Contributed by Benedicte Joan, founder and president of the nonprofit Train and Travel and a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow.
I had been living in Côte d’Ivoire for a few years when I first became interested in the local vernacular, specifically how French words are transformed into local speech. One term that stuck out to me was “black cat.” I thought it might refer to a pet or even bad luck.
“Black cat,” instead, is a term used by youth in Côte d’Ivoire to talk about rape.
In September 2017, I escaped from the hands of a rapist. I had never thought of reporting my predators to the police because the procedure was too complicated and traumatic. One day while talking with my volunteer team at Train & Travel, a local nonprofit that I manage, I realized that I was not the only one who escaped abuse or rape in the family unit. I also realized that these abuses were often mocked — and dismissed as the “black cat.”
It’s these sayings that hinder the empowerment of women and girls, reproducing negative collective imaginations that sexualize and objectify girls and women.
We as African youth cannot pretend to be ignorant of these normalized abuses. We must discourage this inappropriate behaviour toward girls and women. It’s this behaviour that often results from gender inequalities that persist in Africa and prevent women from transforming society fully.
It’s time to stand up for the victims of the “black cat.”
That is why one year ago we launched “Stop the Black Cat,” a monthly healing and mental support program for victims of sexual abuse.
It’s through this work that I hope to combat all forms of abuse — particularly sexual, or “black cat,” abuse — and to ensure that every woman and girl in homes, families, schools, and universities in Africa feels respected, protected, and free to report inappropriate or abusive behaviour.
Stop the Black Cat is committed to combating abuse and to putting in place the procedures to prevent and respond to it. This requires the mobilization of all areas of society. Indeed, this responsibility lies with everyone to ensure that any girl, woman, victim, or witness of abuse and of the “black cat” can find the support that he or she needs.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.