As a media organisation with many women on our team, IOL tends to go big every August for Women’s Month — celebrating women achievers, finding the stories of women who inspire us, and reveling in how absolutely fabulous it is to be a woman.
But not last year. In 2018 we decided to “go dark.”
It started with an interview ahead of Women’s Month. Onica Makwakwa of #TheTotalShutdown, a group of activists campaigning against gender-based violence in South Africa, told me that women in South Africa had nothing to celebrate when we are dying at such a high rate — and it stuck with me.
We were faced with a shocking statistic: “A woman is murdered every four hours in South Africa … and at least half of these [murdered] women die at the hands of their intimate partners,” according to independent fact-checking organisation Africa Check. Story after story was coming across our desks about brutal killings of women of all ages and backgrounds, and we felt it, too.
Women in South Africa had nothing to celebrate.
So instead of celebrating, we went into mourning for all the women who did not get a chance to achieve all they dreamed of because their lives were cut short — women who did not think being a woman was so fabulous because they lived and died in fear.
We put out a call across the newsroom. Give us the names of femicide victims so that we can memorialise one each day for the 31 days of August. Shockingly, sadly, the names came fast, one after the other, too many for only 31 days. There was the woman found in the wheelie bin; the woman whose body was found in the communal toilets in Khayelitsha; the woman whose burnt body was found in the boot of her car; Karabo Mokoena, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend then dumped and set on fire in a ditch; Oscar Pistorius’s murdered girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp; Anene Booysen, a 17-year-old girl found by a security guard the morning after she had been gang-raped and disemboweled … and on and on.
We wanted these women not just to be today’s headline and then forgotten. We wanted to think about the lives they were leading, the human beings they were, before they became murder victims and statistics. We wanted to remember.
On August 1, 2018, the IOL team joined #TheTotalShutdown march and thousands of women on the streets of South Africa’s biggest cities to say enough is enough. We weren’t there only as journalists, although we covered the story. We were there as active participants.
Then IOL News Editor Lou-Anne Daniels took on the grim task of writing 31 stories about lives torn apart and dreams ended by violence. Lou-Anne poured her heart into those stories, and they were heartbreaking and beautiful.
Along with the 31 articles on IOL.co.za, the campaign included organic Facebook and Twitter posts, plus a video posted native to Facebook.
#WeRemember reached the hearts of 1.1 million South Africans on social media with the highest impact seen during the 24 hours of Women’s Day (August 9).
It’s notable that the campaign touched the hearts and minds of not only women audiences. A number of male influencers supported it.
As a media organisation with a focus on solutions-based journalism, we ended the campaign with a call to action and a conversation starter to those at the forefront of the battle against gender-based violence: How do we end this war on women?
I think we were successful because we were in tune with how most of the country was feeling. We were extremely familiar with many of the murder cases we chose to highlight, but this time we looked at the 31 victims more with our hearts than our minds — and saw women just like us.