by Paulina French

Recently we have seen the growth of a campaign known as #MeToo. Women from all walks of life have been breaking the silence of their experiences of abuse. The most encouraging thing for me has been how some men have expressed their support of this campaign.

As a woman, I see myself as being equal to any man, apart from our difference in gender. In fact, I often find it much easier to have male friends than female friends. My male friends see me as a fellow human being with hopes and dreams for a better life, with goals to be a better person.

However, the sad reality is that we live in a society that promotes patriarchal practices. This may include things like lower pay for women or child rearing responsibilities being delegated solely to women. Some men believe that they have power over women, and some women may inadvertently buy into this. Abuse, whether physical or emotional, is about power and the belief that the abuser has the right to control the abused. Abusers are often well-liked and respected by the communities in which they live and work.

On Wednesday last week, former ANC MP and singer Jennifer Ferguson, shared her story of being raped by a top South African sports administrator twenty-four years ago. Her courage in doing this should be commended. At the same time, we must not forget those women who are unable to speak out. Many women find themselves in situations where they are completely dependent on men. In these situations, men can continue to abuse them physically and emotionally because they are dependent on them for various reasons. It might be easy for women like me, who are privileged enough to have an education and are able to support ourselves, to say that there is always a way to leave. Are women, who have no power and resources, able to do the same?  Would you leave if you were financially dependent on your partner for food for yourself and your children? The prospect of being unable to feed your children may seem more daunting than the abuse itself. As sad as this is, it is a fact of life for many women that we need to acknowledge.

Some children see their mothers being assaulted, verbally abused and sometimes even raped. Our society often carries both subtle and powerful messages of girls being “weaker” than boys, perpetuating the gender inequalities and power dynamics in our communities.

When Pope Francis visited Columbia in September this year he condemned “verbal and physical violence towards women” and called for “respect”. He told those gathered for mass in the city of Villaviencio that “In communities where we are still weighed down with patriarchal and chauvinistic customs, it is good to note that the Gospel begins by highlighting women who were influential and made history.”

Our country and our world is in dire need of real men: Men who will respect women because every time a man mistreats a woman he gives up the right to be treated like a real man.