On 20 January the reprise protest of the Women’s March against inequality, sexual violence and various administration policies was held. Hundreds of thousands of participants were involved in the rallies which were conducted in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States, as well as in sister rallies in other countries such as Canada, Australia, the UK, India and Togo.
Many A-list celebrities led the march, speaking out about their own encounters with sexual violence.
Natalie Portman revealed her harrowing experience with fame after her first film role in Léon: The Professional. She described how at 13 years old she eagerly opened her first batch of fan mail, only to find a letter from a man who had written a ‘rape fantasy’ about her. She went on to say that a countdown to her 18th birthday began on her local radio station, the date that she would be legal to sleep with. Portman said, “At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worthy of safety and respect.” Singer-songwriter Halsey penned a powerful poem at the New York City Women’s March, titled A Story Like Mine, in which she spoke of her own struggles as a victim of sexual violence. In it, she unapologetically highlighted many of the problems faced by women all over the world.
In a similar way, the #MeToo movement encouraged people to share their harassment stories online in an attempt to show other victims that they are not alone. According to the #MeToo website, 17 700 000 women have reported a sexual assault since 1998. However, not all women have chosen to share in the proudness of this movement. French actress Catherine Deneuve has openly spoken out about her resentment for these campaigns, saying that they spread a torrent of hatred against men and sex. Anti-Feminist Sydney Watson said, “The crucial fact is that women objectify men. Women also sexually assault, rape and victimise men. In many ways, society has said that men’s issues are not as important as women’s issues and basically thrown them aside. The oppression of women that feminism seems to promote is appearing more and more to be a pathological problem, rather than a social one.” With this being said, the 2017 march was still 4 million strong with people of all ages and races joining in and the 2018 march was not far behind in numbers.
The recent movements for equality and against sexual harassment may have played an influential part in over 80 women coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment against American film producer Harvey Weinstein, which easily became the most publicised accusation of sexual harassment during that year. Since the Weinstein claims became public, celebrities such as Russell Simmons, James Franco, Steven Seagal, Ed Westwick, Ike Taylor and many more have been accused of similar misconduct.
South Africa has also had a history of sexual assault on women. According to Africa Check, an average of 109.1 rapes were recorded each day in South Africa in 2016. The 2016 Demographic and Health Survey further emphasised this problem with statistics showing that 17% of women between the ages of 18 to 24 and 16.7% of women over the age of 65 had experienced violence from a partner in the 12 months before the survey.
South Africa has come a long way since the days of local feminists Sophia Williams-de Bruyn and Lilian Ngoyi, but there remains work to be done. The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust stresses this by saying, “Rape survivors describe their lack of support and consequent disempowerment as stemming from a range of flaws within the justice system”. They went on to emphasise that changing the face of sexual violence in South Africa is a crucial and indispensable step towards healing our traumatised society and paving the way for a safer, healthier and more just country for future generations.
Illustration: Rhodeen Davies