The Ladies of Sozo Learn to Fight Back!

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The reality of living in South Africa is that it is inherently unsafe for women.

Rape in South Africa is systemic and endemic. The country’s annual police crime statistics confirm this. There were 42,289 rapes reported in 2019/2020, as well as 7,749 sexual assaults. This translates into about 115 rapes a day.

South Africa has one of the highest rape statistics in the world, even higher than some countries at war.

Female beneficiaries in our programs often report feeling unsafe when walking in the community or on their way to school. It is common for beneficiaries to seek counselling from the psycho-social team to debrief after being the victim of a crime or Gender-Based Violence.

Feeling unsafe is a risk to both our mental and physical health. Abraham Maslow’s theorized that our need for physical and psychological safety is a close second to our basic physiological needs (Maslow, 1943). Because safety is so important for our survival, our brains are wired to keep us safe. When our brain perceives a threat, our body is pumped with stress hormones, which enable us to flee or fight back. Under normal circumstance, the levels of stress hormones in a person’s body returns to normal when the threat goes away (van der Kolk, 2014).  However, because there are such high rates of violence against women in South Africa, women feel unsafe daily. This means that their bodies are frequently pumped with stress hormones, which places them at an increased risk of depression and anxiety (Scott, 2022).

This women’s month we invited Fight Back SA, to empower our female beneficiaries with self-defense skills. Fight Back SA is an NPO that provides free self-defense classes to women and girls living in high-risk communities. Our female beneficiaries were taught how to fight off an attacker who grabs them from behind; to fight back if an attacker grabs them from the front; and how to defend themselves in a rape situation. The ladies that participated were also provided with pepper spray. This week I have seen many of our female beneficiaries arriving at Sozo with their pepper spray handy, ready to fight back!

After the workshop one of our female beneficiaries reported that she doesn’t feel like she is completely vulnerable. She can do something when attacked, she can fight back! As we continue to work towards systemic change in our community, we hope that our beneficiaries feel a little safer and empowered to fight back! Thank you to Fight Back SA for empowering our women.

References

The Conversation Article from August 4, 2022: Rape is endemic in South Africa. Why the ANC government keeps missing the mark. Available at
https://theconversation.com/rape-is-endemic-in-south-africa-why-the-anc-government-keeps-missing-the-mark-188235

South African Police Services: Annual police crime statistics 2019/2020. Available at: https://www.saps.gov.za/services/april_to_march_2019_20_presentation.pdf

World Population Review: Rape Statistics by Country 2022. Available at:
https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/rape-statistics-by-country

Maslow, A., 1943. A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), pp.370-396.

Scott, E., 2022. What You Need to Know About the Stress Hormone. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/cortisol-and-stress-how-to-stay-healthy-3145080#toc-impact-of-cortisol

Van der Kolk, B., 2014. The body keeps the score. UK: Penguin Books.