A Campaign Goes Viral to Stop 'Corrective Rape,' Used to 'Cure' South African Women of Homosexuality
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“What’s remarkable with this campaign is how it highlights the discrepancy between perceived power and real power,” Ben Rattray, founder of Change.org, tells me. “Speaking of global power dynamics, there aren’t that many people who have less power than these women. These are poor, black, lesbian South African women. But given the compelling nature of this story, the potential for it to resonate with millions of people around the globe, and a mechanism to connect with those people, their potential power is remarkable.”
As far as tactics go, an online petition drive may seem like a feather as opposed to a club, given the gravity of the issue. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Malcolm Gladwell poo pooing such forms of activism, given his much debated skepticism of social media’s ability to bind activists together beyond very tenuous and “weak tie” relationships. Indeed most moderately political people, at least in the U.S., probably sign at least one petition a week that passes through their inbox, given the ubiquity of the tactic. And more often than not news of a petition’s effectiveness (or lack thereof) is never relayed by the sponsoring organization. But “tipping point” moments are by definition hard to predict, and what any good organizer, online or offline, will tell you, is that those fleeting “weak tie” relationships are often just a first step, an entry point in to a more engaged stance on an issue or a deeper relationship with a community of interest. The secret that’s not so secret is that “organizing” is the operative word in “online organizing,” and always has been.
After all, the “corrective rape” story has actually been in the news for a while now, and recent highly publicized research has lent shocking evidence to claims that women’s groups in South Africa have been making for years—that the country is the rape capital of the world. But as of last month it is likely that few people outside of South Africa, and probably just as few within South Africa, knew much or anything about a group of women in Capetown called Luleki Sizwe. Fast-forward a few weeks, and now a hundred thousand people around the world (and growing) do know. And unlike the mediated one-way access to an audience that press coverage offers, the women of Luleki Sizwe now have a way to communicate directly with their supporters, engaging them further on the issue and on the acceleration of tactics over the coming days and weeks—to force the South African government to finally get serious about combating the scourge of “corrective rape.” If you haven’t yet, sign the petition, and you will most definitely hear more from these women, as it doesn’t look like they are easily bowed.
“It’s important to feel that you are not alone anymore, just two or three little voices in Capetown,” says Billi du Preez. “It gives hope. Instead of being little mouse voices in the wilderness, we’re going to be lions now, and we’re going to be roaring as loud as we can.”