In the still of the night

Photography, Poetry

Puleng Segalo is the Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair at the University of South Africa.  Her areas of specialization include Community Psychology, Social Psychology and Gender and Feminism in Psychology. Her research work and publications cover a wide range of areas including gendered experiences of women in various aspects of life, Historical trauma, and Critical Participatory Research Practices. She is a member of the South African Young Academy of Sciences and the current president of the Forum of African Psychology.

In the still of the night
I sit here wondering,
As I look at him lying here next to me,
Snoring like he has no care in the world,
While I worry about what tomorrow will bring.
I feel my heart pumping hard,
I turn to look down at my chest to see if I can catch a glimpse of its rhythmic movement, I am still scared as I recall the venom that came from his mouth before he fell asleep, Tonight, he reminded me that he owns me.
The night is so still,
My mind is racing as I think of my options,
As I wonder whether I have any options,
For he reminded me that should I breathe a word to anyone, he will finish me.
Locked in this house alone with him for 21 days,
I count each day as it passes by, slowly,
As I struggle to breathe,
Feeling the suffocation of his presence.
(Puleng Segalo, 2020)

Covid19 has altered the ways in which we engage with one another. With social distancing as the  new norm, and the prolonged lockdown affecting people at all levels, life has had to be  reimagined and reconfigured. One of the things that has remained stable if not gotten worse is  the challenge of gender-based violence. In South Africa and many other countries in the world,  gender-based violence made headlines in many media platforms, sparking protests, online  dialogues and online support networks for those affected. While people were worried about  protecting themselves against Covid19, many women had the added burden of worrying about  their safety within their own homes. One of the main challenges South Africa faces today is  gender-based violence. For example, it is estimated that every day, three women die at the hands  of their intimate partners and crime statistics reports indicate that over a hundred women are  raped each day. This is a glimpse of the severity of challenges South Africa faces when it comes to issues of gender violence. The aforementioned requires of us to inhabit a shaky ground that  challenges what we know and how we come to know. The statistics offer us a necessary mirror  for us to look into and through if we are to re-imagine women’s positions (and safety) in society,  the various spaces they occupy, and the multidimensional challenges they must grapple with.  

As a way to try and make sense of the varied ways in which GBV affects our communities, I  embarked on an embroidery project with a community collective of women belonging to a group  called Intuthuko. Together, we spent weeks visually carving narratives of violence against women  in our communities. Embroideries allow people to document their stories, pains, voices,  struggles, subjectivities and dreams as they perceive them. Embroidery further allows space for  the interweaving of people’s life stories with history (to understand that GBV does not happen in  isolation and is marked also by structural and historical imbalances that affected and continue to  affect black communities). Our work echoes sentiments of visual scholars who assert that the  power of the visual image is unlike other forms of communication as it is universally  comprehensible and accessible, and can be used to facilitate discussion, document experience,  and facilitate critical analysis of social reality and problem solving. It is with this in mind that we  produced the images as a way to tell our stories and understanding of how GBV affects all of us.

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