Thursday, 18 June 2009

25% of South African men have raped

In this upsetting and potentially triggering article, the Guardian reports that a quarter of South African men have raped, their victims mostly women and children. Men who rape are more likely to be HIV positive than others. Only 7% of reported rapes result in convictions.

The research was conducted by one Professor Rachel Jewkes, who said:

We have a very, very high prevalence of rape in South Africa. I think it is down to ideas about masculinity based on gender hierarchy and the sexual entitlement of men. It's rooted in an African ideal of manhood.

The article goes on to mention South African president Jacob Zuma:

Before his election as president, Jacob Zuma stood trial for the rape of a family friend. His supporters demonstrated at the court house, verbally attacked his accuser and sang "burn the bitch, burn the bitch". Zuma was eventually acquitted.

A connection between rape and the practice of polygamy is implied - the article doesn't say whether this is supported by evidence or not. This is an incredibly fraught issue. The researcher, and the article, imply that African culture promotes rape; particularly as South Africa is experiencing a rise in a nationalist sentiment with strong masculinist overtones.

I'm reminded of a debate amongst Australian feminists, who became deeply divided over how to respond to the high incidence of child abuse in some Aboriginal areas. They were struggling over how to protect the children without being disrespectful to Aboriginal culture. I encourage readers who want to comment on this issue to do so with sensitivity, and avoid any racialised generalisations.

15 comments:

Hugh said...

In 1994, when the South African constitution was re-written, two of the articles written into it required South African governments to respect the beliefs of cultures native to South Africa, and the equality of men and women.

The ANC women's section, unhappy with this, successfully lobbied make it clear that equality for women superceded the right for cultural practices to be respected.

This seems clear to me that the idea that it may not always be possible to preserve authentic cultural practices without compromising women's right is not limited to people from outside those cultures.

That being said, I think multi-person marriages as a practice need not lead to gender inequality. The main problem seems to be that in traditional Zulu culture, it's limited to polygamy, not polyandry. It seems hard to me to justify allowing men to have multiple wives but not vice versa; apart from anything else this seems to imply that the responsibilities within a marriage aren't equal.

Anna said...

That's really interesting - obviously the ANC women's section had qualms about traditional cultural practices at that point.

Do you think, Hugh (and these are huge questions) that nationalism often tends to be a blokey sort of impulse, and that it has an effect on how/what cultural practices are celebrated or upheld?

Hugh said...

Hey Anna

Great question. Ask me again when I've finished my thesis, I'll have a proper answer for you then!

Hugh said...

I might say though that Nira Uval-Davis wrote a really good book about this - it's called 'Gender & Nation'. It focuses particularly on nationalism in post-colonial resistance movements in the twentieth century, so it's highly relevant to South Africa.

Anna said...

What's your thesis? I'm getting nerd excitement here...

Hugh said...

It's on the role of positive and negative gender stereotypes in nationalist movements. Although I'm looking more at nationalism in the French and Russian revolutions.

Anna said...

That is incredibly interesting - you should definitely publish (if you're not already).

Hugh said...

It's a thought, but I'm a big fan of not running until I can walk

Lucy said...

One thing that strikes me immediately is that the rate of conviction quoted is actually *higher* than the British rate of conviction for rape cases.

Paul said...

I feel no reason to be sensitive towards a culture that produces so many rapists. It is traditional culture that produces patriarchy which allows men to treat women as property. The culture needs to change.

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Anna said...

Anon, I'm not sure whether that comment was tongue-in-cheek, but I've deleted it because I don't want this thread to turn into a denigration of South African people.

Paul, I've got a lot of sympathy with what you're saying, but I'm also aware that there can be a fine line between criticising a particular cultural practice, and denigrating a whole people and their culture. (This is almost certainly something that Hugh will have a more informed view on.) I'm thinking of the claims immediately preceding the invasion of Afghanistan, about the Taliban's mistreatment of women. The mistreatment was, and is, a very real problem - but it was misused to paint the Afghan people as savages, and justify an invasion which actually had bugger all to do with the welfare of women. Which brings up a whole new question of what the international community should do re situations like the South African one (while bearing in mind Lucy's point that we should also look to our own backyards...)

Moz said...

Anna, the Afganistan excuse was just a case of throwing every justification they could think of out there hoping that people would accept enough of them to make it plausible. So it's no more about women's rights than it is about democracy or supporting peasant farmers. Perhaps think of it as an acknowledgement that some Americans care about women's rights.

I don't have a problem at all challenging groups on behaviour like this. IMO it's an easy thing to flip and ask "this group regards rape as a good thing, then?" or "the women concerned regard this rape culture as a good thing?" Just as with the "God-given right to beat your child" movement in New Zealand, where I ask what level of violence they support and let them flounder.

Here in Oz the problem is less child abuse than the terrible history of intervention. History suggests that removing children from abusive situations results in at least as much abuse in state provided care. This is actually a pervasive problem - in NZ foster carers etc have a pretty patchy record and it's very hard to fix. There's also issues in Australia of why some aborigines prefer to live in third world conditions instead of modern townships, which has a conceptual parallel in South African women preferring to live with rapists than leave.

So perhaps the task is "make the alternatives more attractive"? Or facilitating informed cultural change? Europe for the most part has made the change from rape being a property crime to rape being assault without leaving its culture in ruins, so perhaps that history is a good one to draw on?

Hugh said...

Moz, I expect the idea that Europe offers a positive model that should be learned from would be pretty ridiculous for those, such as the South Africans, who have been ground under the European heel for such a long time.

Random Lurker said...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8115219.stm