Why the Term “Rape Culture” Needs to Include the African Narrative

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Last month, I did a presentation to students at my former high school on Rape Culture. As I stood in front of students, I noted that the existence of rape in Kenya, Somalia and South Africa could not fit into the term “Rape Culture”. Subliminal messages of rape culture evident in favourite films and video games shocked students more than international cases and statistics of rape in African countries. What I find utterly disconcerting is that the term “Rape Culture” which has brought attention to sexual assault in the west, has an adverse effect that marginalizes and silences the African narrative.

“Rape Culture” refers to attitudes and social practices that normalize, trivialize and perpetuate the existence of rape through subliminal messages in movies, tv shows and jokes. So I ask: Is the silencing of victims in societies where traditional views ensue cultural stigma considered “Rape Culture”? If media messages in Africa do not expose “Rape Culture”, is the silencing of victims in Africa alarming enough?

It seems apparent to me that the term “Rape Culture” is emphasized and concentrated in North America. The use of this term to combat and denounce attitudes that perpetuated rape, is yet to apply to the systemic occurrences, stigma and under reported instances that normalize rape in African countries. The criteria of “Rape Culture” from the western world excludes the act of rape due to poverty in Kenya, war and refugee displacement in Somalia and even corrective rape in South Africa.

In many ways, African narratives have been silenced and excluded from the mainstream dialogue on sexual assault and rape. In fact, feminism has been divided in “waves” where feminists in the United States and Canada have been historically encouraged to continue a lineage of activism. The term was initially coined by feminists of the 1970s second- wave feminist movement in the United States, to show how society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized rape.

However, The Equality Effect, a Toronto based organization aiming to create legal solutions to gender inequality in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana, reported that every half hour, each day, someone is raped in Kenya. The youngest victim ever recorded was five months old, and the oldest was eighty six.

In 2013, a 16 year- old girl named “Liz” was gang-raped on her way back from her grandfathers funeral and abandoned in a latrine with a broken back and several internal injuries. The men were prosecuted and their punishment was to cut grass. This led to outrage and protests in Nairobi. Under Kenya’s Sexual Assault Act, these men were supposed to serve no less than fifteen years in prison.

In November, a woman was stripped and beaten at a bus station in Nairobi by a group of men for wearing a miniskirt that was believed to “tempt” men. An amateur video taken at the scene went viral and the assault led to a protest in Nairobi against victim blaming, and violence against women. The hashtag #MyDressMyChoice, was used on twitter to continue dialogue and support for the victims and brave women protesting. Although the hashtag received support, the movement became a debate as the hashtag #nudityisnotmychoice emerged in the social media conversation, as some denounced the protests.

Do the efforts of the Kenyan women responding to rape in their community make them a part of the fight against “Rape Culture”? Can the narratives of African victims ever be regarded important enough as opposed to mere examples of a politically and socially “unstable” or “unjust” country ? Most importantly, are Kenyan activists given credit for their efforts to go against cultural stigma and patriarchy saturated in mindsets of some Kenyans?

Some may see this entire article as a trivialization of “Rape Culture” in a contradictory way, as I point out the marginalization of the African narrative under this term. This is not the case as I only aim to point out the issues of categorizing rape under this term. Some may even say that many countries have local organizations working to combat rape on a micro level which is just as important. But the term “Rape Culture” is powerful. It’s a chance to address rape on a macro level and connect what should be equality for all victims. Yet this term has only been concentrated in North America which is entirely misleading when we consider who is included and excluded under this “culture”.

If the world wants to talk about “Rape Culture”, talk about the many different narratives that are governed and silenced by binary opposites. Talk about the victims in Kenya, Somalia, South Africa and in the diaspora who are shunned and silenced by family members. Talk about the black women and girls whose bodies are constantly sexualized and monopolized as props but become part of the blame in the same films and music videos that are accused as contributing to “Rape Culture”.

Because rape is a violent crime that happens everywhere and affects people from different communities. There is no criteria for the existence of rape or any standards to addressing this crime.

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