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#GirlOnTheStreet: Is the New Culture of Speaking up Changing Anything?

In Africa, the culture of silence has always empowered sexual offenders to boldly execute their irresponsible and damaging acts of violence against women. But, in June 2020, we saw a welcomed switch in this stifling ‘culture of calm’ as cases of sexual violence across the African continent and beyond were amplified through an unplanned uprising of collaborating voices from frustrated women, advocates, activists and even public-private sector allies. This uprising which was sparked by the gruesome rape and murder of innocent girls like Uwavera Omozuwa in Edo state, Nigeria; Barakat Bello in Ibadan, Nigeria; Tshegofatso Pule, Naledi Phangindawo, and Nompumelelo Tshaka in South Africa, amongst others, have created a vivid reality of the traumatising impact of sexual and gender-based violence in our society.

The trending hashtags and aggressive accountability demands from offices of power led to some important changes in government and policies. In Nigeria Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, announced in June that his office was exploring modalities for the establishment of a specialized court for rape, child defilement and gender-based violence. In South Africa, the President has said he will be deploying Ministers and Deputy Ministers to meet with community leaders in all districts around the country as part of national efforts to urge the South African Police Service (SAPS) to act swiftly to track down whoever was involved in these murders and ensure there is justice for the murdered women and children.

These improvements in policies and regulations, though minuscule, are estimated to contribute to increasing the criminalization of previously ignored acts of abuse whilst ensuring that perpetrators are brought to book more effectively. Most importantly, the overriding expectation and most preferred outcome is that these changes would reduce the disheartening statistics around sexual abuse and gender-based violence.

Speaking up remains the new norm as we advance into a new age of accountability for attackers and justice for victims and survivors. To find out if the impact of the new wave of voices speaking up against rape and gender-based violence have been effective, we asked a few young women about the changes they have witnessed in their communities since the uprising. Here are a few of the most interesting answers we gathered:

Bolatito, 24 (Graduate Intern)

I think the concept of ‘consent’ is now being entrenched into our culture. Nowadays, my male friends will playfully scream the words “Consent” when things get sexually awkward. Even though I don’t agree with them trivializing the issue, I can appreciate the fact that they are now aware & conscious of this important part of any sexual encounter. Consent.

Jennifer, 28 (Marketing Executive)

Many guys are still very defensive about the issue. Even some women still do not seem to understand the importance of firstly listening to the voice of every woman who speaks up before dismissing or probing her claims. People are still shaming and attacking women who speak up. We need more awareness creation on this particular issue.

Chinyere, 20 (Aspiring Lawyer)

More people are now realizing that cases of rape and gender-based violence are real and destructive. The more we can put real names and faces to the statistics we see in the media, we can begin to see that these cases of rape and murder could happen to us, our sisters, our daughters. Realizing that, motivates action.

Do you think the recent voices speaking up against rape and gender-based violence are fostering any change in society? What more do you think needs to be done? Let us know in the comments section.

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