As 16 Days of Activism against gender based violence campaign comes to an end, I have the opportunity to reflect and appreciate all the phenomenal work done by activists and civil society. However, I’m also left wondering what happens after the cocktail parties and the roundtables held by governments and other institutions who only seem to care about women’s rights during 16 days. Judging by the persistent and pandemic levels of violence against women and hate crimes against lesbian women, it doesn’t seem like much happens.
The only thing that gives me hope is witnessing the strength and courage of our Activistas. Last week, to commemorate 16 Days of activism and the Safe Cities for Women Campaign, AA South Africa and Activista South Africa took to Park Station in Johannesburg to create awareness about ActionAid’s latest report- Freedom to Move and to engage commuters about women’s right to use public transport without fear and experience of violence.It was a truly new experience for me to be in a Johannesburg Metrorail train and I had to leave my naivety at home. I walked through some of the lonely carts and I could almost feel the sombre and sad energy that the walls of the carts were oozing. It was frightening to know to that the commuters face so much violence and harassment, that it is no longer a shock, but accepted as a norm. It was also surprising to me that there was no visible security at all!
But, our amazing youth activists lifted my spirits: they walked from cart to cart on a Metrorail train to engage with commuters and to gather information about women’s experience on trains. It was amazing to see the Activistas sit and immediately start their fact finding mission. It was uplifting to hear them perform their poem and share their #hadituptohere messages from cart to cart. My appreciation of the impact we were making, grew at every station we stopped at. I also realised that it is not only the trains that fail women, but the stations aren’t gender responsive either. We stopped at Lenz Station to find that the female lavatories were closed while the men's lavatories were open! Again, I was reminded why we need to #FightInequality.
At the end of the day, handing out Safe Cities for women stickers, conducting surveys and performing poems about women’s safety may seem small, however these actions have much greater impact than the cocktail parties and roundtables! Coming together for a common goal moves us one step closer to co-creating new and safe spaces because we are there on the ground at that very moment. It gives us renewed energy and reminds us what we are fighting for and who we are fighting with.