Many of the things said by Dr John Kani in his anti-femicide speech on Friday, September 6 at the Market Theatre were nothing I hadn’t heard before. That as a people we should stand up and say, ‘enough is enough’, that men should take responsibility for their actions and seek change, that the government must send a clear message about the fate of abusers by finding effective and robust ways to condemn them. That women should ‘speak up’.
“We condemn”, “speak up”, “enough is enough”.
This same tune has been sung in many different melodies – from the police, government officials, men and women in general and even our president recently. But it is not that black and white, and constantly “condemning” and regurgitating the same “advice” does not guarantee the end of gender-based violence (GBV). We need to squint and take a closer look at the pixels that make up this evil.
What we need to consider and what Dr Kani shed some light on in his anti-femicide speech is the fact that gender-based violence in this country is highly cushioned. It has found sanctuary within our homes, our marriages, in our workplaces, within friendships, and schools. Our entertainment industry is rotten with many of the people we have looked up to as role models being outed as perpetrators on social media.
My concern is, as much as we can say “enough is enough” and that we need to “speak out”, we still live among sworn gatekeepers of GBV. Those who intentionally and unintentionally turn a blind eye when they are told or witness an abuse by a loved one, friend, or colleague. Gatekeepers are the scum underneath the sink. We first need to clean up the underneath if we are to stop the GBV disease for good. Otherwise, we are stuck with it forever.
Without opportunity, perpetrators would fail to thrive, or at least not as much as they have until now. Gatekeepers create opportunities for perpetrators and so they multiply and become even deadlier.
A gatekeeper is the mother who tells you to “shut up lest you bring shame to the family” when you are being molested and/or raped by your uncle. The friend who looks on and does nor say anything when your boyfriend is beating you up in front of them. A gatekeeper is the executive at your workplace who advises you to keep quiet about sexual harassment from your boss otherwise you lose your job. A gatekeeper is the enabler.
The enablers make the fight difficult. They even make it seem useless, pointless. The enablers take away the power in our voices and actions. I consider them a virus. Because just like a virus, “they must invade a host organism and hijack its genetic instructions” for them to survive. The host organism in this case being us, women and children, whose genetic instructions, our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing are compromised.
Women and children have had to keep quiet in many instances of abuse to protect themselves, for the sake of keeping the peace, and to secure a living. There is always a price to pay, a loss to consider, and a reputation to preserve should we dare “speak out”. We have always “spoken out” though, just never been heard. If we are going to condemn the perpetrators, we should also condemn the gatekeepers who hold the keys to our freedom. It is one thing to witness helplessly, but it is another to witness willingly.
But of course, it is easier said than done. No one wants to admit that they were/are an accomplice because sometimes they are not even aware. Which is the point that the #NotAllMen brigade is constantly missing. It is difficult too because the act of deliberate silence is also linked to patriarchy, which is related to culture, that is ingrained in our history which has informed our identity.
This then means we need to change the social mindset for the children we are yet to raise completely. Ctrl, Alt, Delete the very fabrics of patriarchy: asserting problematic gender roles, giving privilege to boys, pitting girls against each other while encouraging boys to have each other’s backs no matter what, shaming women for owning their sexuality, shaming women for “giving it up” while praising men for “getting it in”, and making men feel like they’re entitled to us because of a friggin’ rib.
We need to rewrite our history as a people, we need to break down the toxicity within our cultures that marginalise the woman and assert a new identity that women can embrace as one that protects and empowers them.
OPINION: Lelethu Tonisi