During my last months in Cape Town I have been facilitating a series of workshops on Rape, Gender Justice and Culture of Consent. I am blissful for the opportunity to teach and learn with a group of people with whom we have navigated in the approach of Rape and Sexual Assault in their different perspectives, from the socio-political to the intimate tenets.
This has been an exciting journey of healing and soul blooming. I have realized the critical role that Cape Town has played in pushing me towards empowerment and thriving, enhancing my taking back ownership of my body and all the experiences happening through it.
This journey started few years ago when I decided to come out of the closet as a rape survivor. I wrote about it on Feminism and Religion. This was the first step of my breakthrough. Little by little I became confident and shameless about saying: “Yes, I was raped”.
Later that year, I came to Cape Town for the first time for a training program. One of my classmates started to harass me on a daily basis for being a rape survivor with jokes, mocking and awful comments. Others classmates said I was exaggerating and lacked a sense of humor, or they kept convenient silence while witnessing all. Although the program was very important for me as an activist and professional, I agreed to leave. I could not deny myself the right to be respected as person.
Leaving the program pushed me from re-victimization to thriving. That year, on Mandela’s Day, I volunteered for Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust (RCCT) in support of survivors. A few weeks after, I talked fearlessly for the first time about my journey with sexual assault. It was in Bonteheuwel, at an event for Women’s Month. There were around 200 women attendees, listening to this short woman from Far Far Away with a funny accent and a chewed english. I was anxious, but I embraced the experience of being there with faith, abandoning myself with total confidence to whatever would be unleashed for speaking up.
My second time in South Africa came along with chances to share what I have learned as a survivor and put my skills as a community educator at the service of grass roots organizations. It began in RCCT, where I took my first knowledge about Rape in South Africa and connected with other women who were on their own journey, making their experiences a leitmotiv to do their part in building a Culture of Consent. I found friendly support during the training program which allowed me to revisit my personal experience with rape and sexual abuse along with a group of peers that gave me love, respect and understanding.
This autumn, my journey of thriving took a bigger step, when I was invited to do workshops at Trauma Center. This organization works lovingly to heal the personal and social wounds of a nation traumatized from apartheid, violence and torture, granted a space for us with the warmest welcome.
I’ve been a community educator and facilitator for more than 20 years. I started at 19, in my little city in a southerm province of Chile. I’ve conducted workshops and training programs on a variety of subjects around the world, but this time is totally different because the commitment is a calling to revisit my life history and put my whole self in the learning process, being available for the transformation that may occur from it.
It has been weeks with intense sessions. At the end of every workshop, the participants thank me for the knowledge they receive from me, but: what can I give that could be compared to the healing energy that I receive from them, through their active participation, respectful listening and the connection we make as women from different societies and cultures while struggling to go from survival to fulfillment, immersed in the same universal misogynyst civilization?
When I came back to this country last November, I thought I would mainly do Islamic Feminism with Islamic Feminists. It was quite natural to think that, right? But I understood that God may want something else when one evening one of them responded with indifference to my explanation about why we should include grass-roots muslim women and the knowledge they posses in the building of Movement and Theoretical Framework.
I am grateful for that. It took me to the Cape Flats to meet, to talk and to build community WITH women from different backgrounds and different experiences with abuse, healing and faith. In this journey I re-encountered my own story as survivor, I’ve seen myself in the women who have come along, which allows me to cherish and own my particularities as a woman from the south, latina, working class, grew up in a township, single mother, immigrant AND Muslim. I have found sisters where I thought I had no chance to live as foreigner. I’ve discovered tools to keep thriving.
It is this connection that happens outside religious spaces, around non-religious matters, most of the times with no-identified-as-feminist women, where my spirituality expands, my faith is strengthened and communion in sisterhood occurs. This is the way my radical thinking and my rebellious spirit are nurtured. As muslim and a feminist, I genuinely experience TAWHEED – the reality of the connection among all humans and of all humans with a superior creative power – every time I facilitate a workshop, as I am trusted by a woman who opens her soul to me or as I witness one of my colleagues or one of the participants breaking the silence to express their pain, anger, outrage, fear, hope, self-confidence or resilience.
As a human being pushing forward by her own healing in the hope it can motivate others to heal, my greatest achievement in this regard is to confirm that rape and all kinds of violence, are also spiritual experiences. They always inspire the most subtle, deepest and essential emotion and feeling from all of us. That’s why they can make us or break us.
Here is to women who put themselves together from the ashes of trauma and gather to survive, to release, to heal, to thrive, to break free, to liberate, who decided to stop being sorry and to start being aware.
Power to you. To all of you.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente works in community development, gender equality, and communication for social change. She has led initiatives for women’s empowerment in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Morocco, and South Africa. As a Gender Justice advocate with a broad scope of interests, she is a social and digital entrepreneur committed to the strengthening of grass roots organizations and the development of an independent pathway of thinking, research, and academic writing around Gender, Politics, and Religion. Loyal lover of books, cats and spicy chai.
Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Body, Consent, Domestic Violence, Grief, Healing, Islam, Justice, Muslim Spirituality, power, Power relations, Rape, Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, trauma, Violence, Violence Against Women