling for action against corrective rape for South African campaigners to secure an initial meeting with Ministry of Justice in March.  

NGOs, such as ActionAid, have been campaigning for “corrective rape” to be addressed for several years.

 

As horrific and tragic as Nogwaza’s death is, it is important to put these crimes into context.

Nationmaster.com estimates,  South Africa has the worst rate of sexual violence in the world.

 A few shocking statistics:

 · Girls have a greater chance of being raped (one in two) than completing secondary school (one in three). 

· One in four South African men admit to committing rape, according to the government-funded Medical Research Council.

· A survey of over a quarter of a million schoolchildren found that 62 percent of South African schoolboys believe forcing sex on someone is not an act of violence, and one third of male students believe girls enjoy rape.

· Rape of young children is one of the most disturbing aspects of sexual violence, accounting for 40 percent of rapes, as illustrated in this Reuters photoblog.

 · The majority of rapists are related or intimate with the victims.

 While the new task force aims to sensitise police and judges to take corrective rape more seriously, their attitudes merely reflect those of the broader society.

 Social science theorists attribute South Africa’s high rates of violence against women to traditional cultural stereotypes, the normalisation of violence under apartheid, and men’s frustration due to high unemployment and poverty.

 It will take much more than a taskforce to address these problems.

 Until then, South Africa’s famously progressive constitution – which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation – will remain worth little more than the paper it is written on.

 

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