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Archives for : Cape Town

South Africa: The Importance Of “Telling Our Own Stories” #Vaw

Names from the top: Nangamso Bomvana, Vuyolwethu Ntunguntwana, Chizoba Mkhwanazi, Simnikiwe Sawula, Zihle Mciteka

Names from the top: Nangamso Bomvana, Vuyolwethu Ntunguntwana, Chizoba Mkhwanazi, Simnikiwe Sawula, Zihle Mciteka

Cape Town (Women’s Feature Service) – As the curtains go up and the bright lights dramatically illuminate the room, all the audience can see is a bare stage with three chairs. A stark setting indeed and, yet, it’s the perfect backdrop for a performance that combines music, dance, laughter and heart-rending stories – of feminine courage and spirited action in the face of persistent physical and emotional violence. As the cast of young university women, which includes Vuyolwethu Tunguntwana, 19, Chizoba Mkhwanazi, 18, Ayabonga Pasiya, 22, and others, brings the stage to life with their impassioned narrations, the viewers hang on to their every word and feeling.

Even though it’s been nine years since the feminist play, ‘Reclaiming the P… Word’, was first staged at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, its message as well as effect has remained constant. This self-scripted and performed drama, which fights against the cultures that enable sexual violence on campus as well as in South African society, never fails to enlighten and empower.

Mary Hames, Director of the University’s Gender Equity Unit (GEU) that has produced the play, talks about how the idea to write and direct ‘Reclaiming the P… Word’ took shape. “The GEU has conceptualised this play that specifically raises awareness about the objectification and sexualisation of black women‘s bodies. It was the outcome of several workshops and discussions held campus-wide in which the staff, students as well as women from the larger community were encouraged to speak about or write down their own experiences related to bodily integrity and dignity.”

This process took approximately four months and led to the penning of a “flexible script that had multiple elements: feminist education and teaching, the evocation of empathy with the experiences of the cast and characters, the raising of awareness, and shock about the statistics on violence”. According to Hames, “The play aimed to provide humour and laughter, to present audiences with the reality of life for black South African women in a truthful manner and to capture and hold the attention of the audience for approximately one hour.”

Three weeks before the play was due to open the scripts started to roll in; staffand students wrote their own pieces. Eventually eight monologues, one dialogue, one poem and one song were selected. “We had to come up with a title that was provocative and truthful, and I proposed ‘Reclaiming the P…Word. The ‘P’ stands for poes – the Afrikaans term for vagina. The term has a very specific context and connotation in South Africa, especially among Afrikaans-speaking communities, and is often used in a derogatory sense. The premise of the play (and the use of the term) was to examine such social ideas of embodiment and to provoke debate and raise consciousness about the female body,” she adds.

The first performance of ‘Reclaiming the P…Word’ was an overwhelming success and it was decided to stage another two performances as part of the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women Campaign that year. Indeed, the first two verses of the song, written by a cast member, truly epitomises the message of the play:

‘I’m a woman

My spirit is free

And the person that I love

The most in the world is me

I own by body

I love what I see

I love every body…

But most of all

I love me’ (Johanna Booysen, 2006)

Over the years, the fundamentals of ‘Reclaiming the P…Word’ haven’t changed. Ayabonga Pasiya, 22, who is in her final year of B.Sc Medical Bioscience, is the director at present. She shares, “Till today, each portion of the play is intimately connected with the other and sensitively traces the outcome of physical and emotional violence on women’s bodies. After the show, several women in the audience usually come forward and express how they could relate to each piece. The performance allows them to connect and, at the same time, challenges them to reflect.”

Significantly, the play includes stories of incest and domestic violence, and even comments on the violence women are subjected to in the public sphere. “In the process, it conveys the importance of reclaiming the self. Personal and local experiences are related in a language understood by both the educated and semi-educated in an unpretentious manner. In fact, non-South African women, too, can immediately relate to it as it has a universal message,” Pasiya elaborates.

Cheerful and enthusiastic Chizoba Mkhwanazi, who joined the group in February 2015, believes that their play is the perfect platform to tell personal stories in an artistic manner. “It is one of the best examples of activism through performance,” she mentions, adding, “I love the way we use the stage. Physically it’s bare but it transforms into a space of empowerment and freedom, where women are encouraged to find their voice.”

Dressed in black the girls’ performance is striking as they effortlessly convey how even though women are all the same – or rather come from the same source – they are still unique in their own right. As “finding the voice” is central to the production, it’s remarkable the way in which they talk about how they are “rewriting histories” and “voicing their present”.

Fast-paced and engaging, the narrative, made up of several monologues punctuated with dancing, singing and drama, easily comes together as one, forcing everyone to sit up and pay attention to the violence and injustice around them. After all, only when people are confronted can they no longer turn away and pretend that they do not hear or see the prejudice or unfairness meted out to girls and women in general.

Of course, the revelations are not confined to the audience alone. The girls associated with production have their own learning curves. Vuyolwethu Tunguntwana, 19, a cast member for two years, feels that she now knows the “importance of telling our own stories – because if you don’t do it, no one else will”. For her, “performing the play is like taking back what belongs to women. The real meaning of the word poes. I feel very liberated because I believe in what I’m saying”.

Simnikiwe Sawula, 21, a second year student, finds being part of the play a “learning and healing experience”. She says, “Like most black people, I have also felt the pain of segregation, isolation and silence. With this play, I get to create my very own safe space, where I am honest and do not feel intimidated or belittled. It allows me to share my story as a black woman with other black women and not worry about being censored.” Recalling her aha! moment Sawula says, “It came during a scene that deals with sexual and reproductive rights, specifically the issue of menstruation and sanitary napkins, how this is dealt differently by each culture and how the advertising of these products is handled. Before that time, I had never really engaged so closely with issues related to sexual and reproductive rights.”

Mkhwanazi is quick to point out that “there’s a whole range of subjects that we touch on”. “We speak on a number of things – about owning our blackness or being black, feminism and how it’s become taboo to be one and how we’re scrutinised and attacked for being one. We talk about rape in family and what it does to young women who have no idea how to tell their families that they have been violated by one of their own,” she explains. And, after every show the cast interacts with the audience and their reactions act as motivation and a valuable source of information.

Hames, who has seen successive batches of girls and women being empowered through their involvement with the play, concludes, “It’s been a journey of healing, growth, understanding themselves for the first time and hope.”

(This article is part of U.N. Women’s Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It! campaign in the lead-up to Beijing+20.)

(© Women’s Feature Service)
Author: Mahabal, Kamayani Bali
Date published: November 6, 2015
Language: English
PMID: 59130
Journal code: WNFS

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Global thematic campaign on Gender and Reproductive Justice #Vaw

Gender 'tag cloud'


People’s Health Movement


8th March, 2013




At the People’s Health Assembly 3 held in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2012, People’s Health Movement committed to build a campaign on gender issues through initiating separate circle on the Global thematic campaign on Genders within the PHM right to health campaign. Through the online correspondence in these last few months, a general view of expanding the gender circle has emerged, especially regarding specific themes of gender, equity, and violence, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Reproductive Justice.


Why a Global thematic campaign on Gender


We, at PHM believe that Health Rights including Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights must be located within a perspective that recognizes social determinants of health, and universal health entitlements/access to healthcare. The framework should address the oppressive structures of neo-liberal globalization, capitalism, poverty, patriarchy, privatization of essential services, imperialism, militarization, fundamentalisms, heteronormativity, racism, casteism and ableism, which not only exacerbate poor physical, sexual, reproductive and emotional health for women and young girls but also disadvantage them in accessing health-care.


We are only too aware of how gender oppression is intricately linked to other systems of oppression and PHM’s agenda should be to make a conscious effort to create space and visibility for some such concerns that can often be observed to be marginalized even within progressive, rights movements. While they assume different forms in different contexts and social realities, issues of ability/disability, sexuality, health in the context of conflict, state sponsored coercive population policies, gender based violence, non-coercive access to contraception and abortion, and especially the rights of sex workers, transgender, HIV positive individuals in relation to all the above are sparsely raised on the public health platforms and health movements across the world.


There is a cyclical relation between violence and ill-health; both influence each other, yet gender based violence is rarely addressed as a human rights or public health issue. That violence takes varied forms and that gendered notions make certain peoples particular targets is a question of political violence that a movement like PHM needs to urgently address.


Historically, as we know that women’s ability to make choices and exercise autonomy in matters of sexuality and reproduction has been conditioned and constrained by economic, political, religious and cultural patterns, responding to a model of prescriptive ‘normality’ and disallowing any kind of behavior which deviates from this. The relegation of women’s health to maternity and family planning on the one hand and the concerted attack on women’s reproductive and sexual rights on the other are serious violations of women’s autonomy, personhood, dignity and human rights.


Throughout the world, society, law and cultural norms have repressed any behaviour that could challenge this prescriptive reproductive role of women. Reproduction itself becomes a site of coercion and social inequality, being regulated by morality, class, caste, race hierarchies and community. It is the same ideas of gender roles, relations and sexual division of labour that result in coercive structures for women, and further marginalize several persons who go against the existing heteronormativity.


As an object of policy, sexuality and sexual rights have generally been considered as an ‘unimportant’ and secondary issue. Women’s movements have also only gradually given space to these debates. That sexual rights for all are essential for better physical, mental and emotional health is a perspective that needs a much stronger acknowledgement and activism by both the state and social movements.


Within the health care systems, health professionals need to be sensitised in order to address all forms of violence and discrimination on the basis of gender within the private as well as public spheres. Health rights can be enjoyed by all and accessed at all times only if the rights of those who occupy low rungs in the gender hierarchy have secured rights in all spheres.


PHM is well-placed to address components of policy advocacy, capacity building, knowledge creation and health systems engagement within this umbrella framework.  The need is for us to foreground this perspectives in our strategies. We can hold capacity building and advocacy initiatives for SRHR, violence There is a need to conceptualize the campaigns/circles in a way that we understand the common systems of oppressions and gender hierarchies and are able to equally visiblize and address concerns of all those who are marginalized, exploited and discriminated against on the basis of their gender identities and sexual behaviour.


The thematic Circle will Insert all these concerns within the People’s health movement by- informing the PHM mandate and the campaign for Health For All and vis-à-vis gender. PHM will provide a platform for women across the world to articulate the above concerns as well as to share and learn from each other the creative struggles waged by people, especially by women, against injustice and inequality.




PHM global has already been engaged with many networks such as WGNRR, IWHM, ARROW, SAMA, WISH to name a few. We would like to welcome and invite networks/organisations, coalitions to join and collaborate with us on this initiative. Together we can strategise for a better world that is founded on social justice, non-discrimination and equal opportunity for all people.


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South Africa outraged over brutal #gangrape #Vaw

Associated Press
 February 7, 2013


Johannesburg —

In a country where 1 in 4 women is raped and where months-old babies and 94-year-old grandmothers are sexually assaulted, citizens are demanding action after a teenager was gang-raped, had her stomach sliced open, and was left for dead on a construction site last week.

The 17-year-old lived long enough to identify one of her attackers, a 22-year-old. Police arrested him and said Thursday that they have arrested a second suspect, aged 21. They promised more arrests soon.

“Kill them!” was one of the demands voiced on talk radio stations Thursday.

Every few months, this nation with the highest rate of rapes of babies and young girls in the world yells its outrage at a particularly brutal attack.

Last year, South Africans were shocked when village boys gang-raped a mentally ill 17-year-old with a mental age of 4. She was attacked by six boys, the youngest of whom was 10, in a crime that only came to light because the boys made a cell phone video of the rape and posted it on the Internet. It went viral.

Professor Rachel Jewkes, a doctor heading the Women’s Research Unit of South Africa‘s Medical Research Council, said 37 percent of surveyed men in South Africa’s most populated province of Gauteng said they had raped a woman or child, according to a study. Seventy-five percent of them first raped a teenager, she said.

“It’s a social disaster,” she said. The number of “men who try to feel better about their past by trying to make out that what they did wasn’t serious or wasn’t rape is obviously huge and must be a huge obstacle to getting anything done – from police making arrests to decisions in the courtroom by magistrates and so forth.”

The outcry over Saturday’s rape in Bredasdorp, a Western Cape town known for its giant protea flowers, led President Jacob Zuma to pledge Thursday “that government would never rest until the perpetrators and all those who rape and abuse women and children are meted with the maximum justice that the law allows.”

The maximum sentence for rape in South Africa is life in prison. The death sentence has been abolished.

Zuma himself was accused of rape by the HIV-positive, lesbian daughter of a close friend in 2005. Zuma said the sex was consensual and he was acquitted, but is unlikely to live down his comment in court that he had a shower afterward to cut the risk of acquiring AIDS.

In a study conducted by Jewkes in 2009, 62 percent of surveyed boys over age 11 said they believed that forcing someone to have sex was not an act of violence. One-third said girls enjoy being raped.

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