“Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole.
Most societies prohibit such violence — yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned.” Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General.
“They tell me that they will kill me, they will rape me and after raping me I will become a girl. I will become a straight girl.”
Zakhe, 23, Soweto.
In South Africa, no woman is safe from violence. There are an estimated 500,000 rapes, hundreds of murders and countless beatings carried out every year. Shockingly, it is estimated that almost half of all South African women will be raped during their lifetime.2 And for every 25 men bought to trial for rape in South Africa, 24 walk free.3
This shameful record of male domination and violence has helped build an increasingly brutal and oppressive culture, in which women are forced to conform to gender stereotypes or suffer the consequences.
As part of this oppression, the country is now witnessing a backlash of crimes targeted specifically at lesbian women, who are perceived as representing a direct and specific threat to the status quo. This violence often takes the form of ‘corrective’ rape – a way of punishing and ‘curing’ women of their sexual orientation.
In early 2009 ActionAid carried out interviews with 15 survivors of these crimes and the organisations that work with them. They told us their own stories, and many more of friends who had died.
It is their words that form the basis of this report.
“At school I was betrayed by my best friend. He told me to come to his house for a school assignment but when I got to the house we fought until he hit me so hard I collapsed, and then he raped me because he said I needed to stop being a lesbian. Afterwards I got pregnant and had a baby. The second time my soccer friends and I were kidnapped at gunpoint and they took us somewhere far away and did what
they wanted with us for three days. We told the police but the case just disappeared. Nothing happened because they all thought I deserved it. These men are still walking free.”
Nomawabo, 30, Limpopo, South Africa.
Human rights violations targeted at people because of their sexual orientation are a global phenomenon. They include sexual assault, rape, torture and murder, as well as denial of employment, education and other basic rights.
Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is underpinned by heteronormativity. This is the idea, dominant in most societies, that heterosexuality is the only ‘normal’ sexual orientation, only sexual or marital relations between women and men are acceptable, and each sex has certain natural roles in life, so-called gender roles. In many places, women and men who transcend these norms or challenge these roles face discrimination and violence.
In 86 UN member states, homosexuality is illegal and in seven countries it is punishable by death.4 South Africa is one of the only countries in the world that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in its constitution, but many other countries guarantee the rights of LGBT people through law. However, as this report shows, for LGBT people to enjoy their rights, it is critical that they are promoted, protected and fulfilled by the state.
In December 2008, the UN issued a declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. Sixty-six countries have signed the declaration, including six countries in Africa. The United States, India and South Africa are among the countries that have not yet signed.
Hate Crimes: The Rise of 'Corrective' Rape in South Africa