It is estimated that a woman born in my country, South Africa, has a greater chance of being raped than of learning how to read. Here, 144 women report rape to the police every day — that’s six cases reported every hour. These cold statistics from the Medical Research Council (MRC) tell us that a brutal war against women rages on.
While India rose up in protest after the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old in December, the recent sadistic rape and mutilation of 17-year-old South African Anene Booysen has seen a nation simply shrug its shoulders. Two women on different continents both endured vicious abuse, and their deaths elicited two very different national responses. The tragic deaths of both young women demand that their communities face the horror of sexual violence. Yet the response to in my country has been a state of helplessness, apathy and paralysis to implement change.
Anene Booysen, from a small town in the Southern Cape, was not only gang raped on the evening of February 1st, but had her stomach cut open, her throat slit and her intestines physically pulled out by her attackers. Left for dead with broken arms and legs, this brave woman managed to identify one of her attackers, reportedly her ex-boyfriend, before she passed.
When the announcement was made that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would be given to three women, including Leymah Gbowee (pronounced LAY-muh BO-wee), some Jews were particularly proud.
Gbowee, an extraordinary Liberian activist and founder of Women Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN), who has been influential in mobilizing women for peace and bringing democracy to Liberia, has credited the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) with being one of the first organizations to believe in and to provide financial support for her work.
“AJWS is a name I will remember”, she said recently at an AJWS event. “It is an organization with a heart and a soul. I mean it – and I don’t take my words lightly.”
Ruth Messinger, AJWS’s president and CEO, says she first met Gbowee in 2003 at a breakfast in Ethiopia.