A few days ago, The Economist explained why violence against women in South Africa is not as bad as we think. The magazine’s effort to set some inflated accounts of violence straight was stirred by (what else) the trial of the South African paralympic Oscar Pistorius who killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. While the trial itself is quite representative for what fuels violence against women in the country by illuminating Oscar’s apartheid-bred, dominating and violently possessive masculinity and by showing how much more value the criminal justice system accords to the lives of white women compared to black women, this is not what the Economist chose to pick up.
Instead, they use the trial to emphasize the rosier side of the story: Female homicide (perpetrated both by partners and non-partners) may still be around four times higher than the global average, the numbers have decreased significantly these past ten years, and therefore, The Economist infers, violence against women is not as bad as many think it is. Moreover, and I quote “South Africa’s violence is, if anything, more heavily skewed towards men than in most countries. Only 15% of victims are women.”
To be sure, it is high time that myths and popular misconceptions around violence get dispelled (the racist comments below the article are an awful case in point), but ‘explanations’ like this one are more likely to further blur, rather than reveal the facts. First of all, violence is more than murder. If you are assaulted (for example by your teacher), abused, battered, trafficked or sexually molested for being a girl, a woman or a lesbian, yet your attackers did not kill you; did you not suffer violence?
By conflating murder with violence, and neglecting the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators of violence are men, the Economist provides an embarrassing and painful testimony to the culture of impunity that surrounds domestic and sexual violence against women and girls. It’s unnoticed, overlooked, not taken seriously, and, as we see, not even worthy of the ‘violence’ label if it’s not lethal. And it’s not just media outlets, such as The Economist who are this selective. Criminal justice systems (around the world) don’t take it all too serious either.
In the case of South Africa, this means that sexual violence against women may be estimated to exceed 500.000 cases a year (with an alarming increase of violence against lesbian women–not just in townships) but that only one out of twenty-five perpetrators is convicted. With regards to murder, men who kill white women are more likely to be convicted than those who kill black women (for domestic workers the rates are even lower). For women who were murdered by a man who was not their partner, the likelihood of conviction has even gone down with 30% between 1999 and 2009.
Meanwhile, some still think Pistorius is innocent, waiting for him with balloons on the days of his court appearances: