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Why I will not take part in a South African 'SlutWalk'

The global 'SlutWalk' campaign doesn't work as well in South Africa due to the country's more conservative values and high rape rates, writes guest blogger Zama Ndlovu.

By Zama NdlovuGuest blogger / August 23, 2011



Johannesburg, South Africa

No one could argue that sexual harassment and sexual violence are not serious problems in South Africa. But a campaign called SlutWalk – created in that most liberal of Western countries, Canada, and soon to be copied in Cape Town and Johannesburg this week – is not the right tool to solve the problem.

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Encouraging women to dress up in their most revealing clothes in order to challenge the notion that provocatively-dressed women are "asking for it," is only likely to make the problem worse in a country like South Africa.

A recent column in favor of SlutWalk, written by Nechama Brodie in the Mail & Guardian's Thought Leader blog page left me cold, fuming, and insulted, and that’s the version without the French.

I followed her conversation with a few people on Twitter on Sunday and already expected an understandably defensive argument. I did not, however, expect her to equate disagreement with “a stranger groping my breasts in a club, because I was wearing a low-cut dress on my 30th birthday; a man pinching my bum at the airport because I was wearing a tight outfit, even though I was seven months pregnant at the time; men catcalling at me while I stood on the street corner — in my school uniform — waiting for my lift to school.”

Like many people in this country, I am fully aware of the rape epidemic in our country. When I was a young prepubescent girl living in Mamelodi, a neighbor was arrested and charged with raping his five-year-old daughter, and managed to get bail. While in university, a friend asked a group of our close friends, “who here has been raped or physically assaulted?” The number was higher than the national average. One of my best friends in university was gang-raped during a hijacking when she was 18, and these are all just a few more dramatic examples.

I also have war stories, but I do not need to share them to own my right not to walk under that banner.

Rape is a violent crime of control, a crime of power, not sex. The word “slut” on the other hand, is all about sexual behavior, and therefore to me, the “SlutWalk” campaign sexualizes a crime that isn’t about sex, when what is required is the exact opposite.

The victim’s attire has nothing to do with the crime itself. When a man (or woman) decides to rape, it has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with the rapist. Rapist blame the victim, citing the victim’s dress or actions as the reason for their behavior, only to ensure the victim does not speak up. For this reason I don’t believe such a campaign will deter rapists, it just deters potential supporters.

I agree that it is very critical that we address the prejudice faced by victims from the police, public service health workers and our courts. But I do not agree that I must dress as a “slut” to do this. Just the idea that “sluts” dress a certain way, perpetuates the very stereotypes that the campaign is fighting against.

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