In commemoration of International Youth Day on 12 August, Activista South Africa, ActionAid’s youth network, took to the streets of Vosloorus in Gauteng to demand an end to the violence meted upon womxn’s bodies.
Through dance, young womxn activists moved in unison to express the anger and fear they experience on a daily basis—fear of being sexually harassed, raped or killed. As the Activistas performed their piece, I heard a young womxn who had stopped to watch say, “I don’t want to grow old.” Her friend looked at her in disbelief and asked why. She replied, “When I grow up I will develop hips and a butt, and I am afraid that I might be sexually harassed.” I was so disheartened by her response.
Do we really live in a society where children are afraid to grow up because they know that violence against womxn is inevitable? I watched as older womxn and men stopped to watch this performance, also reading the pamphlets created by the Activistas. I could see numb expressions on their faces, faces that say ‘violence against women is normal.’ I also saw looks of disgust, no doubt in response to messages calling for an end to homophobia and hate crimes. I remember wondering to myself, ‘When did violence and hate become so normal in our society?’ Violence against women only seems to matter when it makes the headlines and when these headlines fade, so too does the rage, urgency and drive for justice. The violence, sexism and discrimination continue.
A good friend and a former colleague of mine, Michelle Festus, one of the greatest feminists I have ever met once said, “We all have a responsibility to ensure that we make violence against women unthinkable”. What this meant to me is that, we as a society should challenge patriarchy in all its forms, in our homes and schools at our workplaces and on the streets, we have to address violence against womxn and patriarchy as it happens.
We cannot let our anger and passion for equality and justice fade. We need to challenge this normalisation and make it completely unthinkable. As youth, we have the power and the responsibility to shape a secure and safe future for womxn and girls. Young people can build a world in which women have the freedom to navigate this life without the fear and experience of violence. We owe it to this and future generations to build peace and solidarity, and to end the longest war in history: the war against womxn’s bodies.