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"Your Silence Will Not Protect You"

by South Africa Contributor

Just over a week ago, a member of the Japanese pop group NGT-48, Maho Yamaguchi, opened up about being assaulted by 2 male fans via a series of tweets. While this confession came as a shock to all her fans, the real blow was the fact that she had kept the incident a secret for a month. When she finally spoke up, she was reprimanded by her management for going public with the information and for allegedly creating controversy around the group for doing so. She was then told to apologize for sharing her experience with her fans. Wow. Take a moment to process this entire scenario.
It sent me back to a moment last year when a young, professional lady in Johannesburg opened up to me about being assaulted by a male Taxify driver on her way home from work late one night. I asked if she had reported it, and what action she would be taking and was stunned when the response was “none”. In awe I asked, why? Her response: “I don’t want to be a victim, and attract all it comes with”. I intentionally mention that she was coming from work so we can immediately dispel any notions about ‘where she was going and what she was doing out alone in a cab at that time’, because apparently in 2019 these are still things that need to be explained.

As much as women on the continent are becoming more vocal about instances of sexual assault and abuse, the reality is that the backlash that victims endure for coming forward with their stories is still so traumatic that women are still choosing silence. Movements such as #MeToo are distant romantic ideas to us as Africans. Our mothers and aunts generally still teach us to hush, and not to cause trouble so as not to spoil our prospects for the future.
So why is the #MeToo movement not taking root and spreading like wildfire in this part of the world? Well, I believe it has everything to do with how Africa gets left behind in most development processes and then tries to catch up on finished products (we’re the same continent with incredible tech breakthroughs, but we are yet to eradicate open defecation).
We missed the era in the 80s when the movement was “Break the Silence”, which then evolved to today’s “Believe Women”. If we haven’t normalized a culture of speaking up, how do we possibly lend credibility to women who do so? Without these elements as a foundation, how do we even begin to bring perpetrators to face justice? For us to reach a stage where we are rallying people to believe women and their stories, the people in power need to change their minds – and they can’t do this with silence. The sound of African women speaking up needs to be deafening!

As a collective, we need you to speak up. The more women speak up, the more we rock the boat of patriarchy and its oppressive culture. In the words of Audre Lorde:
"Your silence will not protect you."
How did Maho Yamaguchi’s story end? She may not have been sexually assaulted as far as we know (she maintains that she was slapped in the face), but her female fans stood with her. They were outraged that she was forced to apologize for sharing her truth and her manager has since been relieved of his duties. Why is this relevant to us? Because Asian and African cultures are synonymous with a commitment to preserving the age old traditions, women are to be seen and not heard. However, be assured that there are more people on your side than you would ever imagine.
Remember, speaking up does not mean airing your life story on social media. Being the social media trend for the day is a legitimate fear. It is increasingly important for us to learn that ‘Silence is the absence of a voice, and quietude is the absence of noise’, Maria Popova. You can use your voice in quietude, it will still be impactful.
Could you lose the job? Could your relationship dynamics be shifted? Possibly. But in the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:
"Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented"

Your silence puts you and other women at risk, it protects and feeds the predators living among us. Use your voice, no matter how shaky it is. We need your voice.

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