– 27 February 2013

Near the Eastern Cape in town of Gcuwa, which used to be known as Butterworth, a 110-year-old, partially-sighted woman is struggling to come to terms with a brutal attack that was perpetrated against her on the night of Saturday 09 February 2013.

Daily Dispatch reported recently that the aged grandmother was alone, sleeping in her mud home in the village of Jojweni when she was raped. “I was sleeping when the man entered my house,” said the granny. “He did not say a word. I just felt his hand reach over my left leg and he pulled me from my bed to the floor. I hit my head against the cement and I started screaming and asked him what he was doing. By then he was on top of me and he put his left hand on my mouth as he used his other hand to undress me,” the grandmother to 21 children, and great-grandmother to six more told Daily Dispatch journalist Zwanga Mukhuthu.

The attacker fled when the grandmother’s family came home. Upon finding her the family told the newspaper that the elderly woman was trembling with fear and shock. “I have lost my appetite, my heart is heavy and I constantly feel like throwing up,” the granny told Mukhuthu. “The medication from the hospital makes me sick,” she added.

The terrible story which featured in Daily Dispatch last week is no anomaly. If you follow the news closely, as I do, your heart is likely to be broken daily with stories of rape committed against our sisters, our mothers, our children; and at times even our brothers or fathers.

Rape has reached epidemic proportions in this country and demands a well-orchestrated, concerted societal response. We need to understand what drives rape, and what can intelligently be done to rid our country of this heinous scourge.

That’s why I was so heartened this week to hear about the work that Joe Public are doing to support Brothers for Life, an organisation launched in 2009 to address issues of gender-based violence together with other issues related to health, sex and violence.

A collaborative effort led by heavyweight health and civic activists, those backing this initiative include South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), the Department of Health, USAID/PEPFAR, Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa (JHHESA), Sonke Gender Justice, UNICEF, IDMT, the United Nations System in South Africa and more than forty other civil society partners working in the field of HIV prevention and Health.

A new ad created by Joe Public for Brothers for Life (@_B4L_ )shockingly reveals statistics showing that some 18 women were likely to be raped during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, which ironically took place on Valentine’s Day, Monday 14 February 2013 this year.

What’s important about this ad is that it is not just about awareness, but is backed by a campaign that is demanding that men no longer be silent about the rape epidemic, and that they seek help from the Stop Gender Based Violence helpline (0800 150 150)  if they are emotionally, physically or sexually abusive.

The advert is simple, yet striking. A full page ad that featured in the Sunday Times, it shows text of Zuma’s State of the Nation Address in clear black, and white type, but then is interspersed periodically with the words ‘1 woman’ in white type, reversed on red. The effect is as visually arresting as it is disturbing.

The advert ends with a strong statement, which reads: “During this state of the nation address, 18 women were raped in South Africa. What does that say about the state of this nation?” In that sentence the words “18 women” appear in white type on a red background.

The campaign features the hashtag #brothersunite to create a social media platform that can draw all people, not just brothers, into a conversation to try and target gender-based violence.

Joe Public need to be congratulated for taking on this work, something that some commercial brands might shy away from because of the sensitivities and controversies that surround rape in South Africa. Rape, however, has reached such epidemic proportions that society can no longer disengage. We need to consult intelligently with experts in the field, and civic organisations that have long waged war on gender violence, to see what contributions can be made.

But then Gareth Leck and Pepe Marais have always taken a smart approach to social development, and the advertising agency is behind the One School At A Time initiative that helped realise a change in the Matric pass rate at Forte High School from 52% in 2007 to 82% in 2011. The idea behind this project is to adopt a school and then turn that school around, and then replicate the system to other schools.

Speaking about the ad, Joe Public’s Executive Creative Director Xolisa Dyeshana (@XolisaDyeshana) said: “A woman is raped every four minutes in South Africa and our rate of sexual violence is amongst the highest in the world.”

Dyeshana said the agency’s aim is to unite South African men as people who actively oppose violence against women and children. “After all,” she said, “alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.” Dyeshana is of course right. This is not a women’s problem that must be solved by women. This is a human tragedy that we all need to do something about now.