Archive | January, 2013

The plague that is Sexual Violence– By Wanjala Wafula

16 Jan

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I was watching news at a local club the other day when the news about the gang rape on a bus in India broke out. The first fifteen minutes after the news was broken were characterized sorrow and stillness. What followed days after the gang rape was the remarkable global outrage about rape and other forms of sexual violence. That single event belatedly ignited off a movement of women and men dedicated to tackling this often undisclosed yet invasive predicament facing girls, women and men. Social pundits have failed to pinpoint the fact that sexual violence is an outcome of social power dynamics heavily tilted towards implied male supremacy against assumed women’s subservience.

In my view, we have spent generations constructing negative and pervasive masculinity, yet veiled the same in detailed justifications of patriarchy, culture, masculinity, machismo, substance abuse, religion, caste, poverty, education system and all manner of excuses. All the factors mentioned continue to play a role in societal and sexual inequalities that subsequently allow cruelty to thrive. My concern over the years has been just how soon our tears dry off after we have witnessed such viciousness. I foresee a future devoid of sexual violence but that depends on how hard we work toward transforming the perpetrators of violence into partners against the vice. I suppose that change is achievable if men and boys are persuaded to undertake much bigger role.

I have to admit that I learned several things in the recent past. I have established that rape is everywhere and that it transcends class, race, religion, education and all demographic factors. I recently established that sexual violence is a global epidemic, not solely a derivative of certain cultures and socialization’s.  I have also learned that the high rates of sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence in the African culture seem to be accepted by a shared nod that is characterized by blaming the victim. Data available paints a very bleak picture. A recent statistic I looked at was from Kenya where two out three women experience sexual violence in their life time. This goes to lay bare the frequency of sexual violence in this country and indeed on the African continent. The numerous rape cases that we hear about all over the world helps to remind us that we need to take action universally.

I have also learned that sexual violence persists and thrives in the silence of both the victims and the by standers.  It is for this reason that I have made it my divine call to mobilize a critical mass of men and boys ready to stand in the gap and fight to eliminate all forms of violence against girls, women and even boys. In the last ten years I have come to accept the reality that indeed African men and boys can change and become partners in the fight against gender disparity and violence. It keeps occurring to me that speaking out is a medium for trans-formative change and I agree that this is the way to go. My second plea would be that let’s pay attention to the voices of men and boys, because after all, they are the leading perpetrators of violence.

It keeps occurring to me that victims of sexual abuse sometimes undergo the sexual ordeal for hours. What is even disheartening is that people and communities do not generally know what to do with the victims who they routinely re-victimize. I heard many men across the globe give the mostly ridiculous of justifications for their lunacy. They hastily point at the dressing cord. Others indict women of walking in the dark while others give excuses about their uncultivated sexual ‘prowess”. I wonder offensively dressed was the six months baby Diana who was abducted from her nanny by a cocaine addict and raped to death, it makes me sad.

The bystander approach recognizes that anyone (and indeed everyone) can be part of the solution.  Let’s figure out how to find ways to create a culture where it is expected that people will interrupt not only situations of violence and abuse, but also intervene in situations that contribute to the environment that makes rape acceptable.

I have also learned over the years that there is a need to refocus our energy toward addressing the drivers of violence which include masculinities, patriarchy, cultural practices and traditions, women’s subservience, negative peer pressure and the entire negative socialization process. I will submit here again that preventing sexual violence is attached to altering the prevailing types of masculinity that venerate men’s sexual subjugation of women into budding forms of masculinity that compliments women and value men taking action to prevent men’s violence against women.  It is not only in the developing world that we see the concept of manliness support of an environment that is unsafe for women.  It’s time to do more and that will only happen when we empower and enable men to take action to generate the change we desire so badly.

As this third rate columnist has always affirmed, sexual violence cannot be defunct just because we carried twigs in the streets or because the grant cycle ended, but by applying the lessons I have ably provided to fuel our ongoing work to prevent sexual violence.

The writer is a Founder and CEO of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys organizations committed to eliminating all forms of sexual/gender based violence and enhancing HIV prevention in Kenya. Visit:  Facebook: wanjala wafula Skype: coexist.initiative: Tel: +254-712653322