/ 7 December 2008

Moving from helplessness to hope-

During the 16 Days of Activism it is with great sadness, fear and outrage that we remember the atrocities of violence against women. In South Africa we remember Gugu Dlamini, who was stoned to death for disclosing her HIV-positive status in KwaMashu in 1998.

We send our messages of solidarity to “Khwezi” who was confronted with chants such as “burn the bitch” outside the rape trial in 2006, and has since been forced to live in exile in fear for her life. With devastation, we remember our sister Sizakele Sigasa, who was found dead last year with six bullet holes in her head and collarbone, her hands tied with her underpants and her ankles tied with her shoelaces. She was violently tortured and probably raped before being killed with her friend Salome Masooa in Soweto.

Across our borders we reach out to Alual Koch and her sisters, who fought in Sudan’s civil war from the age of 13. We hail the bravery of nine-year-old Arwa in Yemen — sold and married against her will — and we stand together with Zimbabwean women arrested and beaten for opposing a regime.

It’s with a sense of despair that we remember women around the world whose violations fall beneath the headlines. The millions of women who have been denied an education and are now illiterate and without the power to make decisions about their own health and wellbeing, the grandmothers and carers of an increasing number of children being orphaned by HIV/Aids and the mothers who watch their children die for no reason other than the lack of basic healthcare and public sanitation. It is not only during these 16 days, but continuingly, that women face these gross injustices.

A couple of weeks ago we gathered alongside 2 200 other women’s rights activists from around the world and shared our concerns and what feminists are doing around the world.

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development (Awid) holds an international forum every three years and for the first time it was being held here in South Africa. Colourful, passionate, analytical and emotive sessions took place over the four days with activists from 144 countries.

On the second day South Africa’s 1 in 9 campaign hosted a march of women’s rights activists from South Africa and across the globe.

The march drove forward as a purple sea of campaigners through the streets of Cape Town with a powerful sense of unity.

Out of this we emerged with a sense of solidarity and hope in our struggle. Whatever the violations, whether political, sexual, economic or religious, we were united. We reclaimed the workers’ slogan: an injury to one is an injury to all.

With a sense of collective power, we began to think about the enormous power in movements across South Africa in local, provincial and national struggles.

We drew up a statement that encompassed the resolve among us. We reconnected with the desire to harness our collective energy across South Africa and to reunite to support each other in the face of attacks on our political, economic and social rights.