12 October 2019 / 13 Saffar 1441
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A tribute to Women’s Month
ATTACKS by men on women – an endemic problem in our society widely condemned by our ‘ulama and public figures – has shot to prominence due to the particularly tragic homicide of University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana.
Mrwetyana, a bubbly 19-year-old first year film and media studies student, went to the Clareinch post office to inquire about a parcel, but was told by the accused – a 42 year old clerk with a criminal record – to come back later because the electricity was off.
She returned, and the clerk now alone at the post office, assaulted and raped her. According to the police, her spirited resistance caused him to bludgeon her to death. He later burnt and dumped her body at Lingelethu West in Khayelitsha.
Uyinene’s horrifying demise had been preceded by the cold-blooded shooting of 25 year-old champion boxer, Leighandre Jegels, by an ex-boyfriend (who had a restraining order against him), and Meghan Cremer, an avid horse rider, killed by three men known to her who tied her up and stole her car.
Uyinene’s brutal murder awoke the nation, reeling from gender violence, into an unprecedented outpouring of anger and grief. A march to parliament saw police minister, Bheki Cele, booed by an impassioned crowd when he tried to address it.
For South African women traumatised by violence, Uyinene’s killing has proved to be the final straw – and the gauntlet has been thrown to government to act with real purpose and genuine political will.
South African Police Service figures reveal that in 2017-18 one woman was killed every three hours. And if that statistic doesn’t jar enough, 15.2 women out of every 100 000 will be killed in South Africa this year.
The World Health Organisation has our murder rate of women at 4.8 times higher than the global average, and out of 183 countries, we are fourth on the league of shame – only after Honduras, Jamaica and Lesotho.
For NGOs, such as SANZAF – which have to deal with the social fallout of violence against women all the time – socio-economic factors are obviously part of the problem, though there can never be an excuse for gender violence.
Tragically, much of our gender violence brews in deprived environments. Angry, hungry and unemployed males, emasculated by their lack of skills, a lack of education and crippled by economic despair, are very often perpetrators. Due to their low self-esteem, violence creates the only power dynamic they know.
Sadly, the latter is not just confined to the poor. Gender violence can be a middle-upper-class thing too, the recent convictions of sociopathic wife-killers Jason Rohde and Rob Packham in Western Cape courts, an established case in point.
However, there can be no doubt that of the 28 000 interventions by SANZAF’s 46 case workers last year, a significant percentage would have found their origins in what we have already discussed.
Of course, whatever I say cannot lift the very real grief and calm the justifiable fury so many South Africans are feeling right now. But it is in such moments of darkness that I become grateful to know Islam – not in the patronising sense of thinking it makes me better than anyone else, no. That is not the case.
Rather, my consolation is in the sense that our history shows us how gender violence and gender apartheid were abolished by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). By changing perceptions on women through his wise actions, the Prophet (SAW) ensured that women did not have to be victims.
He forbade the practice of female infanticide practiced by the Arab tribes, especially in times of drought. This cruel custom of burying baby girls alive, so that there could be more boys, came to an end in the 7th century. The Prophet (SAW) also prohibited the social isolation of women during their haid, or monthly courses.
Then the Prophet (SAW) broke the patriarchal mould, and all the stereotypes, by not only working for a business woman, Sayyidah Khadijah, but marrying her after she had proposed to him as an older woman. This would set the trend later on when women would play a central, and affirming, role in the development of Islam.
For instance, the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) would drive out the notion that women had to play specific roles in society when he did his own housework. Wives are the truest witnesses to exactly whom their men are, and Sayyidah A’ishah once said in response to a question that at home, the Prophet (SAW) embodied the Qur’an.
The Prophet (SAW) used to comfort the slave women of Madinah and Makkah. And at a time of great stress – when the Companions were angry with him after he signed the Treaty of Hudaibiyya – it was his wife, Umm Salama, who consoled him, and gave him the advice that broke the impasse.
When it came to war, it was Nusaybah bint Ka’b, a nurse who took up a sword to defend the Prophet (SAW) at Uhud, who became one of Islam’s fiercest battle commanders. In the field of knowledge it was Hafsah, another wife of the Prophet (SAW), who was entrusted with keeping the first compilation of the Qur’an.
There are just so many shining examples of how women were at the forefront during the establishment of Islam, contributing economically, socially, militarily and academically. This is what always gives me hope. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that women are the partners of men, and that men are the partners of women, and that men and women are equal before the Divine Court.
And as I conclude this, there is a consoling image in my mind. It is of a radiant Uyinene, freed from her earthly bonds and liberated from her injustice, being reassured by the Prophet (SAW) that all is going to be fine.