The concept that women cause rape is laughable at its best and at its worst – a terrifying indicator of how little respect our societies have for the female person. The law passed recently in Swaziland is a sad mixture of both.
The Swazi Monarch has decided that banning women from dressing ‘provocatively’ is a sure-fire way to prevent rape.
Because everyone knows only women dressed in mini-skirts and low-rise jeans can get raped. It only takes a quick look at the very low rape-rate in Islamic countries where only conservative garb is tolerated on women to see this.
Oh, what? That isn’t true?* That’s weird.
But it’s not weird. Because this has nothing to do with women’s clothing. Rape never does.
Rape is about control. And laws like the one passed in a country like Swaziland where traditional ceremonies in the King’s honour are more than tolerant of scantily-clad minors are still a firm fixture of the country’s cultural identity, are proof of this.
What we are looking at here is a very common situation that happens in the mind of many men groomed in the pits of their patriarchal societies. We are looking at a kind of thinking that these men hold onto—the kind of logic that makes them believe that a woman’s body is theirs to police.
How else would you explain a King being able to get away with deciding when and where it is appropriate for a woman to dress a certain way? He is instilling this law in a world that already perceives women’s bodies as objects made solely to satisfy the sexual appetites of men.
The idea in his mind and in the minds of many men is—“If I’ve got no use for your tits right now, cover them up!” That is what’s happening. No one wants to sit down and examine this kind of thinking. No one wants to examine the link between rape and control.
When I hear a man say “women who dress ‘provocatively’ cause rape” I hear “if she doesn’t cover up her ass she deserves to have a man punish her for that” and promptly back away.
That’s what is happening here. And why is it happening in Swaziland? Think of all the communities that have the highest normalized rape-rates. Think of communities where rape is so common that it is almost always accepted. These tend to be communities where men feel disenfranchised by the outside world. Where the only power they feel in their lives is power over the women in their communities. And when they don’t feel that power they take it. Rape is the number one tool used to ‘remind women of their place.’
And this is case in point. King Mswati’s monarch is falling apart. Let us not sugar coat things here. We are all adults. We read the news. Swaziland’s economy has been deteriorating at an exponential rate for quite a few years now. King Mswati’s empire has become the laughing stock of Southern Africa.
He has lost so much credibility that it’s a surprise he hasn’t been kicked out of the AU. (But looking at the AU’s recent track record that may not be such a surprise.)
We’re looking at a man that has lost any power he had outside of his country. He has nothing to offer to the development of Africa as a whole. His opinions, advice, leadership skills mean nothing to the other leaders of this continent. In SADC he has now been relegated to playing nothing more than the drunk rural uncle at our ‘family gatherings’. It is a pathetic thing to watch. But that is what is happening.
And when the Swazi women began to protest against rape he saw that he was losing control of the one thing his Monarchical Status guaranteed him: women.
So what does he do? He runs straight to laws that haven’t been enforced since colonial times to remind these women who is boss.
And that, boys and girls, is what this is really about. Power. And Control.
In any case, Swaziland can kiss my citizenship goodbye.