High rates of femicide make it hard to be a Black woman in this world
The regular killing of black women across the globe is a consequence of white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.
CW: graphic descriptions of femicide
For, while the tale of how we suffer is never new, it always must be heard. -James Baldwin
My grandmother once said to me, “the hardest thing anyone can be in this world, is a black woman.” Although I’ve carried these words with me throughout the years, it is now, more than ever, that I fully comprehend their pertinence. It seems that these two innate biological aspects of who I am are always, in one way or another, linked to some form of injustice and abuse. Everyday I wake up to devastating headlines of how Black people all over the world are brutalized.
Breonna Taylor, a 26 year- old African American emergency room technician was shot dead by policemen in the privacy of her own home. Her death, alongside that of George Floyd and other African Americans, resulted in a wave of protests across the United States of America and eventually stretched beyond its borders.
On the other side of the hemisphere, Sibongiseni Gabada, a 36-year-old South African woman was found dead and decomposing in a black rubbish bag behind her boyfriend’s residence. Also, in South Africa, a 24-year-old black woman named Naledi Phangindawo was allegedly axed to death by her boyfriend. The death of these two women alongside countless other brutal and senseless killings has resulted in femicide being declared as a national crisis in the Republic of South Africa.
Gender based violence is real and it is killing Black women. Those individuals for whom we think it safe to be around, use those ideas of safety to harm us. Something must be done.
Femicide, defined as “the intentional killing of women because they are women”, is a crisis within a crisis for Black cis and trans women across the globe. It reaches beyond borders. The World Health Organisation estimates that over 5000 women fall victim to femicide every year. In 2020 alone, the UNDP has reported that 243 million women have suffered from sexual and physical violence with the threat of femicide during the global COVID-19 pandemic and country lockdowns.
Let’s call it what it is: femicide.
The regular killing of black women across the globe is a consequence of the ways white supremacy, systematic racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny reinforce one another. These forms of extremism that are deeply entrenched in the institutional and established powers govern the world and merely serve to promote the interests of rich white heterosexual cis-gendered males. The rest of us, especially those of us who are black and female, are left unprotected and vulnerable to violence, abuse, and murder.
Although black women are not the only women who are victims of femicide, studies show that black women have a 31% higher chance of experiencing physical and sexual violence and the imminent threat of femicide.
Femicide throughout history has been associated with manifestations of male dominance. However, racially motivated femicide is influenced by oppressive images, not only from the slavery era but even in a modern-day society where the abuses and degradation of black women are normalized. Furthermore, the regularity at which the abuse and killing of black women by black men occurs has modern psychologists investigating on how racial injustices in the past, such as Apartheid in South Africa, slavery in America and the colonization of African, Asian and Caribbean countries by the west has contributed to gender-based violence, abuse, and murder.
Psychologists believe that rape, violence, and femicide may be expressions of black, patriarchal masculinity in a context in which this masculinity has historically and is presently undermined by systematic racism and white supremacy.
What scares me, even more, is the lack of regard the justice system has for the lives of black women. In the eyes of the system, we don’t matter. In many instances where the rights of black women, especially the right to live, are compromised, the perpetrators are never actually brought to justice.
Black women are regularly unprotected and experience feelings of unsafety, silence and disregard. These feelings impact our mental health. Waking up every morning, reading headlines, watching newsreels, and looking at pictures of people who look like me being killed and abused messes with my sense of security. My grandmother’s words, words many little brown girls have probably heard from their elders, are reinforced every day of our existence.
I, like many other black women, live in a constant state of anxiety knowing that to many people I do not matter, I do not count and frankly, that scares the sh*t out of me.
I am afraid. For my future, for my safety, and for my life.
But despite my fears I am also hopeful. Black women are changing the world. We are speaking up and fighting back. We are demanding that we matter and we are holding abusers accountable for the harm they have committed against us.
So to all the Black girls like me who are afraid know this:
You are not alone.
We will protect each other.
Tanyaradzwa Mugwagwa is a nineteen year old Zimbabwean woman who is passionate about feminism and race. She is a bachelor of Arts student majoring in English and studying in South Africa.