All forms of violence that women endure on daily basis are considered a violation of their rights, freedoms, and aggression against their personal space and bodies, but rape is one of the cruelest forms of violence against women. Once again, the rape issue has been triggered when a 13-year-old Moroccan girl has been raped by family members and a neighbor, which sparked rage in social media across the globe.
Rape culture is embedded in the African region, in its societies. We all know someone who is a victim of rape, or sexual assault.
To change rape culture, we need to understand what it is. UN Women defines rape culture as “the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified, fueled by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality.” Until women are treated with respect and equality, rape will always be around. Women are sexualized and objectified by media daily, creating a notion that women’s bodies are for men’s pleasure and something to be conquered. In the music we listen to, the shows we watch, and the ads and movies we see on TV, women are portrayed as objects, whose sole purpose is a man’s pleasure. She is always someone’s girlfriend, wife, or mistress.
But women are human beings, they are their own person, they do not belong to anyone nor are they bound to fulfill men’s desires no matter their position in their lives.
The statistics on sexual assault against women are shocking and horrifying, yet official figures underestimate the scale of the problem because the proportion of rapes reported to the authorities varies.
South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world of 132.4 incidents per 100,000 people. What is even worse is that most of the time, survivors are raped by someone they know. Young women are often raped by relatives or parents which is often the main reason why women do not report rape. As they are either pressured to not speak up about the incident or even threatened, some girls are even raped at such a young age that they do not understand what has been done to them, or that the incident is a bad thing, a crime. Rape in Africa is a phenomenon, that is yet considered taboo, where victims are still blamed, forced to marry their rapists. Rapists are often offered a deal, they can either marry their victims or be sentenced to minimum punishment.
Enough with the lame excuses that are often presented by men such as “asking for it”, “provocation” and “what was she wearing?”
Women do not choose their outfits daily in hopes to please men or attract them. Women often fear reporting, as it is commonly known in the African and MENA region, that rape is the victim’s fault, and it is an act that brings shame and disgrace to women and their families. Moreover, rapists in states like Tunisia are even offered the chance to marry their victims to avoid legal persecution. Families often see this as an opportunity to cover up the act and avoid disgrace.
This is not only a weakness in the judicial branch but also proves the lack of laws and implantation of a strong rape prevention system. As rape victims suffer the trauma of the incident, rapists usually get to enjoy their freedom, or in case of punishment, the sentencing is often a minimum conviction. By blaming the victim, the survivor is impelled to not report the crime. According to a study conducted by RAINN in the United States of America, from 2010 until to 2016 only 230 out of 1,000 rapes are reported to authorities and only 4.3 rapists are incarcerated.
Women in Africa have been suffering from sexual assault, violence, and rape, but the pandemic made matters worse.
The issue has always been here, but the pandemic made things worse. Last year, a huge increase in the number of rape cases was recorded. Now is the right time to drastically change things before further atrocities occur. Rape is not unusual in Africa, there has always been sexualized violence and femicide in Africa, but these crimes have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic. When will those in power finally grow aware of the extent of the problem?
Liberia recorded a 50% increase in gender-based violence in 2020. Between January and June, there were more than 600 reported rape cases.
Nigeria also saw an increase in sexual violence during curfews. Two cases in June, in which young women were raped and killed. In Kenya, local media reported almost 4,000 schoolgirls fell pregnant when schools were closed during the lockdown. In most cases, they had allegedly been raped by relatives or police officers. The UN’s MINUSCA mission in the Central African Republic reported another increase: 27% more instances of rape, and 69% more cases where women and children were hurt.
What can we do?
There is a lot we can do as a community or individuals to smash rape culture.
No means No! “No” does not mean “Convince me.” “No” doesn’t mean “Maybe later on.” Sex needs to be consensual for both parties to enjoy. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time. If an individual chooses to change their mind even though foreplay has already begun or at any point during the intercourse, that should be respected, no matter when it’s said. If someone is intoxicated or unconscious, they cannot consent.
Even though alcohol is not a cause for rape, it can play a factor in it. When someone has had a lot to drink, their ability to communicate effectively is impaired. If a person is unable to walk straight, speak properly, remain focused, or does not have a clear and sound mind they are not able to have consensual sex.
Speak up and don’t think twice before reporting your rapist. Enough with the intimidation and fear of shame, rape victims are fully entitled to the right to fight back and take their abusers to court to claim back justice.
Furthermore, it is time to reshape masculinity with feminist principles, instead of defining masculinity according to macho standards. Let’s put an end to victim-blaming. Saying “her skirt was too short, she was probably asking for it” only preserves the notion that it’s the victim’s fault and not the rapists. The only ones responsible for rapes are the rapists themselves and no one else. Being sexually assaulted is an already traumatic experience, but to add to that trauma by blaming women needs to stop.
When it comes to rape, a zero tolerance policy has to be applied by governments. Governments have to implement policies and laws of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence in the public and private spheres. Leaders must be particularly clear that they are committed to upholding a zero-tolerance policy and that it must be practiced every day.
Governments also have to invest in women through donating to organizations that empower women, amplify their voices, support survivors, and promote acceptance of all gender identities and sexualities.
Last but not least do not laugh at rape: knock, knock. Who is there? Rape joke. Rape joke who? Rape joke that is not funny! Enough with using rape as a punchline, someone else’s trauma is not a laughing matter, it is not funny, do not laugh at it instead, call it out!
Finally, stop normalizing rape by teaching women how to protect themselves, and instead teach young children about consent. No more “Boys will be boys”, If we taught children at a young age about consent and respecting everyone’s boundaries, girls would not have to grow up constantly being told to cover themselves up. Instead of teaching girls how to be safe, teach boys not to rape. Teach consent to girls and women at an early age and encourage them to report incidents by securing a safe space and supportive community for them. In the era of #MeToo, #TimesUp, #NiUnaMenos, #BalanceTonPorc, and other online movements, survivors of violence and rape are speaking out more than ever before. Listen to them, let them know they are heard, understood, believed, and not blamed.
About the author:
Yosser Tarchi, born and raised in Tunisia, is a young woman who aspires to be a human rights advocate. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Language, Literature, and Civilization and a master’s degree in International relations. A former member of GirlUp Tunisia, her interest in gender studies expanded which is why she’s currently volunteering for Politics4Her. Her motto? GRL PWR!