The Tragic Death of Eudy Simelane
The Guardian recently reported the death of Eudy Simelane, a professional football player killed as a result of homophobia. Simelane’s death raises important issues of gender and sexuality in football.
In 2008 Eudy Simelane was sexually assaulted, beaten, and then left for dead. Eudy Simelane was a prominent South African footballer who played for a local club after her retirement from international football. She was also the country’s first female referee.
Rates of sexual assault are disturbingly high in South Africa. The Guardian states: “South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world. The statistics are chilling: one in two women are raped; women are more likely to be raped than to learn to read.” With this information in mind, Simelane’s death is not a remarkable occurrence in South Africa. However, Simelane was targeted not just because she was a woman, but also because she was a lesbian. Eudy Simelane was a victim of corrective rape.
While all women face a very high risk of sexual assault, lesbians in South Africa are specifically targeted in a campaign against homosexuality. As South Africa moves towards legal equality for homosexuals, opponents have responded with violent backlash. Corrective rape is a tool used by disgruntled men who see the changing legal standing of lesbians as an affront to their masculinity. Corrective rape is committed by these men as a means to “cure” women of homosexuality. They believe the women will cease being lesbians once they are reminded of their “inherent” heterosexuality.
The disturbing case of Eudy Simelane highlights an aspect of homophobia that is often ignored. Female footballers are affected by homophobia in ways that are both sexist and homophobic. Female footballers are commonly described as lesbians or perceived as lacking femininity. Women’s sports are frequently relegated to the background, breeding additional contempt for female athletes. When these ideas mix with violence against homosexuals, as occurred with Eudy Simelane, the results can be tragic.