Women’s Month: The Real Issues
It is August and Women’s Month. Given the life and death nature of issues faced by many women in our country and the critical need to raise awareness and effect change, it is highly problematic when women’s month fails to tackle these issues and instead degenerates into a chocolates and ribbons – “let’s be nice to women this month” marketing opportunity.
The reality is that though we have come some way towards addressing gender inequality for those women with access to higher levels of education and material resources, the odds are still very much stacked against the majority of women. Violence against women is a major problem globally with more than 35.6 percent experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime according to the World Health organisation. In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to go to school.
In the early 1990’s I worked as a volunteer for the POWA (People Opposing Women’s Abuse) hotline. Every day women called trying to find help to get out of abusive relationships, in which they often feared for their lives. Now, as a psychologist, I see women who have been sexually abused in the workplace, women who have been raped, and women who stay in abusive relationships because they have no economic resources and are threatened with custody battles if they try to leave.
The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is among the highest in the world. Women’s groups in South Africa estimate that a woman is raped every 26 seconds and that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their life-time. While some men are also subjected to sexual violence, the majority of sexual violence is against women. One of the suggested contributing factors is the culture of patriarchy which is strong in South Africa. Femicide is a huge problem and one which has been highlighted recently in several high-profile cases in this country. It is estimated that every six hours a woman is killed by her husband or intimate partner. The danger of sexual violence in schools has created a barrier for girls seeking education. They fear sexual attacks by other students or often, sadly, even teachers. Girls who fall pregnant at school because they have been raped often carry the burden of trying to complete their education while raising a child. If they cannot complete their education they remain economically vulnerable to situations of abuse in the future. Lesbians are subjected to “corrective rape”.
The Gospels show Jesus treating women with great dignity and respect in a culture which systematically disadvantaged women. He stands up for the woman caught in adultery in a time when only the woman would have been punished. He engages in theological debate with the Samaritan women and he appears first to Mary Magdelene after the resurrection and she becomes the apostle to the apostles. As women and men created in the image of God our faith provides the basis for the deep shift in attitudes towards women so desperately needed if we are to effect lasting and positive change in our society.