Gender-based violence and the ‘other’ women

By Dianne Massawe

Dianne Massawe of the AIDS Legal Network (ALN) on gender-based violence and the ‘other’ women.

During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, South Africa spends hundreds of thousands of Rand to raise awareness and shed light on the realities and risks that some women and girls experience in the country. However, the realities and risks women in all their diversity experience in relation to gender-based violence are seldom heard of, spoken about, nor seen. Many of these unheard voices and unseen experiences belong to lesbian women.

Rainbow flag

Some lesbian women in South Africa are experiencing gender-based violence from multiple sources in their lives. Because of this context, many lesbian women do not want to be identified, but through focus group sessions, ALN gathered some of their voices to describe their experiences.

The family and home for many young women in the country can lack safety and security, considering the high rates of violence in all forms, but for lesbian women it can be particularly bad.

Other parents, when you come out that you’re a lesbian, they chase us away from home, they stop doing things for us. They abuse or treat us in a bad way, sometimes they don’t even give you food to eat.” [Lesbian woman, Mpumalanga focus group]

Violence by the family is not only limited to physical violence in the form of beatings.

 “Anyways, extended families…they go as far as doing what they call a corrective rape” [Lesbian woman, KwaZulu Natal focus group]

The notion of family-engineered rape is not as common towards heterosexual women. This violence is specifically committed against lesbian women, not only within the family, but also at a community level.

The lesbian women, especially the butch ones, as we have said, they are a target. Some guys say, we will get you, you think you’re a guy and you want to take our girlfriends...so… they want to rape you…” [Lesbian woman, KwaZulu Natal focus group]

 Sexual violence and the fear thereof is a reality for many lesbian women.

I can say…some they’ve been raped because of their sexuality – and some of them, they’ve been murdered because of that.”’ [Lesbian woman, KwaZulu Natal focus group]

Lesbian women’s realities and risks of violence and other rights abuses persist, despite the enabling legal environment and constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, dignity, and freedom from all of forms violence in public and private spheres.

It’s a constant feeling of always having to look over your shoulder. So you are constantly living with fear that something might happen…you need to know where you are, who are you there with, for how long you gonna be there. What if they chopped me? They’re not gonna chop me because they want my purse. They gonna chop me because they need to teach me a lesson.” [Lesbian woman, KwaZulu Natal focus group]

In order to ensure that rights become realities for women in all their diversity we need to move beyond commitments. We need actions and change. We need supportive and enabling social environments for all women to claim agency and realise rights without fear of stigma, discrimination and violence.

ALN is one of the Alliance’s Linking Organisations based in South Africa.

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