By Ithuteng Mashabela & Yolande Botha
“I Am Beautiful. Your Ignorance Can’t Take That Away.”. These were the words that were carved into a large, brown placard – my only item of clothing on – 27 April 2009. Together with nearly a hundred fellow activists from various societies, such as SHARC, GAP and OutRhodes, I decided to take part in the ‘My Body, My Choice’ photo shoot aimed at relaying a simple message – even if I was naked, you wouldn’t have the right to rape me.
Insecurities and inhibitions left at the door, we all stripped down to our knickers and grinned for the cameras, in celebration of our femininity, and in protest against the violation thereof. What could possibly be a better way to spend Freedom Day than to do so in our birthday suits?
The photo shoot was held in line with the Anti Sex and Gender Based Violence Week, which ran from 4-8 May.
Other events included the ‘My Short Skirt’ protest on Wednesday, for which young women wore their short skirts with a sign that read “My Short Skirt is not an Invitation”, and the ‘Sexual Violence = Silence’ protest, in which activists volunteered to have their mouths taped shut from 08h00 until 18h00 in solidarity with rape survivors.
“We are taught to carry our bodies with fear and shame,” announced Beth Vale, president of SHARC, at a cocktail party held on Wednesday in celebration of the success of the photo shoot. “But our bodies are our own and for us to define,” she affirmed.
Some will question what we have chosen to do. Many will insult us and accuse us of impure intentions. Nevertheless, we will not stop. In the words of Khwezi Mbandazayo, “We will not apologise, cover up or tone it down” until the war against women’s bodies is ended.