Apartheid

Sorry but The Guardian is too tricky for me to steal the video. Click the still and you’ll be taken to the Guardian article with the video.

The brutal legacy of South Africa’s history did not end with Apartheid, nor have all minorities found their basic human rights granted after the ANC took power. Stories are escaping the townships surrounding Johannesburg and Cape Town, horrible stories of corrective rape. The victims are targeted because they are lesbians, or at least this is the rationale given by perpetrators of these attacks. The men are raping these women because they are gay and by this savage act they say the women will become straight.

Women are the world’s minority, and poverty seems to inflame the abuse they encounter in their daily lives. It should be no surprise that women in the squalid townships of South Africa are victims of brutality, but these targeted attacks are particularly vicious. The women are often gang-raped, they are often tortured and beaten and, increasingly, they are being murdered.

A South African gay-rights organization conducted research last year which implied the fear amongst lesbians in the township communities was overwhelming. Triangle Project went on to say that they are “dealing with up to 10 new cases of corrective rape every week”. It’s always important to remember that numbers are reported instances which cannot calculate every time a woman is too terrified or ashamed to come forward.

In most places a tally of ten women raped every week would lead to press conferences, increased police presence, community meetings, wanted posters, marches through the streets. In South Africa lesbians who have reported these attacks and subjected themselves to the collection of physical evidence have seen the police wash their hands of any responsibility. Investigations don’t take place, witnesses are not questioned, the guilty roam the streets. After the July 2007 double rape and murder of a lesbian couple, Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Massooa, a coalition of various human rights groups formed the 07-07-07 Campaign to highlight the police’s refusal to investigate these crimes.

The watershed moment came last year when Eudy Simelane, an openly gay soccer champion, was gang-raped, beaten and stabbed twenty-five times. While reports of violence against lesbians have risen since her body was found in a creek Simelane’s status led to four men being arrested and made to stand trial for the attack. As of February 12th, 2009, the trial has been postponed until July. Human rights groups have begun campaigning for the creation of hate-crimes, of which corrective rape would be one, in the South African judicial system. It is believed that if attacks on lesbians were a new crime category that police and the courts will no longer be able to hide their reluctance to pursue justice for the victims. Will this result in anything? One of the four accused has already plead guilty but during the sentencing the judge noted Simelane’s sexual orientation had no bearing of her being attacked, raped and killed.

On March 11th President Obama signed an Executive Order to create The White House Council on Women and Girls. The council will meet regularly, comprised of every cabinet leader in the administration, to ensure that policy takes into account the equality of women. It seems like a fluff piece, really, but the first year’s objective includes:

Working hand-in-hand with the Vice President, the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women and other government officials to find new ways to prevent violence against women, at home and abroad.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has also recently instituted a sub-committee chaired by Barbara Boxer, The Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues. It’s unclear how toothless one more government committee will be, but New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof sees beacons of hope on the horizon. He notes in a recent posting, as many others who work primarily in the third world, that nations with an empowered female population perform stronger economically, suggesting that the marriage of political pressure and economic stresses may begin to urge policies to protect women, such as those being terrorized in South Africa. Part of me is disgusted it takes an Executive Order, a Senate sub-committee, and hard economic times to force change, but for places where genital mutilation is still practiced, where schoolgirls are abducted from their schoolyards, where common belief suggests that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, I suppose that you do whatever it takes to make changes.

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