Strangled by our own silence

Date: January 1, 1970
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If we do not take up the challenge to become consistent and persistent activists against gender-based violence, we will never be at peace in our homes, on our streets, or with ourselves.

How brutal do crimes against women have to be before women and men take to the streets in Mauritius to demand an end to violence against women?

The recent rape and sodomy of a 78-year-old woman in her home in the affluent region of Floreal; the brutal murder, rape and sodomy of a 20-year-old university student, Nadine Dantier, in June 2003; and the well-publicised gang rape of Sandra O”Reilly, a young woman professional, are more than enough evidence that underneath the layers of Mauritius” seemingly calm and progressive society, are deep-seated misogynist temperaments.

Accept for the street protests organised by O”Reilly after her attack and again after the justice system released several of her attackers on bail, no one has raised an outcry outside of the whispers about the cases within our homes.

The media spared no details and affronted our ”’pious”’ sensibilities about sex with gruesome descriptions of what the women went through. So, it is hard to imagine that no one was roused to anger and a call for action.

Talking about sex may be taboo in Mauritius, but when such atrocious crimes are committed against women, we have to throw off the cloaks of self-righteousness. Our silence and inaction is strangling women”s right to justice and a society free of violence.

Gender violence concerns us all. The media, non-governmental organisations, politicians, religious leaders and stakeholders must take their share of responsibilities. The time has come for action.

There is no age limit for violence against women and older women are now even more at risk. They are easy targets and because they are considered at the end of their reproductive life cycle, the medical, social and counseling services available to them are often inadequate.

There is an urgent need for structures to deal with post-traumatic conditions and counseling in cases of rape. Old people do not know where to turn to. Women at large do not know if they can get psychological support.

Mauritius” has one of the best laws on gender-based violence in the SADC(Southern African Development Community) region. It was the first country in SADC to pass a Domestic Violence Act which is used as a model by many countries.

Parliament passed the Sexual Discrimination Law early this year. Under this law women can report sexual violations to a special division in order to guard their privacy and confidentiality. And, Mauritius is a signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

But the laws are not enough. Not a day goes by without a report in the media of gender-based violence against women. The perpetrators are not afraid of laws.

Why should they be when four of the five alleged attackers in the O”Reilly case were released on bail, and in the Dantier case, the results of the DNA test sent to South Africa in August still are not known. People also are beginning to question whether the man held for her murder and sexual attack, who is poor, non-communicative and homeless, has been falsely accused.

Where are our voices? How can we be at peace when at any time, at any place, our daughters, mothers, grandmothers and even ourselves can be sexually attacked?

In all three cases the media, NGOs, the policy makers and all those concerned missed a golden opportunity to force society to take stock and confront once and for all the violation of women”s safety.

If we do not take up the challenge to become consistent and persistent activists against gender-based violence, we will never be at peace in our homes, on our streets, or with ourselves.

Loga Virahsawmy is the chairperson of Mauritius Media Watch.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information 




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