It was one of those mornings when you wake and the heat of the day already finds you perspiring in your bed, promising a baking day in Limpopo.
The girls gathered at the community hall in Leyden village for their second day of the GirlZtalk workshop.
Most of the Leyden girls are in their late teens, ranging from 16 to 19 years old. As forthright and bold as they are, we have found that the discussions have lacked depth. The girls are at that age where being seen to be as “cool as the crowd” is far more important than allowing oneself to become vulnerable and sharing their stories.
The Leyden girls contrast our experience with the girls in Ha-Makhuvha village, who were far more silent to begin with, but once they trusted us, they came forward with such honesty and sincere emotion, that we were all deeply moved by their courage and their strength.
But the day’s group discussion at times left us completely speechless. We have spent the last 6 days focusing on the voice of girls, so we felt that we needed a man’s perspective. There were a group of guys hanging out at the nearby shop, chatting up the girls as they went over to buy drinks, so we decided to ask them to share their view of girls in their community.
Two of the guys had the courage to be outspoken. The first said that he thought drugs and alcohol are girls’ biggest problems. They come to the shebeen, and lose control of themselves – they make themselves targets for men. He said if there are too many men and too few girls, they agree amongst themselves to share a girl, and just take her aside and “fuck” her.
When asked what if the girls were not interested in being with all of the guys, “Well then we just fuck her anyway.”
We asked about the girls falling pregnant, and he blatantly responded that the girl cannot prove anything if she is sleeping around, they will want to have nothing to do with the child.
One of the guys next to him then spoke up: “In the rural areas women are meant to cook and serve a man. If we feel we want to fuck her, then she must agree.”
And if she does not agree I asked? “Well then I slap her. There is no 50-50”
Admittedly this was an isolated discussion with a small group of guys, and does not represent all the men in the community, however the conversation made us realise the challenge these girls face in trying to be self-determined, ambitious young women. The culture of male entitlement to their sexuality is an integral part of the social fabric in which they live.
We moved on from the discussion with the guys to a discussion on women’s sexuality with a small group of the girls. We gathered a cross section of girls – some lesbian, some bi-sexual and some “straight”.
The girls shared their stories of “coming out”, being lesbian in their communities, fighting for acceptance, and sharing their fears of “correctional rape” whereby men rape the women, believing that it will straighten out their sexuality and punish them for the “crime” of being lesbian.
Some of the girls spoke about the “freedom” they experience amongst women, that they do not have to deal with the power that men try to enforce over them, and that you enter a relationship with a women on equal terms.
The day closed with spectacular lightning and thunderstorms on the horizon. We sat around a braai, cooking our dinner, allowing the cool night breeze to blow through us. The stories of the day continued to roll through our thoughts – we all have a story to tell.