Desperate Measures: can gender-based violence be resolved?

Black South African womxn are desperate for legislation to be part of their lived experience.

Black South African womxn are desperate for legislation.

Black South African womxn are desperate.

The forerunner this year has to be Gugu Ncube.

Wearing only a black panty and placing another panty over her breasts at the Union Buildings, she solely protested against sexual abuse and harassment in the context of a Higher Education Institution (HEI). On a cloth placard, Ncube notified the President of the Republic of her perpetrator, where to find him, and the structural oppression in her pursuit for justice. Ncube was forcefully arrested by a group of female police officers and swiftly charged with public indecency.

A week later, a collective of Black Women, Gender Non-binary and Allies in Higher Education in South Africa wrote an open letter to the Republic’s Minister of Higher Education and Training, a black woman herself, Dr Naledi Pandor. The letter highlighted the gender-based violence (GBV) on higher education campuses and demonstrated the intersectionality of GBV.

The letter was brought to the attention of Minister Pandor and she took the demands of the collective into consideration and implemented a policy framework, which will guide a selected task team to deal with GBV on HEIs. Subsequently, the University of KwaZulu-Natal has evolved their approach to GBV on campus and put into effect better policies.

The fact that people in positions of power are working towards making HEIs safer for womxn is progressive and worth celebrating. However, there is truly no change in the social hierarchy of a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Men are deemed powerful, women powerless; white people powerful, black people and other people of colour (non-white people) powerless; the rich powerful, the poor powerless; and specifically, in the context of HEIs, the teacher powerful, the student powerless; the higher the level of educational qualification powerful, and the lower the level of educational qualification powerless. (bell hooks 1984: 118)

Furthermore, the nature of our society is sustained by “the use of abusive force to maintain domination and control”, essentially our society uses hierarchical structures as a basis of human interaction, and violence is the silent ever-present force that hugely factors to the “politics of domination”. (bell hooks 1984:120 / 1989:20) Considering the context of a HEI, the politics of domination are diverse. For example, there is the highly educated male professor, the poor female student, the charismatic male SRC president, the outsourced female cleaner. GBV places gender as the primary violent structural inequality, but race, class, and sexuality majorly contribute to the perpetuation of sexual harassment and/or sexual abuse.

Basically, polices are implemented but the social landscape will never cultivate the elimination of gendered violence. As gender theorist, Judith Butler (1999:158) suggests, a more favourable outcome for the lives of womxn would be “the subversive and parodic redeployment of power rather than on the impossible fantasy of its full transcendence”. Which leads us back to 2019s forerunner of desperate Black South African womxn, Gugu Ncube, who is disrupting the tradition of silence that GBV carries. It is subversive and parodic redeployments of power like this, that will eventually make patriarchal and hegemonic masculine norms, like GBV, abnormal.

But this is not to put the onus on the survivor. GBV is traumatising and expecting a #MeToo from every survivor is exploitative. As a survivor of GBV in a HEI, I do not have a grand theory on how to restore justice and uproot violence. I just know that Nigerian poet, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, said, breaking silence is an act of civil disobedience and that is how change happens. So I reckon that the voices of survivors of GBV have power to change its discourse. GBV is devastatingly underreported and we need to be seen, recognised, and considered worthy of a peaceful existence. Policies are still structural and all I keep seeing is desperate Black South African womxn being excluded from any sense of security.

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