Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
George Washington University
Survival Strategies: Sexual Violence Solidarities in South Africa

As domestic violence cases escalated during the South African COVID-19 lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared gender-based violence (GBV) and coronavirus a “double pandemic,” lending GBV an urgent pathological gloss. When the government scrambled to address high rates of violence and femicide in the country, survivor-advocates took to social media to declare, “We have survived crises and pandemics before. We cannot wait for legislation while women are dying.” Activists question the political patience and medico-legal logics of intervention traditionally afforded to survivors of violence in the country, dissatisfied by the long history of ignoring GBV in the country and the inadequate forms of care traditionally afforded to survivors by the government. My research investigates these controversies over collective care and responsibility by asking what alternative models of healing and justice are revealed when centering the survivor-qua-advocate. What political subjectivities and conceptualizations of recovery are made visible when survivorship is highlighted in South African debates around the therapeutic state and the proper responses to the GBV “crisis”? Research will be situated in Cape Town, embedded within Shukumisa—a coalition of GBV activists and practitioners striving to “shake up the sexual culture”—and MOSAIC Training, Service and Healing Centre, an NGO coordinating survivor care outside of the government’s victim empowerment programme (VEP). Participant observation within Shukumisa will track how survivor-advocates construct and mobilize their demands vis-à-vis the state, mapping the ideologies of care and obligation marshalled within the activist community. Embedded ethnographic research within MOSAIC will investigate how service providers conceive of recovery and survival outside of the state, and how these projects articulate with survivors’ own conceptions of the support they require within co-constituting pandemics. In centering survivor expertise, I propose to reveal how competing how claims to care ultimately condition the very forms of survival women are expected to endure.