Thousands of scantily clad women rallied in the streets of Johannesburg last week for a “Miniskirt March” to condemn high levels of sexual violence in South Africa. Our Observer shares her views on being a woman in South Africa and why it was important for her to participate in the march.
The demonstration, which took place on Friday, happened just weeks before South Africa’s national Women’s Month in March. The event was in part a response to the sexual assault of two women by a gang of men last December, as the pair waited at a Johannesburg taxi station. The men reportedly insulted the women’s outfits while masturbating in front of them. In 2008, a similar incident prompted the country’s first Miniskirt March.
This year’s march was supported by several prominent political figures, including Lulu Xingwana, South Africa’s minister for women, children and people with disabilities. The ruling ANC party’s Women’s League also took part in the rally.
A study published last September by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that an astounding 42 percent of South African women aged 13 to 23 have been victims of sexual assault “during social outings”. Forty percent of women aged 15 to 49 declared that their first sexual relationship was non-consensual. In a country where forced sex is considered a way to “cure” lesbians over 500,000 women are raped each year.
"Miniskirt march" in Johannesburg on February 17. Video published on YouTube by karinlab.
"Miniskirt march" in Johannesburg on February 17. Video published on YouTube by karinlab.
"Miniskirt march" in Johannesburg on February 17. Video published on YouTube by karinlab.

“Some men think they can tell women what they can or can’t wear”

Troy Martens is a spokesperson for the ANC Women’s League. She participated in Friday’s Miniskirt March.
All sorts of women participated in the march, older women, teenagers, but also many men. Somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people participated. It’s important that men speak out against sexual violence too. Things will only change if both men and women stand up to the perpetrators of such attacks.
This was a collective act of self-defence. The problem of sexual violence is a very serious one, and many of the women marching were very angry. All have been insulted or groped at least once in their lives, simply because of what they were wearing. It’s not endemic – I’m not harassed in the street every day, thankfully – but there are regular incidents. Some men think they can tell women what it is or isn’t appropriate to wear. Whether it be at home, at work or in the street, violence against women is unacceptable.
“The real problem is that the perpetrators go unpunished”
Last December’s assault on the two women at the taxi station caused a lot of outrage, but no one was arrested. The real problem is that the perpetrators often go unpunished.
There was a positive atmosphere during the march. After the march, police were instructed to keep a close eye on taxi stations where female protesters would be waiting at to go home.
I don’t want to generalise, but it’s true that many South African men have a patriarchal view of society, and think that women are their inferiors. Nevertheless, South African law recognises gender equality, and the country prides itself on having passed progressive measures in that area… We want to be free to choose the clothes we wear, of course, but the march stands for much more than that – the lives of women across South Africa need to improve in many ways”.
Troy Martens also wore a miniskirt to the march in Johannesburg. Photo published by @Troy_Martens sur Twitter.