The Birds and the Bees: Training a new generation of activists against sexual violence in South Africa | Rape

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South Africa has “globally unprecedented” levels of violence against women (Medical Research Council, 2009). Despite the country’s progressive constitution and support for women’s rights, the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust estimates that up to 500,000 women are raped each year. Oxfam is partnering with Rape Crisis to support their peer education programme, which trains high school students as peer counsellors and educators to support rape survivors and fight sexual violence in their schools and communities.
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    www.oxfam.org   Peer educators learn together. Photo credit: Ewart Mouton/Rape Crisis. South Africa has “globally unprecedented” levels of violence against women (Medical Research Council, 2009). Despite the country’s progressive constitution and support for women’s rights, the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust estimates that up to 500,000 women are raped each year. Oxfam is partnering with Rape Crisis to support their peer education programme, which trains high school students as peer counsellors and educators to support rape survivors and fight sexual violence in their schools and communities.   The Birds and the Bees Training a New Generation of Activists against Sexual Violence in South Africa    1 Over 60%   of men who have raped women committed their first rape aged 10-19   40%   of rape survivors are under 18 INTRODUCTION “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” The atmosphere on the way to the camp is upbeat and full of anticipation. 23 teenagers from schools in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, are on their way to the annual youth camp, ready for four days of fun and learning, a well-earned reward after months of training. Oxfam is partnering with Rape Crisis to implement their peer education programme, which trains high school students to stand up to sexual violence and support survivors of rape. SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA “Rape is a big problem in Khayelitsha. Sometimes it’s like people are used to it, that it’s normal. Also, many think the person being raped is to blame, that they did something wrong and got raped.”   Samkele, Peer Educator, Khayelitsha Widely held to have the most progressive constitution in the world, South Africa nevertheless has a “globally unprecedented” level of violence against women. i  Rape Crisis estimates that as many as 500,000 women are raped each year. Survivors face difficulties in accessing justice and emotional support. Many know very little about the criminal justice system, and it can be complicated and confusing to navigate. It is therefore not surprising that conviction rates for rape are low  –  one study found that only 1 in 25 women who had been raped reported it to the police, ii  and only 7% of reported rapes in the Western Cape result in conviction. iii  In Khayelitsha and Athlone, the communities where Oxfam and Rape Crisis work, poverty, gendered power inequality, substance abuse, unemployment and high HIV rates create an environment in which violence against women is prevalent. Gang violence is rife, and a patriarchal culture contributes to myths and stereotypes that normalise rape and violence. Young people are routinely exposed to violence in their schools and communities: 40% of rape survivors are under the age of 18, and up to 28% of young South Africans report that their first sexual experience was forced. iv  Over 60% of men in South Africa who have forced women or girls into sex did so for the first time between the ages of 10 and 19. v  Interventions with youth therefore play an important role in the fight against all forms of sexual assault.    2 THE BIRDS AND THE BEES “Often girls think that they should not wear a skirt, or walk alone, or do different things at school because it could get them raped. Part of the problem is that our parents and other people tell us this. They don’t know better. But I tell them that rape is not their fault, that   there is never a reason for rape, it is always wrong.”   Yoliswa, Peer Educator, Khayelitsha Established in 1976, the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust is the oldest women’s organisation in South Africa dealing with adult rape. The organisation began as a volunteer-run feminist collective, and the empowerment of women is at the heart of all their programmes. Their holistic approach incorporates counselling, training and awareness programmes, and advocacy for legal reform. Rape Crisis works to reduce the stigma of rape, challenge myths and stereotypes and increase the support available for survivors. Oxfam in South Africa is committed to ensuring that more women and girls can claim their rights, take control of their lives and live free from violence. Oxfam has been partnering with Rape Crisis for over a decade. Through this partnership, Oxfam has provided funding and support to specific activities, as well as capacity building and leadership training to enable Rape Crisis to develop and grow. Since 2012, Oxfam has supported their peer education project, The Birds and the Bees . The Birds and the Bees  trains high school students to raise awareness about rape in their schools and support survivors. The project began as an annual youth camp in 1999. Today, it is a 13-week programme, involving a series of interactive workshops, and culminating with a camp retreat where newly trained peer educators from different schools can come together, share their knowledge and experiences, and plan activities. The programme reaches students as young as 13. “If you start as early as that, you can make a difference,” says Kholeka Booi, Training and Development Coordin ator at Rape Crisis. Rape Crisis opens the eyes of young women and men to the negative effects of violent behaviour and myths about rape. The programme challenges them to take action to respond to the needs of rape survivors in their schools and communities. The camp is an integral part of the programme. The four-day event involves workshops, discussion groups, art and music, allowing the peer educators to engage deeply with the content of the course. Peer educators and Rape Crisis staff and volunteers. Photo credit: Ewart Mouton/Rape Crisis.    3 IMPACT “Rape Crisis changed me a lot. I used to touch girls, you know, how boys do, like touching them or calling them names  –  making all those kind of things. Now I can stop, like if my friend is doing the same, the things like calling girls or touching them, I can go to him and say, ‘No man. Don’t do this. This is wrong.’”   Luzuko, Peer Educator, Khayelitsha  Peer educators have shown astonishing openness and readiness to change their ideas and behaviours. Feedback from the students has indicated positive change in attitudes and beliefs about sexual assault, and a consequent change in behaviour. Boys in the programme have reported changing violent and abusive behaviours towards girls, and challenging the boys around them to do the same. Students note that their ideas about gender roles have been challenged, which has had an impact on how they think about relationships. Participants in the programme have also developed an understanding of rape’s impact  on survivors and the opportunities for legal redress, and are enthusiastic about offering their support and sharing their knowledge with their peers. Box 1: Nkota’s story vi    At school there are children who have been raped. Some of the other children laugh at them and they end up leaving school. There are a lot of gangsters in the community and they take girls away and rape them. This happened to a girl I know and she came back crying and then stayed at home for a week and we were all worried about her. Before I was a Rape Crisis peer educator I didn’t know much about rape or what you were supposed to do if you had been raped. I also didn’t think that anyone would listen to me because I am a child and they will say that a child can’t tell an elder what to do. In the Rape Crisis training and at the camp we learned a lot about our rights. Everyone has rights and the children in the community have the right to be protected from rape. We learned the important things that someone must do if they have been raped. With that friend we were so worried about, I called her friend and gave the friend all the information I had and told her that she can call Rape Crisis if she wants support. After a while she did come back to school.   I think that I can use all the things I know now to protect myself better. I know what my rights are and I know the steps I need to take after rape if I ever have to so that I can get medical help and so that there is evidence for the case. We as peer educators are a team and we can help to fight rape in our community because we have the knowledge. I hope that people will listen to us now that we are trained.   Nkota on camp. Photo credit: Ewart Mouton/Rape Crisis.
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