Sex scars may last long after the World Cup

Date: February 22, 2010
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As the World Cup dates draws near, the energy in South Africa and the neighbouring countries is palpable. Millions of people will soon streaming to South Africa to watch one of the most coveted tournament in the football fraternity.

But with this tournament and the excitement that comes with it, there will be tears and grief as well. Activists have raised a red flag, concerned about potential increase in sexual violence during the 2010 World Cup.

For the many local and foreign women sex workers who will be present at the tournament, lack of protection will mean going to go back to their homes and countries with scars that will take years to heal.

The World Cup is going to make many women vulnerable to sexual violence including rape and its outcomes: HIV infection and unplanned pregnancies. Illegal brothels may traffic young women within and from outside South Africa to meet the sexual demands of the thousands of men at this tournament. This is not far fetched.

Findings of several studies and reports show that sexual violence and aggression increases during sports time. Recent reports in the South African press shows sexual assaults to have soared by 10% before the World Cup. Other studies show that tournaments like this are fertile grounds for perpetrators of sexual violence who are able to gain access to vulnerable young girls.

The studies further show that sexual violence towards women is one of the key drivers of HIV infection. In Swaziland, for instance, a UNIFEM study conducted less than two years ago found out that one-third of the girls and young women had experienced some sort of sexual violence. Many of them were HIV positive. In South Africa, there are understandable fears that with criminals going into an overdrive mode during this World cup period, the figure on sexual violence might triple.

But the question is, are the health and support systems in South Africa and other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) prepared for this? What preventive measures have they put in place to help minimize the dangers of sexual violence that lurk in the shadows of this World Cup? Are there programmes empowering women on what to and what not to do to remain safe or who to turn to in the event they are sexually violated?

If you pose this question to relevant authorities in South Africa and the neighbouring countries, the answer is likely to be a disappointing no. No resources have been set aside to deal with survivors of rape or sexual violation that are likely to happen with the World cup.

Yet, Swaziland, South Africa and other SADC countries have committed themselves to Millennium Development Goal number 5 whose one of the targets calls for universal access to reproductive health, which all countries must make a reality.

In the remaining months before the tournament starts, South Africa must move fast to put in places measures, including policies, to respond to the needs of the women who will be vulnerable to sexual violation.

Addressing the lack of awareness regarding the appropriate action survivors of sexual violence need to take; unfriendly legal systems; unfriendly police; and protecting the offender especially if he is closely related to the victim, are things the South African government will have to deal with before, during and after the World Cup.

At the moment, there is growing agreement that legislation and the right policies may be the key ingredient in ensuring increased access to care and management of sexually violated women in the SADC region and other African countries.

This thinking arises from the fact that a significant number of women who are raped rarely access emergency interventions designed to prevent unwanted pregnancies, HIV transmissions and other life-threatening sexual infections, and offer psychosocial support. At the moment, majority of the women who are violated have to either put up with what they go through, or, for those who can afford, seek services in the expensive private sector.

Even where these services exist within reachable distances and are offered free of charge, majority of the women lack information on their availability. As the World Cup draws near, gender activists need to come out and advocate for laws and policies that ensure people, especially women, enjoy their reproductive health rights during the tournament. The government has to use its wider network of health facilities to offer these services rather than leaving them to NGOs which have limited reach.

This is the time for the South African Sexual Offenses Act to be implemented to the fullest to ensure access to health and other supportive services as well as widen access to justice for violated women. Current laws have seen men who perpetrate sexual violence fail to see the corridors of justice or those who get there to walk scot-free from courts, just because of the inadequacies or loopholes in the current laws.

The other challenge is the expenses required to institute legal action against perpetrators of violence are beyond the reach of many poor women and men. These are issues that need attention now.

Writers Bio

Arthur Okwembah is a journalist with the African Women and Child Feature Service in Kenya. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, produced during a “Business Unusual” workshop.



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