Being a woman in South Africa is hard. It’s frightening too. I will never forget the time I worked in Cape Town city centre. It was 2019, the very same year this country saw the murder of beautiful, innocent women and children. The #AmINext movement was in full swing and there was one specific day I truly felt like I was next.
I had left my office building. It was broad daylight and I was being followed by a huge, older man. I thought perhaps I was being paranoid and that it was just my imagination. I quickly thought I could get a cup of white hot chocolate for R10 at Expresso and perhaps this man would not dare approach me knowing that I am around so many other people. But, I was wrong. He stood at a distance close enough to yell at me.
“Girly, sexy girl, come here quickly man,” he called.
“I just wanna show you something man, yoh you mos sexy,” he continued despite me ignoring him.
At this point, I said, “no” and was embarrassed and slightly afraid because my “no” was insignificant. People heard and saw but ignored. This was city centre, everyone kept to themselves unless they personally knew you. I’ve never felt such coldness before.
I then walked as quickly as I could to get to my destination. It was then when this man was arm to arm next to me. He said, “come here quickly” and was about to grab my entire tiny body and run, but my reflex was too quick for him and I ran. I was terrified that he would follow me. He didn’t but he left a trail of insults behind him.
I was shaken. Taken aback. Nearly kidnapped in broad daylight and everyone else around was oblivious to what was happening.
I cried that day at the realisation of what could have happened. The #AmInext movement felt more real. I thought about the woman who were just like me who were brutally murdered simply for being a woman. It angered me that certain men (I say certain, because I know that not all men are the same) have this audacity to think that they can go up and talk to any woman they want and have this weird boldness that woman are supposed to just submit to their lustful, sexual cravings. I hate the fact that woman feel fear to wear certain clothing. That we fear getting catcalled. That we fear men coming over and try to talk to us. I hate it!
Often times when travelling I would get approached by men asking for number, like what. Woah, pause! Why do men have this extreme confidence to just ask for your number? Apparently “no” means “try again” to a man whose blinded by my utter annoyance on my face.
I don’t understand why is our “no” so insignificant to men’s ears. Why are women’s voices so insignificant? Enough is enough. Men need to learn and respect when a woman says no – it’s no.
Maybe it starts with us. We should not let our brothers, fathers, uncles and male friends get away with rape jokes, get away with insulting woman, get away with the catcalls and the disrespecting whistles and hooting when walking down the street and the creepy stares followed by “can I have your number?”
I vowed that one day, God willing if I ever have a baby boy I would raise him to respect woman and to respect himself enough to walk away when a woman says “no”. Just because a man has a desire for a woman and he expresses that desire in a degrading and unflattering way, doesn’t mean a woman should submit to it.
We are powerful. Our voices should be heard. No means no. Women have rights. Women have a choice. Women have freedom.
This piece is part of a special collection of essays and poems called Women in the World. Click here to browse more stimulating reads.
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