The Backlash Against African Women

JOHANNESBURG — A FEW weeks ago, as I was leaving my office, I stopped at a traffic light and watched a young woman cross the street in front of me. She wore a pair of jean shorts cut fashionably high, and I could see the crease of her left buttock extend each time she took a step. She wouldn’t have been out of place in London or New York or Tokyo. Except that this was Johannesburg, the biggest city in a country known for its high levels of violence against women. As I pulled away, I worried that she might be assaulted.

I’m not suggesting that she was inviting trouble. I was anxious because she was walking near the spot where a young woman in a miniskirt had been attacked by a crowd of men a few years earlier. I’d also just watched footage of a crowd attacking and stripping a miniskirt-clad woman in Nairobi just days after the release of the viral video of a woman in New York being catcalled. A few weeks later, another video surfaced in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. A girl in a short dress was dragged from a minibus onto the street, where an angry crowd of men stripped her naked.