We need to take action, says Sarah Koopman

The country’s eyes and attention are glued to the up-to-the-second reports coming out of the Pretoria Magistrate Court as Paralympian Oscar Pistorius awaits the judge’s decision on his pending bail application. Taking to the dock every day, Pistorius is facing the charge of murdering his girlfriend, model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp, last week.

As reports come flying out of the courtroom, with new information about the night in question making front page news and flooding Twitter timelines, Pistorius is all we’re hearing about. Any other South African news events of the last few weeks have completely fallen off the country’s radar.

Remember Anene Booysen? The 17-year-old victim of a gruesome rape in Bredasdorp on 2 February 2013? The public outcry that followed her death aimed to bring to light the plight of women in this country. In the midst of the social media chaos, were some salient facts that drove the point home. That every four minutes a woman is raped in South Africa. That 1 in every 2 women killed in South Africa is killed by her partner. That only 1 in 10 rapes is reported. But all of this did little to drive any real action – by civilians or by government, even though Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, did leave her newly furnished office to make an appearance in court.

Reeva and Anene have become the faces of the daily reality of women in South Africa. For every reported incident of this nature, there are hundreds more that pass unnoticed. These news-grabbing events are purely symptomatic of how our society views women and of how ingrained sexism is in the way we interact with one another. In the smallest things – from not saying anything when we are leered at by men passing us in the streets, to questioning a woman’s ability to hold public office because of the way she dresses or her choices regarding cosmetic procedures. And while women are always on the receiving end, it is not only men to blame – we see each other in this way every day too. It all needs to change.

The frustration stems mostly from not knowing what to do – there are no quick-fix answers; in fact we’re not sure what the answer is at all. But if this crisis that we as South African women now find ourselves in started small, so must changing it. It starts with speaking up, when doing so counts. It starts with being bold and brave in the smallest ways – whether leaving an abusive boyfriend, or telling that leering guy off. Change isn’t always easy and it isn’t comfortable, but it isn’t going to come unless we brace ourselves for the discomfort and do what we can.

South African ‘activism’ has now been reduced to 140 characters on Twitter, or a trending topic that lasts a day – but that is not enough. The women in need of the changes that online activism calls for are most often the ones who can’t even participate in it.

Activism entails ACTION towards bringing about change. So we need to do exactly that: ACT. It is the only way to claim back our lives as South African women.