Let us respect women’s rights to freedom of sexual orientation

Many of us grew up in a society where sexuality was only understood to being a man and or a woman but as we now have come to know, a lot has changed. Given this change, how accepting of people’s ‘other’ sexuality are we South Africans?

Early this month a 13-year-old girl was found dead after she was raped in Atteridgeville just outsidePretoria in South African according to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development at the time. Department spokesperson Tlali Tlali said government condemned the “senseless and cowardly act of criminality” on the little girl.

The poor girl is suspected to have been a lesbian and it is just surprising how this media report came to the conclusion that the girl was a lesbian because she had never confessed her sexuality if being a lesbian or not. This, unfortunately, is one of the many challenges that people who do not associate with being men or women come across on a daily basis because they always have meanings and names attached to who they are thought to be, which is unfair, if you ask me. I mean, let us be honest.

Tlali said the police and the National Prosecuting Authority’s sexual offences and community affairs unit were investigating the case and that all “gays and lesbians rights are human and constitutional rights which must be protected and respected at all times”. But as you and I know that is not happening, is it?

It was hardly a week or so later that the body of another woman Noxolo Nogwaza, another corrective rape victim, was found (see also here) in a drainage ditch choked with trash and high reeds. Later described as a lesbian, Nogwaza was apparently “repeatedly stabbed with broken glass, and beaten so severely with chunks of concrete that her teeth had been knocked out”. Corrective rape is described as forced sex with a man to cure their sexuality. She was apparently a member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee, a gay rights group which the Human Rights Watch evidenced suggested she was targeted because she was a lesbian.

As if that is not enough, just a few years earlier, in 2008, another woman in 2008, Eudy Simelane, a Banyana Banyana soccer player – a South African female soccer team – was also reportedly gang-raped and later murdered. The police’s failure to follow up eyewitness statements and continue their investigation into another brutal double rape and murder of lesbian couple Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Massooa in July 2007 has led to the formation of the 07-07-07 campaign, a coalition of human rights and equality groups calling for justice for women targeted in these attacks, according to the Guardian newspaper report.

These men who rape these women are reportedly doing so as a sign of curing them from the sexuality (lesbian and gay) disease, NGO ActionAid said in 2009. ActionAid quoted one of the lesbians as saying: “we get insults every day, beatings if we walk alone, you are constantly reminded that you deserve to be raped”. The woman said men who raped them would yell “if I rape you then you will go straight, you will buy skirts and start to cook because you will have learnt how to be a real woman”.

At the time, it was reported that of the 31 cases, only two cases were brought to South African courts and there has been only one conviction.

Raymond Suttner, Unisa professor and the author of KwaZuma and Beyond wrote in the Mail & Guardian newspaper last year that “public consciousness is bombarded with manifestations of militarism in public discourse; it is becoming an accepted form of existence”. The violent attacks on women, including being stripped for not conforming to norms expected by “repositories of custom”, such as taxi drivers, are simply seen as a part of life, said Suttner.

He said freedom of sexual orientation was one of the “trends” that had seen increasing attacks on freedom of sexual orientation. Sutter said attacks on and murders of lesbian and gay people were a regular feature of media reportage and that it was not clear how “how much goes unreported [that] we do not know”.

These attacks were so violent such that Nosipho Ntwanambi, spokesperson for the African National Congress Women’s League said it would appeal to Parliament and relevant gender structures to categorise this form of rape as a hate crime. And the games our children play, too, play an important role in shaping people’s views about sexuality.

Whatever happened to the right to freedom of sexual orientation?

One thought on “Let us respect women’s rights to freedom of sexual orientation

  1. Beautiful article!!

    I think its very easy for people to talk about these crimes as a violation of women’s rights, or even broader as a violation of human rights. Very few media outlets and members of the public are comfortable talking about it as a violation of Gay and Lesbian rights. This is not just semantics. By not recognizing that specificity of Gay and Lesbian rights, we end up perpetuating homophobia in a differenct way, because we fundementally disregard the vulnerablilities of this group. It’s because its treated soley as a human rights issue, that NONE of these crimes are charged and investigated as hate crimes as yet. Many want to make the point that “rape is rape”, as if all rapes are created and treated equally. That its even called CORRECTIVE rape signifies the specificity of the crime. I think we ALL need to examine the ways in which we deny gay and lesbian rights, through language as well as acts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s