By Dana Fleitman, JWI Program Coordinator
Eighteen years after apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela, South Africa is a diverse, complex and rapidly evolving democracy. South African women played a large role in the anti-Apartheid movement, and the country ranks third globally for the number of women in government. South Africa is ranked fourth out of 53 African countries for its record on women’s rights and an impressive sixth out of 134 countries in World Economic Forum’s “gender gap index”. South Africa boasts what is arguably the world’s most progressive constitution, which legalizes gay marriage and has anti-discrimination policies for gender as well as sexual orientation.
Despite these successes, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of reported rape in the world. A World Health Organization study found that fully 40% of South African women described their first sexual experience as non-consensual. One common act of violence is that of “corrective rape,” an act of sexual violence targeting lesbians to “cure” them of their homosexuality.
In this homophobic and violent environment, activists are making strides in raising awareness and calling on legislators to make corrective rape a hate crime. Ndumie Funda is a groundbreaking activist who founded and heads the Luleki Sizwe Project. The organization is named after Funda’s friend Luleka, a lesbian who was raped by her HIV-positive cousin and died in 2005, and Funda’s fiancée Nosizwe Nomas Bizana, who was raped by five men at gunpoint, contracted meningitis and died in 2007.
Funda’s small non-profit is run by volunteers and operates in 10 Cape Town townships to assist survivors of corrective rape, providing a safe-house, medical care and social services. She launched a record-breaking Change.org petition with over 170 thousand signatures from 163 countries, pressuring South Africa’s Ministry of Justice to establish a national task team to address hate crimes against LGBT South Africans. Ms. Funda is currently serving on this task force and continues to advocate for LGBT justice despite constant threats of violence.
Video featuring Ndumie Funda:
Protest Action Against Corrective Rape – Cape Town, South Africa – 15 May 2011: