As a feminist and particularly, as a former Rhodes student that took part in the #RUSilent campaign, the #WhenIWas hashtag really caught my attention following the #RUReferenceList trend.
What was particularly disturbing was the age of so many of the women and men that experienced sexual harassment and violence globally, because I am well aware that sexual violence and gender-based violence has reached epidemic proportions in South Africa. If you actually need facts to back this up, the total sexual offences reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the year 2010-2011 reflects 13% of the population. As they reflect reported cases, police statistics understate the problem enormously. Participating in this hashtag was a no-brainer for me because it's imperative that South Africans are constantly reminded that rape culture exists; that the high rate of gender-based violence and sexual violence is a reality. It's a reality everywhere in South Africa. At our campuses, in our homes, at shopping malls. Everywhere. These tweets stood out to me as they show just us how often (and early) women experience sexual violence.
We're using #WhenIWas to raise awareness of early experiences of sexism, harassment & assault. 12000 people have shared their stories so far— EverydaySexism (@EverydaySexism) April 19, 2016
#WhenIWas 12 my best friend at the time told me that it is a compliment if a boy rapes me because it means I am attractive @EverydaySexism— Alicia (@DiddlyDonger) April 19, 2016
What’s upsetting about #wheniwas is how normalised & often public sexual harassment is when you’re a young woman. It was normal for me.— Van Badham (@vanbadham) April 19, 2016
#WhenIWas 19 I was raped by a member of staff at my university. I was told I should "try not to think about it"&"avoid the area he works in"— Tavia. (@OctaviaMalkz) April 19, 2016
#WhenIWas 16 a man crossed the street & proposed to me. I was in my school uniform. I walked for 30 mins so he wouldn't know my address.— FaTeama (@FaTeama13) April 19, 2016
My first meet with sexual harassment happened #WhenIWas barely 6. A man waving his tool towards me in public. @EverydaySexism— Bespectacled Indian (@BespectacledInd) April 19, 2016
#WhenIWas 17, I was raped by my first boyfriend. My school found out and tried to expel me.— Ana Mardoll (@AnaMardoll) April 19, 2016
The problem with #whenIwas is that for so many of us it's been a constant throughout our entire lives. We got used to it at around 12.— ♀Hildur Lilliendahl♀ (@hillldur) April 19, 2016
#whenIwas in 14 a teaching priest told us in class that rape is impossible as "a letter can't be posted if the letterbox isn't open".— Sadhbh (@Sadhbhzilla) April 19, 2016
#WhenIWas 22 my girlfriend got wolf whistled at by some blokes in a car. I said 'Thanks, boys, but I'm taken.' Homophobic panic ensued.— Andy Mannion (@andymannion77) April 19, 2016
Days after #WhenIWas, the naked protest took place at Rhodes University. It has seen a lot of support on social media but it has received a lot of backlash too. Particularly for the image below.
What outrages me, based on the commentary seen on Twitter, is how many people were perturbed by the nudity in the image above, yet they don't reflect on the fact that this is a protest to raise awareness about how women do not have a choice about being violated and harassed by sick perpetrators. As a society, we have a long way to go in terms of rape culture and victim blaming: feminism still receives judgement, sexual comments and body-shaming is a response to the image above and their chosen nudity is a problem. This that makes me even more passionate about achieving equality, about eradicating sexism, gender-based violence, rape culture, and basically patriarchy in its entirety. I haven't blogged in months and I don't particularly like my writing, but there's something more important than my insecurities, it's the achievement of equality, development and peace. South Africa has much to address in the structuring of violent masculinities that is to the detriment of countless women, men and children.