24 April 2010

In Silence we Protest

At 6am this morning over 1,000 men and women, students and teachers met at the sports hall to collect our T-shirts. This week was declared Anti-Sex Crimes week at Rhodes University and saw talks, exhibitions, discussions and protests throughout. These were all aimed at raising awareness around issues of rape and sexual violence, while highlighting the alarming statistics that exist.

There were 3 types of protests one could choose from:

1. Rape Survivor

2. Silent Protestor, and

3. Men in Solidarity.

I had signed up to be a Silent Protestor many weeks ago when news of this event had been released. Each protest t-shirt conveyed different messages. As a Silent Protestor, I was silenced with black tape, symbolic of my solidarity with survivors silenced by rape and sexual violence.

By the time I got there most of the t-shirts were handed out and everyone sat waiting for the silencing to start. We had rape victim survivors from the 1 in 9 campaign, the organisers, address us and thank us for the standing up and ‘speaking’ out. In line we stood and one by one were silenced with broad black tape placed over our lips.

Together everyone, in silence, made their way to the main administrative block. We filled the main entrance to the building and stood in the rain to give national press and photographers a chance to take pictures of us.

This powerful campaign has been held annually at Rhodes University for the fast four years. The number of people who were interested and made the effort to get involved was amazing and it makes a ‘loud’ (excuse the pun) and a very visible statement about sexual violence. This is by far the largest Anti – Sex Crimes protest Rhodes has ever seen. During the day we were to go about on task as normal, resisting the desire to talk and eat all day long.

Many people stopped and stared at us, not really knowing what to do or say. In an attempt to create awareness about the protest and explain what we were doing, we handed out fliers giving reasons for our protest. The flier read like this:

I am protesting today because:

Government statistics report that 55 000 women are raped in SA every year.

Medical Research Council statistics indicate that only 1 in 9 rape survivors go on to report the rape and of these, only 4% were successfully prosecuted annually.

These statistics translate to approximately 500 000 rapes every year.

There are approximately 24 million women in SA – which means that based on current statistics, if a women lives to be 50 years old she has an almost 100% chance of being raped at least once.

These numbers are unacceptable to me – they should unacceptable to you too.

Rape limits human potential. It silences people, makes them less than human, keeps them afraid and isolated.

Our silence today affirms our solidarity with the 8 in 9 women silenced by rape and sexual violence.

Freedom of Speech is denied to victims of sexual violence.

I call on all men to break the cycle of sexual violence. Stand up against sexual violence and help us create a world where women are truly equal, where they are free to walk where they want to, when they want to, wearing what they want to.

Until we achieve those goals – women will remain silenced.

We have a long way to go!

At 12:30 we again all assembled but this time on the road in front of the main admin block to have a DIE-IN. Each protestor found a spot on the road and was asked to lie down as though they had died. Traffic was obstructed and all those who came out for lunch were faced with protestors in their way. Together we had a moment of silence to ponder and reflect on the meaning and reasons for our protesting. It was perhaps the quietest protest I had been to.

The day was frustrating and had angered me at times. It was frustrating trying to communicate with people and the impatience people showed towards me was surprising. No words were spoken and no food was eaten. The sticky tape hurt my face and lips.

At 6pm we met again at the sports hall to break the silence and share a meal. As each person walked into the door they removed the black tape from their face with great relief. A debriefing was held to discuss the feelings and experiences from the day. A “take back the night” March was organised after supper and free entrance to a concert, the last of the week’s events, was held.

Thereafter my silent protest was over. -- Amina Ebrahim

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