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SHE DECIDES

The world is better, stronger, safer

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COVID19 AND RAPE THROUGH A CULTURAL LENSE 

16th June 2020

Written by Mamello Makhele, SheDecides 25x25 Young Leader and Midwife, Lesotho 

Could it be the idea of masculinity that portrays men as strong and dominant? Is it perhaps culture that permits men to exercise power to deny HER right to bodily autonomy? Rape culture is not a new phenomenon. It has evolved through generations and in some societies, it is even traditionally accepted as a norm, which encourages men to become perpetrators and justifies sexual violence. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and given rise to unprecedented inequality with negative ramifications for social, political and economic relations across the globe. There is an urgent need for an approach that recognizes everyone’s right to health and justice. 

Before the pandemic, many Basotho women had taken up roles as domestic workers in South Africa. When the lockdown restrictions came into place, these women were retrenched and thrown into poverty, forcing them to move back to Lesotho.   

Unfortunately, the majority of them were raped and tortured by the security officers who took turns to inflict pain and insult them as they illegally crossed through South African borders to Lesotho, trying to escape the harsh reality of poverty. These unfortunate series of events went unreported, and the few that were reported have resulted in no action taken against the perpetrators. These are the same men entrusted by the government to provide security to the nation.  

 In my own experience as a midwife I have seen the consequences of this type of sexual and physical violence first hand. Only a few days ago, a 20 year old woman, 9 months pregnant, was admitted in my facility with bruises on her back and shoulders, indicating that her husband had physically abused her.  

With the unfortunate series of events, I have used technology as a mobilization tool to highlight the pandemic’s impacts on women’s rights. I use social media to amplify women’s stories related to sexual violence and reproductive health. However, recognizing the limitation of technology to reach the women and men in rural areas, I have also taken the initiative to hold sessions with men, taking into consideration social distancing rules, sanitizing participants and providing masks. Most men in the rural areas are illiterate, and have patriarchy deeply rooted in their behavior and thoughts, which is noticeable in the way they speak and act. In any rape case, the victim is to be blamed. Her choice of clothing had “forced” her to be raped.  

To uproot toxic masculinity, we need to educate men and encourage them to reflect on their attitudes. To stop victim blaming and respect her right to choose; that her choice of clothing is no by any means to invite for her to be raped. We must realize that rape culture goes beyond victim blaming and encompasses a wide array of harmful practices deeply connected with traditional masculinity. This is the vital step to educating men about women’s rights and respecting HER right to decide. 

For decades, rape has been viewed as a weapon of oppression to silence and degrade women. Many women still have fear reporting and telling their own stories of rape due to societal stigma and prejudice. Equally important, is the need for a collaborative approach between relevant stakeholders to hold sexual violence perpetrators accountable, and map out allies to overcome the pushback.  

Women have Rights. Despite the covid-19 pandemic, her right to decide must be prioritized, maintained and respected as a basic need. Rape is not a just a phase of the pandemic, it happens on a daily basis from ‘trusted “men in spaces we deem safe.