Tag Archives: African Women

‪#‎RedressForOurWomen‬ : From Street Harassment To Stripping To Sexual Assault

My country Kenya, keeps breaking my heart as it continuously proves just how hostile it is towards us, women. Earlier today, news broke on social media about a woman who was raped in a matatu. Someone took a video of the rape because it is more important to be the source of a viral video than it is to help a woman. The video has been making its rounds online. I haven’t watched it and will not be doing so because I cannot bring myself to see yet another woman be violated. I got chills reading a tweet describing what those sadistic so-called men did to the woman.  A man, who I assume watched the video, responded to that particular tweet with, “Why wasn’t she wearing underwear?” Seriously!? A woman was raped, people watched, others recorded it, and all some idiot is concerned about is underwear!? That’s when you know we live in a society that is heavily invested in rationalizing the violation of women.

These past few weeks we have seen videos of and heard about women being stripped naked because they were dressed “indecently.” One of the women was stripped because she simply asked that the man who bought eggs from her pay up. Yes, she did what our society teaches us women not to do – demand what belongs to her. The gang that stripped her jumped on the “indecently” dressed bandwagon of course because they knew what we all know, the morality police and victim blaming army would keep them safe.

When, we women and the men who openly stand with us, mobilized around #MyDressMyChoice, the foot soldiers of patriarchy claimed that we were advocating for “indecency.” Never mind that (in)decency is subjective. “They want to walk around naked,” they said. They insisted on missing the point of #MyDressMyChoice  and poured all their energy into rubbishing the efforts that women and select men were/are making towards advocating for women’s rights and putting an end to the violence meted out against us on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the videos, social media and mainstream media commentary have proven what we, Kenyan women, have known all along – our men are our biggest threat. There are very few safe spaces for women in our country. We are surrounded by men who feel/think that they have the rights to a woman’s body.

I can’t count the number of times I have been harassed while walking around minding my own business. From the “smile supuu, umeiva jo,” to the random men who grab my hand, and hold on tight all the while insisting on having a conversation. Of course refusing to respond almost always results in being verbally abused. Suddenly you go from being a “supuu” to “sura kama kiatu.” Because how dare a woman reject a man’s advances when she should be grateful for getting attention from said man!?

Street harassment is scary and cannot be explained away by saying “Oh don’t take it seriously. He is just complimenting you.” There have been many occasions when I have been soaked in fear, praying that a man doesn’t physically attack me, as I walked away from/ignored his catcalls. It’s not an experience that I would wish on anyone, yet women go through it daily.

Enough is enough. It is time to put an end to violence against women. No, you don’t have to think of the victim as your mother/wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter/aunt in order to fight for women’s rights. You fight because women are human beings who deserve to live free of fear and violence. Our value isn’t derived from our relationships with men. It is derived simply from being human beings.

We can no longer continue to be silent as women are being violated. We cannot continue to rationalize and explain away this violence. We can’t ignore it either. We must stand up and speak out against it. We must stop using culture and religion to condone the violence. We must stop victim blaming and shaming. We can’t afford to be complacent about women’s safety and security. We must protect women.

Kenyan men – why are you so hostile towards us? Before you say “not all men” first ask what you, “the good man,” are doing to protect women. If your answer is “nothing” then you are also part of the problem. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So do something. Don’t stand there and record a video as a woman is being violated, help her. Don’t keep quiet when your friend is busy catcalling women, call him out and let him know you won’t stand for it.

Select Kenyan women – do you not love yourself? Stop with the “I don’t condone “indecency” but blah blah,” “If only we girls dressed better…,” “We should teach our girl self-value…,” and “Let’s first have self-respect ladies…” Your respectability politics is not going to stop the violence and neither is it going to protect any of us from these brutal men. We all need to actively participate in ending violence against our own beings.

Religious types – what God do you serve? I know my God did not create me to be oppressed and violated, neither is it His intention for me to live in perpetual fear. Every time a woman is violated you come out swinging with your Bible and scripture quotes. “The Bible says this and that about being a good woman.” “Oh, even Adam and Eve had to cover up, why not you?” “Exposing yourself is not Christian-like.” “Your body is the temple…cover up.” Really, you need to stop with the selective Christianity.  Ask yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” before you pelt bible verses at victims and turn a blind eye to injustice.

Mainstream media – what did women do to you? What are these “Is it right to strip a woman for being “indecent”?” discussions about? There are no two sides to these stories. There is no debate to be had about the safety of women. There is certainly no neutrality when it comes to this. As Desmond Tutu aptly put it, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Government – do you even care? Your silence is loud especially you, women representatives. What type of leaders are you? Argh. “For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women” ~ Nelson Mandela.

Social media scum and morality police – Yes you, Robert Alai types. Do us all a favor and jump off a cliff. The world could do without your brand of stupid.

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is also the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. As far as I am concerned, we should work/fight/write/campaign/protest every day to prevent and end violence against women and girls globally.

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#MyDressMyChoice : SOME PUBLIC PERSONALITIES AND MEDIA STAY FAILING WOMEN

The past two weeks have really been dark in Kenya. A woman was stripped naked by a gang of matatu touts because they claim she was dressed “indecently.” She was wearing a skirt and a tank top. Someone recorded it and put it online. Another video circulated after that of yet another lady who was stripped naked by another gang of men. They also claimed she was dressed “indecently.” She was wearing pants and a tank top. Just this past Monday, another lady was stripped naked. The gang of men who did it claimed she was dressed “indecently.” One of them used social media to brag about his active participation in violating the woman. This is what our country has come to. This is the kind of hostile society that women have to live in.

Kenyan women have been using #MyDressMyChoice to not only decry these acts but also express their outrage, share their personal experiences, demand better treatment and advocate for the upholding of women’s rights. From this hashtag, women organized a protest that was held this past Monday.

Of course, as with anything that involves women, you know the foot soldiers of patriarchy where ready to march in and blame these violent acts on women.  Because obviously the sole reason that women are violated is women themselves. It has absolutely nothing to do with men and the entitlement they feel towards women. Nothing. Yes, that is the chewed up grass that such people are trying to sell us, and expecting us not to recognize it for the bullshit that it is.

A media personality wrote a blog stating that “…”My Dress, My Choice” Movement, though with it’s heart in the right place, will only be an excuse for some girls to dress skimpily…” Ha…because the only thing that women want is to “dress skimpily.” Never mind that #MyDressMyChoice is about more than just dressing. It’s about fighting for our rights. It’s about demanding the respect that should be accorded to us regardless of our outward appearance. It’s about upholding our presence in this world as human beings and not objects. It’s about putting an end to violence against women. But these are all minor details to this particular media personality.  Plus they don’t quite fit well into her “be a good girl, show self-value by covering up and you won’t be attacked” narrative.

She then claimed that protesting is the wrong approach. She added, “Don’t fix a wrong with a “wrong” & by that I mean taking to the streets will not change much, just today these street hooligans are at it again! the strike could just make these foolish men fight even more.” Fighting for our rights to JUST BE and walk around without fear is apparently wrong. Protesting is an important step in the change that we all want to see. But hey, why should we protest when we can just stay silent and hope that our silence will shield us from assault? That has clearly worked out well for us in the past.

Another personality tweeted, “…scan your environment and dress accordingly.” Basically, you are to blame if anything happens to you and the perpetrators use the way you are dressed as an excuse. Why didn’t you scan your environment? Why didn’t you dress according to it? Ha…you better get familiar with the handbook on dress as per your environment, woman! Better yet, consult the men in your environment about what you should wear.  The truth is, a woman might scan her environment, and decide to wear jeans and a t shirt to be safe, and still get stripped because they will say “her jeans were too tight,” or “she was enticing us with her walk.”

A gospel artiste wrote, “However, am also against women walking around half naked. Let’s not argue with facts well known to us… we are Africans, where nakedness is shameful.” What is half naked? Is it when our legs can be seen? Or our knees? Or our arms? Maybe our shoulders? She doesn’t clearly define what it is. That second statement is funny in the ignorance-is-real type of way. “…we are Africans, where nakedness is shameful,” is a fact!? How so, when there is numerous evidence, pictorial and otherwise, showing that our African ancestors did in fact walk around in various states of nakedness!? They really must have been steeped in shame then, huh!? Good thing the missionaries and colonialists threw some clothes on them and reminded them that as Africans, nakedness is shameful.

She then adds, ” No matter how much we may argue about this, exposing your body is not right,” and “If all of us women dress in a respectful manner, chances of being stripped are very very low.” Exposing your body is wrong!? According to who? What counts as exposing? Showing your toes? Or maybe palms? What is a “respectful manner” of dress? Who determines this? So our chances of being stripped are diminished based on how we “dress in a respectful manner”? Oh wow…how come we didn’t think of this before? Obviously all that women need to do is “dress in a respectful manner” and all the violence we face will magically disappear.  Of course she had to end her comments with #YourDressYourCharacter. You hear that all you dress-in-a-disrespectful-manner types!? Your character is defined by nothing else but your choice of dress. Ah ah…please spare us.

It really is a problem when your opinion puts others in danger. The above personalities say they are against the stripping of women. However, they proceed, in the same breath, to make statements that uphold the very same systems that have for years harassed, assaulted, violated, trampled upon and silenced women. To say that women should dress “decently,” “in a respectful manner,” “according to their environment” is to say that we, women, call the violence upon ourselves. It is to tell women that we have no right to personal choice. It is telling us that our choices must be tweaked and reworked until men find them acceptable. It is to say that our bodies do not belong to us and therefore we have no agency over them. It is to shift the blame from men, where it belongs, and place it squarely on  women. It is to shame and blame the victims.  It is to explain away the assault. It is to preserve rape culture. It is to deny what the stripping really is about – power, control and patriarchy.

The media also seems to be invested in this blame game.  K24,  hosted Robert Alai, a person who tweeted that he would strip or sponsor the stripping of anyone dressed “indecently,” on a panel to discuss dress code. Really!? Because there is a discussion to be had about this? Because his tweets about endorsing violence against women weren’t harmful enough? Because his views and those of people like him need to be amplified on a national stage? K24, to host such a person and air his views is basically you saying that you in one way or the other support them.

Not to be left behind, Nation FM had a discussion on one of their shows. The question, “Is it right to undress a person in public for dressing “indecently”?” They had a number for people to call and chime in. Seriously, that this is even a question is a problem. Is there really a debate to be had over this? I know media houses are all for the “two sides to every story” but when it comes to violence against women there are no two sides about it. It’s not debatable. You can’t rationalize violence against women. The choice of pictures that Nation FM chose to use in reporting the protest on Monday was also quite telling of their stance on the matter.

The media houses are clearly more interested in ratings than using their platforms to advocate for an end to violence against women. What do they care though? As long as they get their paycheck at the end of the day.

Shedding Culture

How do we go about doing away with aspects of culture that have and will never be beneficial to us, individually as well as in our different communities? This is especially difficult amongst African communities since “culture” is the invisible cloth that we are reluctant to take off. We cling to culture and constantly use it as justification for carrying out violations, especially against women.

One of Uganda’s daily newspapers, New Vision, published this interview with an upcoming female musician who was also the runner’s up in a Coca Cola sponsored singing competition in 2013.  It is evident from the initial questions that the young lady is a go-getter and has accomplished a lot as a result.  However, the interview took a turn for the sad when questions about relationships were asked. The lady’s responses were disturbing and heartbreaking. It is scary to know that there are many more African women who share  her sentiments.

When asked  whether she would leave if her man hit her: “If he hit me for the right reason, I would stay, but if he hit me over something flimsy, I would leave. I admit sometimes we do things that make our better halves angry. They are human too. When people get angry, they do things they can regret. I would still forgive him. My parents hit me since I was young, but do I hate them? No.” And what would this right reason be: “Maybe if I went out all night and didn’t pick his calls and then I was rude to him (which I am never), I would take the beating.”

Eh! Is there ever a (right) reason to hit a woman? The correct answer is NO, NEVER.  The fact that someone has somehow found a “right reason” is baffling to me. Equating being disciplined by one’s parents to being hit by a man is startling and an indicator of some of the negative aspects of culture that we need to rid ourselves of.

People are still steeped in the women should be “disciplined” belief. This is something that has been accepted and even considered part of many African cultures for years. It is considered normal, you know, just like breathing. Men have historically been taught that, as the authority in the home , it is up to them to ensure that people in the house toe the line, especially their wives/girlfriends/partner. A woman is considered a minor who has no business pursuing any of her interests without her husband’s/ man’s consent.

Despite all the progress that women’s rights movements across Africa have made over the years, this particular aspect of our collective culture stays the same. The opinion of the Ugandan lady in the interview above is just one example. How many of you have, or know a young African woman who has, been told that attaining higher education will make her intimidating to men? Will result in her not finding a husband? Because African men are not interested in women who are more educated than them or earn more than they do. “You can’t be too independent, no African man will want you,” is a statement that I have heard.

African women today are still expected/taught to bend over backwards and work overtime to appease the men in their lives. If the relationship fails then it’s your fault young African woman. You should dress to impress your man, keep him interested…pull out all the stops so that he doesn’t stray. You can aspire to be anything you want as long as your ambitions leave room for the man to be the head/leader. You should always cook…it’s a woman’s job…the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach after all. You can’t go out all night with your friends and not pick up his calls…how else do you expect him to show he cares if he can’t keep tabs on you? Oh, he hit you? Well, he was just “disciplining” you…your ways need to be corrected from time to time…you know how we women can get. He hits you because he loves you and wants you to be the best version of yourself…yeah, sure, as long as that best version stays under his thumb and learns to respond to his every whim. So what if he is unfaithful?…you know how men are…they get tempted easily…forgive and move on. You can’t leave because he is cheating or hits you every now and then…good men are hard to find my dear.

It’s all very disturbing especially when you hear/read about a young lady buying into these notions. It’s sad to know that such beliefs are being, and by the looks of it will continue to be, passed on from generation to generation. How then will we enact societal change? How will we, once and for all, do away with this cultural bondage?

MAMA’S WORDS – DATING 101

I found out recently that one of my relatives should have written a handbook on dating. If you were, are or have tried dating in this so-called modern times, then you know there are moments when you wish you had such a book to throw at some people.

When Aunty J (Yes, another Aunty J story!) was growing up, they lived near a valley. She had an uncle who owned an eshiriri, a stringed instrument with a drum-like base from the Luhya community. If you know anything about the Luhyas, it is that we love our music. He also had a girlfriend who lived on the other side of the valley. Every evening he would sit outside and play the eshiriri while singing. Now, I wasn’t there, obviously, but I have this mental image of him seating on a three-legged stool, wearing bell bottom trousers and with a healthy budding afro. He wasn’t doing it for money or communal entertainment. It was how he communicated with his girlfriend and requested her to come visit. Yes, people did communicate with their significant others pre – the text message. I can imagine he inwardly willed the air to carry his  music over the valley and direct it straight into his girlfriend’s ears. He would play and sing until the girlfriend heard him, and wouldn’t stop until she came over. She always did.

It’s a far cry from what happens these days. Nowadays people simply text “Wanna come over?” and that’s on generous days. When they are feeling stingy with their words then it becomes “Cme ova?” Seriously people, no effort left to put in this dating game huh!? Is this the downside of technology,are we just becoming lazier as a people or is it that changing times have altered the dating game?

When I was in high school, people communicated with their girl/boyfriends through letters. Yes, good ol’ snail mail. The highlight of these letters was the song dedication that your girl/boyfriend/object of your affection/apple of your eye/current crush wrote either at the end of letter or on the margin or both. People carefully picked songs with lyrics that conveyed a message they couldn’t write outright due to nosy concerned teachers who occasionally opened the letters and read them, before passing them on to the intended recipient. Ah, the boarding school struggle. Extra creative people wrote poems that waxed lyrical about all the recipient’s attributes and the sustenance the sender drew from these. Of course there are those who sprayed cologne or perfume on the letter so that the recipient could get a whiff of them. During the holidays, it was face to face meetings and long telephone conversations. I thought our dating game was up there until I heard the eshiriri story.

That was all before everyone had access to a cellphone/ smartphone. Dating in these smartphone era is something else. People will try and fail miserably  to woo you through WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine and such. Then they get shocked when you give them an ample serving of side eye and keep it moving. What does a person expect when they contact you on WhatsApp and paint a picture of the rosy future they hope the two of you will have even after years of not hearing from said person? Seriously? Where is the effort people? Where is the e.f.f.o.r.t? No one is asking or even expecting you to play the eshiriri and sing or string together a sappy poem, but dang…try a little…just t.r.y. Heaven knows many of us would pick the strumming of that eshiriri  over “Cme ova?” any day.

MAMA’S WORDS – ON LOSING WEIGHT

We were having late breakfast when my Aunty J came to visit. When she saw me the first thing she said was, “Why are you so skinny? Are you losing weight deliberately? Or are you in love?” Now, anyone who knows Aunty J knows that i) she is a woman bursting with life and ii) she asks questions (however uncomfortable they are) in rapid succession. She is the type of person whose presence can simultaneously comfort you and make you stutter.

“I have always been skinny,” I replied, after deep laughter that failed at changing the topic. “You know being in love can also make you skinny,” she said. “It’s true,” she added and proceeded to tell us her “oh, that youthful love!” story.

When Aunty J was a young gal she dated a fellow who I will call John (because I can’t remember his name to protect his identity). Things between John and Aunty J were going great. Their relationship was like the perfect African sunset, complete with the acacia tree. Then one day John decided to break it off. He offered no explanation, well, none that was worthy of being committed to memory. Of course Aunty J was heartbroken because she thought of John as the love of her life. She told her mother (my grandmother) about her unrequited love. Aunty J walked around John-free and in love, hoping that the two of them would get back together. All the emotions associated with that resulted in weight loss. She eventually moved on and lived to love another day.

And the moral of the story according to Aunty J, “If you are going to lose weight do it deliberately,” and “Never lose weight for a man…he either loves you as you are or he doesn’t.” My personal take away, “Love can do and make you do the unexpected.”