Last year, I was a part of a fundraising committee at my school in South Africa where we worked with a charity called Home of Hope, a home for girls that had been previously sold into prostitution. We volunteered our time playing games and chatting with the teens, who seemed optimistic about their future. To me, these girls represent the success of many South African women – they persevere through bad situations like prostitution, rape or poverty and find a way to get back on their feet.
South Africa, being a diverse nation, has a diverse range of problems. However, the biggest issue facing females in South Africa resonates through all different cultures: rape. Interpol has named South Africa the rape capital of the world and statistics of reported rapes reveal that a woman is raped every four minutes, but experts at Rapewise attest to the statistic that if every single rape was reported, the statistic would be that a woman gets raped every seven seconds.
Social action against rape was at its climax in February 2013, when a 17 year old female was raped and murdered. Radio campaigns raised awareness; marches were held. I played a leading role in Rape is A.P.E., a small initiative at my school which was broadcast on the local news. It was incredible to see the response from girls in my school who were rape survivors, or knew people that had been through something similar. The campaign was their chance to be empowered. Since then, it seems that newspapers have been reporting more on the issue and the girls I know are better able to protect themselves.
South Africa sends a confusing message to girls about protecting them. Legislatively, domestic violence and rape are, of course, against the law but culturally girls seem inferior. I see this every day in sexist internet memes that everyone finds funny and in some of my female friends who have their eyes set on marriage and home-keeping not on education or professional success.
For the culture of rape to end, I call on women, girls, boys and men to reflect on their perceptions of themselves and their relationship to others. I call on all girls and women to forget societal expectations, decide what they want, speak up about it and create the opportunity to get it. Males also have to pull their own weight here. As the G(irls)20 ‘Fathers Empowering Daughters’ campaign promoted, positive male role models impact a girl’s self-worth and independence.
One of the areas where I see where this can have the most affect is in HIV education, contraception and family planning. This is a particularly challenging task in South Africa, where cultural opposition in many African communities demote contraception and encourage men to have many wives.
Many South African women have already started learning these lessons, and empowering themselves despite their circumstances, moving forward through negative situations, like the girls at Home of Hope have. They are eager to be educated. It is time for all women to join them on the path to empowerment. Each of us has the power to remind our community, country and the world of our strength and individuality as females.