South Africa: A Case For Trans And Non-Binary Bodies' Inclusion In Gender-Based Violence Reporting

Mawethu Nkosana Nkolomba is a queer black thinker and currently works as research and communications officer at the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA). Young South African 2017 Top 200, Mail and Guardian. A founder of The Black Love Association, and an ASRI future leader's fellow 2016.

On 28 September this year, Stats SA released The Victims of Crime Survey 2016/2017for which 30,000 households in nine provinces were interviewed on their perception of crime in South Africa.

The report revealed that sexual offences increased by 117 percent in the last year alone. In the very same vein, due to experience, it is plausible to assume that this statistic refers mostly to womxn* and young children. On 30 August this year, the Centre for Studies in Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) also launched a report titled "Violence Against Women in South Africa: A Country in Crisis" -- the report was aimed at interrogating the persistence of gender-based violence in South Africa.

Interestingly, both reports come a few months after South Africa's Universal Periodic Review -- a mechanism the UN Human Rights Council adopted for evaluation of member states' compliance with international human-rights standards. South Africa received a bulk of 243 recommendations, with a majority of the recommendations calling on the country to address its human rights situation, more so with regards to violence and atrocities against women and girls.

Of course, over the years, reports on gender-based violence in South Africa have been produced. However, owing to these reports, the assumption of homogeneous experiences of violence, among others, has largely been inapplicable and mostly archival. Thus, for purposes of effective policies, there has been a growing need for reports that speak to experiences of diverse and marginalised groups. Perhaps a distinct feature about the CSVR report is the adoption of a feminist analytical methodology in collating this research.

The benefits of this approach, as CSVR gender specialist Nonhlanhla Sibanda highlighted, allow for the centring of women's voices and experiences. It took full cognisance of the effects of patriarchy and the problematics of existing VAW/GBV research in perpetuating single stories of womxnhood without considering the diversity of women's experiences, life histories, and institutional, systematic and structural oppression as pivotal factors in understanding VAW.

As part of the feminist analytical methodology, cisgender (people who identify with the sex they were born as) heterosexual and lesbian women were chosen as respondents. For purposes of holistic inclusion, the respondents were chosen from various communities, classes and backgrounds.

...Without any doubt, the CSVR report is an important contribution to the South African research and feminist catalogue. However, the limited understanding of gender as seen through the exclusion of trans and non-binary women in the scope of defining womxnhood in this VAW report and similar others in South Africa is a growing concern for the future of intersectional politics.

More so in light of the decades of killings and atrocities committed upon non-binary and trans bodies. The erasure of trans and non-binary bodies in the definition of womxnhood is largely due to the conservatism and essentialist assumptions about biology. This can be seen as easily giving effect to the problematic statements similar to the one uttered by feminist scholar and novelist Dr Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, that "trans-women are not women". 

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