Rape contributes to HIV/AIDS spread among SADC women and girls

The revelation by SADC Gender Programme’s head Ms. Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela at a press briefing in Windhoek this week ahead of the SADC Heads of States Summit, that  HIV and AIDS disproportionately affects Southern African women and girls as a result of sexually-related-violence and unequal gender relations is not only worrying but a great challenge to the sub-region’s governments and human development efforts. Ms. Mathiba-Madibela’s expressed concern came in the wake of Windhoek City community’s painful burial at Khomasdal Cemetery on Saturday 7th August morning, of a 17 year old Dawid Bezuidenhout High School grade eleven female learner, Magdalena Stoffels, who on the early morning of Tuesday July 27th, was intercepted, gruesomely raped and murdered as she crossed Gammams Riverbed on her way to school.  To say that violence against women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa in general and southern African in particular has reached unacceptable proportions is in itself under statement of gross proportions.  According to Namibia’s New Era Newspaper of 9th August, recent research in Namibia indicates that 50% of all women in the country experience gender-based-violence at sometime in their lives.  On the eve of 9th August commemoration of the Women’s day in South Africa this year, national statistics indicated that 1 in 3 women are raped representing a rape every 26 seconds, of which only eighth are reported to the law enforcers, and only 7% of those reported result in convictions of the culprits.    The situation is attributed to a number of causes, ranging from cultural beliefs, attitudes and practices, as well as other social, economic, political, legislative and judicial challenges:   1. In Namibia, studies of gender-based-violence simultaneously reveal that 41% of males and 35% of females believe violence against women is a socially acceptable practice; 2. In South Africa a 2009 Medical Research council study showed that 62% of boys aged 11 years or older believed that sex is a male’s natural entitlement and forcing a girl to have sex does not constitute a rape nor an act of violence; 3. Ms. Madeline Mathiba-Madibela further revelations that despite SADC countries being party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and having adopted the 2008 SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, most SADC countries have since recorded regressed rates of women’s parliamentary and cabinet representation; and    4. SADC Social and Human Development and Special Programmes’ Director’s additional revelations that 80% of the region’s 76 million people live in extreme poverty, barely surviving on less than US$1 a day.   A closer examination of young Magdalena Stoffels’ brutal rape and murder serves to connect the above issues and to position contemporary gender-based-violence trends into a clearer perspective.  According to media reports: 1. In order for Magdalena to access quality education, she had to attend a school far away from her home; 2. Because her family could not afford the daily taxi fare of some N$17.50 (approximately 2.5US$), she had to wake up very early in the morning (0630hrs) and take a short cut across riverbeds to reach school in time for her classes; 3. Similarly, according to the man who, while crossing the same riverbed on his way to his working place, stopped to ease himself among the bushes of the river bed only to discover her body, Magdalena’s rapist and murderer had not even bothered to run away from the scene of his gruesome crime. Apparently he was a few meters away in the riverbed washing blood off his body and clothes.  When the man raised alarm and the security guards and City Policy in the neighbourhood arrived, they had no difficult arresting him (Magdalena’s assailant); nor did he himself have any difficult admitting his deed; 4. Magdalena’s body delivery and her assailant’s arrival at Katutura Hospital by law enforcers for medical examination formalities prompted such an outrage from both hospital workers and passers-by; and 5. The general public assumption was that Magdalena’s assailant was a man in his normal senses, probably influenced by alcohol and drugs who just took a life of an innocent young school learner who must consequently be instantly punished for his evil deed. Their reaction was to immediately demand the law enforcers to hand them the community offender for instant community justice. Now, the question that to-date begs a viable answer remains: Magdalena was briskly walking to her school to learn for her future; the man who discovered her body was walking to his working place to earn his living. What was her assailant doing in the riverbed at that early hour? Two incidents prompt me to ask this question: The evening following Magdalene’s story bust, while returning to my dwelling place, I stopped by a supermarket to pick up a few groceries for my household.  As I picked container of milk from the milk products fridge, I noticed rugged drunk man picking a packet of sausages from the meat products fridge adjacent to the milk products fridge. I was opening my purse to pay for my groceries when the same man interrupted me and asked me to also pay for his sausages.  I was still struggling to figure out how to react when the grocery security guard quickly pushed the rugged drunk man outside, leaving his sausage pack on the payment counter.  At the exit door, I stopped to explore the whereabouts of the staggering man in torn dusty clothes.   I was wary of the possibility of him identifying me and my old car and perhaps taking revenge. When I was sure he was out of sight I quickly walked to my car and drove off.  But as I drove home, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps that man lived in the riverbed behind the supermarket and since he had not managed to secure his night’s meal, he would take it on whoever would be his victim under the cover of the night’s darkness.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether Khomasdal’s Gammams riverbed was in fact Magdalene’s assailant’s home and livelihood?           Another occurrence that gets me thinking is a sight I these days live with every single day of my life. Directly behind my dwelling place is a four-way traffic lights cross road.  Here, before 0700hrs, lots of young unemployed men daily gather in the hope of being picked up for casual labour.  By the time the scotching sun mercilessly hits the earth mid morning, they can be seen exhaustedly laying flat on their backs on the road sides.  About 4 pm, they start walking back to wherever they came from, whether they managed to earn some cash or not. Inevitably they take short cuts to make their journey shorter. Back home their wives and/or partners and children await their return so they have a night’s meal. The question is what happens when any of these men should head home-bound without having earned any money to take back home two, three, four times a week. Is it then any wonder that the Magdalenas, the many university students that are regularly mugged, and the wives and sex partners and children that are daily battered become such men’s victims?  SADC’s Ms. Magdeline Mathibe-Madibela has not minced her words.  She is telling us that sexual violence and gender-based murder and suicide are widespread in all SADC countries; that they pose a serious problem in countries already grappling with the HIV-AIDS pandemic; and that it is imperative that SADC governments deal with the situation in a more determined manner than they are currently doing. Laws, conventions and protocols alone will not do.  What are needed are development strategies that address and cater for the sub-region’s peoples’ needs and welfare holistically and not in piece meals or social segments. merabkambamukiremire@yahoo.co.uk     

August 2010
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