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Born Frees question freedom celebrations when women, LGBTQIA+ community live in fear

Written by Marcia Zali

A new generation of South Africans are questioning what freedom means for women and the LGBTQIA+ community. The Break the Silence Movement says it intends on taking conversations about gender-based violence beyond hashtags.

As South Africa wrapped April, the month in which the country commemorates Freedom Day, a group of women are questioning those celebrations when women are not truly free. Known as the so-called Born Free generation, they are challenging what freedom means in South Africa today.

Zaylia Vivienne and Boitumelo Thage gathered with women in Pretoria to share their experiences of gender-based violence and how it still curtails their freedom. They discussed issues of femicide, rape, abuse, and the targeting the LGBTQIA+ community.

“We can’t celebrate Freedom Day when women aren’t free,” said 21-year-old Vivienne. “For as long as my sisters are chained, I am not free and I refuse to celebrate without knowing that all of us are free.

A safe space beyond social media

Vivienne and Thage, 25,  are founders of the Break The Silence movement, which aims to create a safe space for women and girls. Rather than protesting in the conventional way, they wanted to centre the stories of women and hold those in power accountable.

“We wanted to change the narrative around protests against GBV where a memorandum is given to an official and they just sign it,” said Thage. “What we want is to have a conversation with the people in power. We want to open a door for women to be able to speak to those in power and those who can change systems.”

They also want protest to go beyond social media hashtags and have more real-world impact.

“With a lot of these hashtags, it dies down and it stays on social media, it doesn’t go further than reposting something on a story,” said Vivienne. “What we wanted is to create a movement outside of social media, one where people gather and where we stand together and back one another up.”

The COVID-19 regulations also limit how many people can gather, so movement have had to innovate how they raise awareness. Break The Silence aims to support survivors through education and sustained awareness.

“We don’t want to limit the movement to protesting. We want to also focus on educating and uniting women, growing the movement and trying to rebuild the momentum around GBV,” says Thage.

Born free?

Tshegofatso Rabaloa attended the gathering on 27 April. The 21-year-old from Soshanguve believes the daily reality of many young people in the country makes it difficult to celebrate holidays like Freedom Day.

“Those who were involved in the struggle against Apartheid tell us that we are born frees but I then ask myself whether we are free as millennials? We have a lot of injustices that are happening to us as Black people, to us a people within the LGBTQIA+ community, to us as Black women, all the groups that are marginalised, we should ask ourselves, are we free?” asks Rabalao.

“Days like this, where we say it is Freedom Day or whatever holiday we may have, are days where we should gather and try by all means to educate each other and raise awareness on how we can tackle these issues,” added Rabalao.

Women and people in the LGBTQIA+ community in particular have not fully enjoyed the envisioned freedom that came with the end of Apartheid, she said.

“I can’t say that I’m free if I’m afraid to walk in the street because it’s at night, because I’m a woman, because I am within the LGBTQIA+ community, that’s not freedom. To be free is to have no fear so until all of us who are marginalised have no fear, that’s when I can say that we are free,” she said.—Health-e News

About the author

Marcia Zali