DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
“WE WANT justice!” is the powerful cry echoing across the country, and one can’t help but think that political elites are watching from behind security protection, waiting for gatherings to die down so that we can be thrown scraps of disconnected reform.
When citizens take to the streets in these numbers, it is a sign of widespread desperation, of a system so failed that people feel they must shout to be heard, of trust so broken that people will gather in anger outside of our institutions, believing justice cannot be found inside.
I keep wondering if we will see continued protest, knowing that we can expect dozens of women and girls to be killed or go missing this year. When will numbness or a sense of powerlessness set in? Or, as I hope, will feelings of horror, trauma, fear and anger continue to build with each report that confirms men’s war against women, prompting more to the streets?
This is not the time for men to say, "Not me." Not when grandfathers, uncles, fathers, cousins, neighbours, maxi drivers, teachers, pastors, bandits and other forms of predators roam with impunity in our families and communities, or are on extended bail, or are freed by a court system that appears corrupt, inefficient and haphazard, in which it takes years to start a trial. Women's and girls’ right to justice is not and has never been anyone’s priority.
To this day, we blame women. To this day, we do not yet hold men, including at all levels of leadership, sufficiently accountable for a world in which they are dominant. Men must make this change, without taking over or speaking instead of women or trivialising decades of ongoing feminist advocacy. Certainly, our investment in patriarchal power must be destroyed, despite all the discomfort that may bring. Women cannot continue to be fodder for this violent monster.
Young women are living in terror; nowhere safe. They are panicked about using public transport, as they long have been. They feel abandoned by state and society, as they should, for they face the greatest risk of daily harm in homes, on streets, in taxis and at school, by any or possibly every man. They are growing up in a state of perpetual self-defence, and even that offers no real protection. Women are driving with a weapon in one hand. Women and girls are under greater surveillance from brothers, fathers and boyfriends than ever before, further sacrificing freedom. We can do everything right and still be killed.
Amidst these disappearances and deaths, we struggle, as we have and as we will for real solutions. “No bail for rapists” is one call, but the bail amendments proposed holding suspects without charge for 120 days. What happens when they must be released if no charges are laid? What happens when court delays, magistrates' decisions, and police absenteeism lead to rapists being freed, as with Andrea Bharatt’s alleged kidnapper?
Even if we make rape a non-bailable offence –, because who doesn’t want to get rapists off the streets – keep in mind that murder is non-bailable, and killings continue unabated. Hanging has remained legal, but has not been a deterrent. Neither are stand-alone solutions.
The AG has blamed women’s groups for the Sex Offenders Registry not being public. We recommended the registry not be public because its use is for an integrated police and court response, because the public would run perpetrators from one community to a next, and because the majority of sex crimes remain unreported and committed by male family and friends.
We already know so many sexual abusers. We tolerate and protect them for the sake of family name, respectability and survival. We don’t need a registry to tell us who they are, some of us always know. Again, it is one strategy for protection, not a solution.
The AG is also aware that vigilantism is a likely outcome. Sex offenders might get community licks, and maybe even dumped for dead in the places women are. That is a dangerous road he now seems prepared to go.
There are many other necessary paths. Vision 2030 promised a National Transportation Policy. It should treat women and girls’ risk, as we saw with Ashanti Riley, as a national emergency. There must be co-ordinated transport-system solutions that urgently respond to women and girls’ needs. We will make and must back these demands with public pressure over future days and deaths.
We are deep in battle, and no shortcut will win this war.
Diary of a mothering worker