Tag Archives: corrective rape

The literal manufacture of vagina dentata

In between all the watching soccer and playing soccer and talking about soccer I’ve neglected writing about soccer. Or maybe, if I’m honest, I’ve been avoiding it a little bit because this post picks up on a difficult topic that we’ve delved into before (most recently here): rape.

On June 21, CNN published an article by Faith Karimi titled, “South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape“. It’s exactly what it sounds like: South African doctor Sonnet Ehlers has designed, produced, and distributed a latex sleeve (called “Rape-aXe) that is inserted like a tampon.

Jagged rows of teeth-like hooks line its inside and attach on a man’s penis during penetration, Ehlers said. Once it lodges, only a doctor can remove it — a procedure Ehlers hopes will be done with authorities on standby to make an arrest.  “It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on,” she said. “If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter… however, it doesn’t break the skin, and there’s no danger of fluid exposure.”
– From “South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape

There is no doubt that rape – and in particular so-called “corrective” rape – is a serious and systemic problem in South Africa. There is little support for the women who are victimized, especially if they are black and from the townships (as they very often are). Officials don’t recognize “corrective” rape as a distinct type of crime, making their response inadequate at best (just as in the west we fought to characterize and categorize gay-bashing as a hate crime, the particular nature of “corrective” rape must be acknowledged if an effective response if to be mounted).

The last time I wrote about this I was making the simple point that even in the press there seems to be a sense of hopelessness and resignation rather than a call to action. With the high-profile rape, torture and murder of Eudy Similane the issue only gained notoriety. Nothing changed.

Now, at last, a response. But what does this say, that the response is the literal manufacture of vagina dentata?

Critics say the female condom is not a long-term solution and makes women vulnerable to more violence from men trapped by the device. It’s also a form of “enslavement,” said Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda. “The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to.”
– From “South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape

A point well-taken. And what about the reification of the myth of the toothed vagina? How does this affect the discourse around the issue of rape? I am uneasy with the relationship. It muddies and mystifies, when we need thought that’s concrete and clear. Nonetheless, I can’t quite bring myself to condemn the device outright.

“Ehlers is distributing the female condoms in the various South African cities where the World Cup soccer games are taking place,” Karimi reports.

What do you think? Responses welcomed in the comments.

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The highest profile victim so far

The BBC delivers a typically-restrained and well-edited story on the The Chosen Few lesbian football team out of South Africa. It’s only 2 minutes, 11 seconds and does a good job of presenting a snapshot of the dangers (violence, rape, and murder) that black lesbians face in the townships in South Africa.

Naturally, the story touches on the rape, torture and murder of Eudy Similane, the voice over revealing a sense of hopelessness to the situation:

“The highest profile victim so far [emphasis added], Eudy Similane, a star player on the national women’s team…”

I am glad that the World Cup is bringing these issues to light, but I am eager to see a real response mounted. ESPN, the BBC, and countless bloggers (among others) have reported the story – let’s see something of substance come out of the coverage to begin protecting these women.

Watch the BBC piece here. Read my original post on The Chosen Few here.

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Good news for a change

With less than two weeks until the beginning of the World Cup, Africa is everywhere. Inspiring soccer stories share space with reports on the continuing challenges in addressing HIV and AIDS, “corrective” rape, and brutal attacks on the bodies and rights of gays and lesbians. All this press is both a welcome platform for a new agenda, and a harsh exposé, casting long shadows on the impending Cup.

Suffering from a bit of burnout, I’ve been quietly waiting for some good news. Yesterday, I got it.

Back in December 2009, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested and charged with “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency” after they had a traditional engagement ceremony in Blantyre’s Chirimba township in Malawi. After being held separately in prison for nearly six months, the men were found guilty, and then sentenced to 14 years hard labour (the maximum penalty).

Human rights organizations condemned the ruling and sentence, and word spread on the Internet. Public protests were held in New York City and London. The Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) set up an online petition, as did Raising Malawi, an organization founded by Madonna and Michael Berg. Madonna released a statement on the site challenging the decision, and invited people to sign their name next to hers. Over 30,000 people did.

Yesterday, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned Monjeza and Chimbalanga and ordered their immediate release.

“In all aspects of reasoning, in all aspects of human understanding, these two gay boys were wrong – totally wrong… However, now that they have been sentenced, I as the president of this country have the powers to pronounce on them and therefore, I have decided that with effect from today, they are pardoned and they will be released.”
– President Bingu wa Mutharika, “Malwai pardons jailed couple,” BBC News

It’s a curious statement, lacking in political heft, but I’ll take it.

This is clearly a victory for Monjeza and Chimbalanga, and for LGBT rights. It’s also an important step towards a better model in dealing with HIV and AIDS (for more on how these things are connected read my post, “The saddest circus in the world“).

There’s a lesson about engagement here. Social media makes it easy to gather, publicize, and comment on global issues. In this case, Facebook was an effective catalyst with multimedia capabilities: details of the story were accompanied by links to petitions and calls to action. We should remember to use these new tools. Bravo to everyone who signed petitions, stood at rallies, and shared these stories.

UPDATE:
More detail on the pardon comes from this story from The Malawi Voice. While Monjeza and Chimbalanga have been pardoned and released, they were taken to their separate homes and ordered not to see each other. Should they contravene the order they could be re-arrested.

“It doesn’t mean that now they are free people, they can keep doing whatever you keep doing…”
– Patricia Kaliati, Malawi’s Minister of Gender and Children, “Gays pardoned but no change to law,” Malawi Voice

Looks like there’s a lot more work to be done in this campaign. It was an important step to release the men, but by stopping short of changing the discriminatory law, the Malawi government has allowed an exception to the rule rather than created a policy change. I suggest that we all (this means you, Madonna) keep lobbying. Sparing their lives was a first step; now spare their love.

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ESPN to air segment on “corrective” rape, tonight at 7pm EST

Though I’ve not shied away from the topic of violence in these pages, I have found it extremely challenging to write about the violence against lesbians in South Africa, particularly the practice of so-called “corrective” rape. Doubling my apprehension is the urgency with which I need to write and publish this post, because I’ve just found out that ESPN will be airing a segment, “Corrective Rape”, on their program E:60, tonight at 7pm EST.

“The segment will tell the story of the former top female soccer players in South Africa, Eudy Simelane, was raped and murdered… Emmy winning journalist Jeremy Schaap traveled to the impoverished, crime-ridden townships of South Africa to report on the disturbing trend of ‘corrective rape’ in the country hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He interviewed three South African women soccer players who say they were beaten and raped because they are gay. Their haunting stories — and an interview with Simelane’s mother — are the backbone of E:60’s report.”

– From “ESPN’s E:60 brings ‘Corrective Rape’ May 11, programming notes” by April MacIntyre

As well, there’s a 52-second preview on ESPN’s site.

In the interests of time, I’ll cut the editorial here. For background and more information, read my post on the Chosen FEW football team and the article “Girlie “S’Gelane” Nkosi, Eudy Similane’s teammate and a lesbian activist murdered” by Jennifer Doyle at From a Left Wing.

I don’t get ESPN and I don’t know anything about the show or journalist Jeremy Schaap. I am apprehensive but hopeful that this might end up being a positive example of how the World Cup is bringing attention (and ultimately practice- and policy-change) to the violence facing South Africa’s lesbians. Those of you who watch the program are invited to post in the comments section.

UPDATE:
Watch the piece (approximately 16 minutes) on ESPN’s site, here.This is a story about the practice of  “corrective” rape, which is rape with the intended purpose of punishing – and “correcting” – lesbians. The story hangs loosely around the 2008 rape, mutilation, and murder of South African pro footballer, LGBT-rights activist, and out lesbian, Eudy Similane. Journalist Schaap interviews several out lesbian soccer players, including Eudy’s childhood friend, from the townships of South Africa.

It’s not easy to tell a story like this while avoiding the grimy sheen of exploitation, and I don’t think the piece is entirely successful in doing so. That said, there are some revelatory moments. Schaap’s discussion with South African P0lice Services Spokesman Vishnu Naidoo handily illuminates the unwillingness of authority to even name the practice, much less prohibit it. Former Chair of the South African Human Rights Commision Jody Kollapen’s comments on culture and society provide some sort of context, which is a small relief following several man-on-the-street interviews parroting the sentiment that lesbians are deserving targets.

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The Chosen Few

A year before my trip to Africa I went to the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA) World Championship in London, UK. It was here that I was drafted to the same team as Craig, who would later become my South Africa host family and partner in do-goodery. Dennis Fish (VP of the DC Federal Triangles, and recently profiled in these pages for organizing a game for the Football v Homophobia Initiative) was another teammate. I’ve told many stories here that began during those seven days, but there’s one that hasn’t yet made it into these pages – a story that I’d all but forgotten until an article showed up in my feed today.

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It began during the 2008 IGLFA Championship. As someone who comes from a co-ed league it felt natural to place myself on a mixed team, if you can call 13 men and me “mixed”. The unfortunate side effect was that I felt pretty separate from the other women participating in the tourney (including me, there were less than five women playing in the open division). There was little overlap between divisions at the field, so it wasn’t until I made it to a tournament event that I caught up with some of the women players.

It was mid-summer so the best part of the party was taking place outside the venue in the back alley. After a knocking out a few moves on the dance floor with my teammates, I ventured outside. The alley was packed with people reliving the day’s games, pints swinging around and voices rising over rival conversations.

Off to one side was the South African women’s team, the Chosen Few.  They’d been the subject of many conversations, having invited the attention of players from both divisions for their practice of approaching the field for their games singing and dancing in unison. It was an impressive display, both beautiful and intimidating.

Now, the team was standing in a wide circle socializing with each other and whoever wanted to step into the ring. I did.

Within moments I realized I’d inserted myself into a discussion about the consequences of being lesbian in the townships of South Africa. The women spoke in turn, uninterrupted, and told everyone assembled stories of brutal violence, “corrective” rape, and murder. In the preceding few years, I was told, several players had been killed for being lesbian.

We were standing close, shoulder to shoulder, protective and insular, when the women from the Chosen Few began to clap and sing, pulling each other into the centre one by one. Concentrating on matching the rhythm of the group, I slapped my palms together and felt honored and ridiculous and lucky and amazed all at once. By choosing to play, these women were effectively “coming out” into extreme hostility and risking terrible violence, even death. I didn’t know what to do with this information – I still don’t – except to put my hands together and share that fleeting moment in the alley.

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The Chosen Few is run by the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW). They won a bronze medal at the Gay Games Tournament in Chicago in 2006, and again in 2008 at the IGLFA Championships in London. The team has been awarded a Gay Games scholarship to handle travel and accommodation expenses so they can compete in the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, but they still require further financial assistance to obtain gear and handle other associated expenses.

To help, contact Dikeledi Sibanda at 0113391867 or 0765123874 or e- mail project1@few.org.za

Read the article in full: “Lesbian Team Needs Your Support for World Tournament“.

UPDATE:For additional information about the team and the women who play in it, read Magali Reinert’s article, “Belles of the ball” published in the Mail & Guardian Online on Arpil 23, 2010.

The piece does a good job of explaining the structure and background of the team -the Chosen Few is the team launched and supported by NGO The Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) – and what it means to be an out lesbian in some parts of South Africa. To be drafted, every player “must ‘be out’, have passed the physical aptitude trials and be committed to defending homosexual and women’s rights.”

This team’s story is extremely resonant of the themes of homophobia, violence, activism, and sport that I discuss in these pages. Well worth the read.

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