Victim Blaming Is Completely Unacceptable

Trying to find the why of violation of women and girls in our society is probably only helpful if it leads to lessons from which we should learn.

13/06/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 13/06/2017 03:58 SAST
Daylin Paul/ AFP/ Getty Images
South African men hold placards denouncing violence against women during the memorial service for Karabo Mokoena.

Growing up in a middle-sized Karoo town, I remember two incidents that shattered my belief that women are safe. The first was the killing of a young woman brutally murdered by the father of her unborn child. The young man, also just a teenager, was said to be quiet and kind. A few years later it was the rape of a beautiful young teenager by her father that rocked our community to its core and it was the subsequent suicide of the father in police lockup that I remember gave the wider community some semblance of satisfaction.

As a young girl, I was shaken by these two events, believing that they were rare and isolated. Back then, there was no way of knowing that these types of incidents of violence against women were going to be the soundtrack of our lives as South Africans. Violence against women and girls seems to be pervasive in our society. A South African newspaper recently reported that a new Stats SA study shows that one in five women report that they experience intimate partner violence.

The reason for the violation of women in South Africa is often said to be our violent past of colonialism and apartheid. As young students under apartheid, we used to posit the Paulo Freire view of the dehumanisation of men through oppression causing the violence against women. However, that would have meant that only men who were oppressed were capable of violence and heaven knows, that was not the case, as violence against women was rife in all groups and spheres of South African life.

We tried finding answers in the way our legal system placed married women (unless an antenuptial contract existed) under marital power and thus in the position of a minor, with her husband being her guardian, until 1984. Our understanding of marriage according to customary laws did not help either, as the patriarchy principle of male privilege over women was also reinforced by tradition.

Even after 1996 when our Constitution, with its precepts of equality, became the law of the land, the fate of women and girls with regard to violence did not change. Irrespective of whether the value our society attaches to a girl child is influenced by religious or cultural norms, the fact remains that girls and women are increasingly not safe in the sanctuary of their own homes or communities.

Trying to find the why of disrespect and violation of women and girls in our society is probably only helpful if it leads to lessons from which we should learn. The better question to ask, paraphrasing the words of a French philosopher and Jesuit priest, is how we intend to respond to the out-of-control violence against women and girls. The response of two of our female politicians to the killing of young Karabo Mokoena is certainly not helpful or desirable.

To assume that the love of money lead young women to be blind to the abuse they suffer, is heartless and ignorant.

Besides the fact that it displays lack of sophistication to speak ill of the dead, it is also hurtful to the family to say that their daughter, the victim, was weak. To assume that the love of money lead young women to be blind to the abuse they suffer, is heartless and ignorant. Unless the Ministers of Women in the Presidency and of Social Development had walked one day in Karabo's shoes, they should refrain from engaging in victim shaming. Instead our response should be to validate our boys and girls to be the one in 7.5 billion person that he or she is.

This does not mean we give them everything they want, nor do we allow them to do whatever they please, whenever they wish. It does not mean rearing our children without boundaries and consequences, for even though company CEOs are important to industry, having baby CEOs in our homes lead to adults who believe that they are entitled, who are egocentric, without empathy and completely self-absorbed.

If we can discipline our boys and girls without humiliating them, if we can set boundaries without rendering our children powerless or inept, if we can help them understand that actions have consequences and convey that understanding without shaming them, if we can teach our youngsters that no means no without being cruel, then maybe we have a chance of sending off into this world not only men who respect themselves and thus respect all women, but also women who value themselves more than whatever social capital they get from having a man in their lives, even if he is abusive.

• Minister Shabangu has subsequently clarified her statement