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Shubhi Tandon – WNN Features
(WNN) SOWETO, SA: Starting with an old computer and no way to get hooked up to the internet, 36 year old, Ndumie Funda, began her online efforts with a campaign to help women in Cape Town, South Africa. The online campaign was created from a simple blog in late July 2010. The goal: to protect women from something in the region called “corrective rape.”
The Luleki Sizwe campaign provides rape advocacy for a special group of women – South Africa’s black lesbian population.
More than a year before Ndumie Funda was finally able to get on the internet, she set up a women’s shelter in her home for lesbians who have come under the most vicious attacks in the country.
“I have been sleeping in my car and working out of a cabin since being evicted by my landlord earlier this year,” said Funda at the beginning of her blog campaign. “We don’t have any funding yet, so it is a real struggle. We’re living by God’s grace, but it hasn’t stopped us.”
Funda’s online efforts have now turned into one of the most successful digital activist campaigns hosted by global social justice petition site, Change.org.
The push: to help broadcast the progress on legal protective cases for those who have suffered under the ongoing violence called ‘corrective rape;’ rape that is specifically targeted at gay women.
Corrective rape is a relatively new term. This ‘hate-filled’ form of rape is found world wide. Based on the idea that forcing a lesbian to have sex with a man will ‘cure’ her of a ‘deviant life,’ it is accompanied most often by extreme violence.
“Growing up in Gugulethu, a black township near Cape Town, I was raised in a strict Seventh Day Adventist family in a society where a woman was expected to know her place, everything was conducted and controlled by men,” explains Ndumie Funda.
Funda has known this kind of violence up close. “My fiancée (a woman) was gang-raped by five men because of her sexuality. As a direct result of the attack, she developed cryptococcal meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal column, and died on 16 December, 2007,” shares Ndumie honestly on her blog for Luleke Sizwe.
“Nothing gets done for lesbian women in black communities – we may as well be invisible. There is no police support and the legal system does not see our cases as particularly important,” continued Ndumie.
Because of her frustration as an advocate, Funda decided to start a petition drive using the “step by step” petition template offered at Change.org.
Beginning as an online activist organization in 2007, Change.org, started as a small group of 7 people working from their homes. Today their newest website has been specifically created for ease of use to help global campaigners jump in quickly and effectively with a wide array of human rights causes, including the issues of rape in South Africa.
Starting out with humble beginnings Change.org grew quickly as an human rights group that provides international outreach for global activists.
“Right now friends and family are supporting me. I plan on paying them back sometime in the foreseeable future,” said, the then 27 year old Change.org’s founder, Ben Rattray, at the start of the website in 2007. Currently the site is signing up over 150,000 new activists each month and stopping rape, among many other campaigns, is on the agenda.
“The post-apartheid constitution outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 2006 the country legalized same-sex marriage,” said the U.S. State Department in their 2009 Human Rights Report South Africa.
“There were no reports of official mistreatment or discrimination. However, in its annual Social Attitudes Survey released in November 2008, the Human Sciences Research Council found widespread public intolerance of homosexuality activity, which was commonly labelled ‘un-African,’ with 80 percent of respondents believing sex between two same-gender persons was “wrong,” outlines the report.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties specify that everyone has the right to security of the person and protection against violence or bodily harm, and also that everyone has the right to be free from torture and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” says the IGLHRC – International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission that works with local government as well as the international United Nations General Assembly resolutions process.
Luleki Sizwe’s internet petition drive on Change.org has now built a wide and diverse global community of activists. The goal: to get as many people as possible to support and sign the petition to stop corrective rape in South Africa.
“We believe that building momentum for social change globally means empowering citizen activists locally,” says the team at Change.org.
Luleki Sizwe’s petition is focused specifically on the recent rape case of black South African lesbian, Millicent Gaika, a 30 year old woman who was locked inside, beaten and raped for five hours by a man who said he wanted to, “turn her straight.”
Hoping to get at least 50,000 petition signatures to attract the attention of South Africa’s Minister of Justice, Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe, Change.org along with Luleki Sizwe, was surprised and energized by the large outpouring of response.
In the past ten years, 31 lesbian women have been murdered in South Africa because of their sexuality, even though South Africa’s legislation has shown a rising level of progressive tolerance.
To ‘amplify and escalate’ the campaign against corrective rape along with Change.org, another petition drive was started by digital activist site, Avaaz.org. Translated to mean, “voice” in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages, Avaaz calls its mission, “to close the gap… between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.”
Together the two petition agencies have become the most active digital action rallying forces in the world.
With more than 147,440 current global petition signatories, the ‘Community for Human Rights’ on Change.org has launched the campaign to go viral. A few weeks after the start of the Avaaz campaign, over 670,849 additional petition signatures have been made on Avaaz.org.
This brings the total number of combined global petition signatures for Avaaz and Change.org (along with two other smaller petition drives) to a staggering number; close to one million.