Posted on March 5, 2008

‘Leave Our Miniskirts Alone’, Say Harassed South African Women

AFP, March 4, 2008

Hundreds of South Africans marched on central Johannesburg on Tuesday defending the right of women to wear miniskirts without harassment.

The picket was staged near the Noord Street taxi rank where a young woman had her clothes torn off by taxi drivers and hawkers last month, allegedly for showing too much skin.

Her assailants allegedly touched the woman’s private parts while pouring alcohol over her head and calling her names.

The protesters, mostly women and many wearing miniskirts themselves, carried placards reading: “We love our miniskirts”, and “We aren’t road signs, you need to respect us”.

Mpumi Ngidi, 26, said she was frequently harassed.

“If you are caught between the pavement and a (vendor’s) stall and you cross a group of men, at least one in three will try to touch your boobs, your ass. . . .” she told AFP.

“I don’t wear miniskirts, I don’t dress in a sexy way or dress up. It is partly a defense mechanism.”

Taxi associations condemned last month’s incident, which saw several other women coming forward with similar harrowing stories, but twenty-something taxi driver Thulani Nhlapho on Tuesday summed up one male view.

“If you are wearing a miniskirt, you give the impression you want to be raped,” Nhlapho added.

“You respect yourself when you wear a longer skirt. We respect women who respect themselves.”

Edwin Ndlovu, 29, was among those regarded the procession with great amusement.

“We laugh because they are naked,” said the car guard. “As a person you have to control your feelings. It is difficult when women are naked. That’s how some men end up raping women.”

Popular radio personality Redi Direko, herself abused in a taxi as a teenager, rejects such statements with contempt.

“We have babies who get raped, grandmothers who get raped. When I was assaulted, I was 13 and wearing a school uniform.”

Direko said it was disturbingly common for women to have their breasts and buttocks fondled on taxis.

“There is a lot of patriarchy. The expression of male sexuality is often violent, women have no negotiating power.”

About 50,000 rapes are reported every year in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest violent crime rates.

But activists say the numbers are hugely under-reported, and could amount to a million a year.

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