Tag Archives: Kenyan women

Highlights 2014 (Celebrating Kenyan Women)

(This list is not in any particular order and neither is it exhaustive…just 10 (-ish) moments that came to mind today)

1. Lupita Nyong’o’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar win…
Lupita Nyong'o Win

…and her acceptance speech…

…and her recent speech at the Massachusetts Conference for Women…

…and the numerous times she owned the red carpet, the pavement, the airport entrance/exit and social media.

2. Okwiri Oduor’s Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “My Father’s Head,” and her interview with Arise News.

Okwiri Oduor has also written a novella “The Dream Chasers,” that was highly commended by the Commonwealth Book Prize in 2012. She is currently working on her debut novel…I’m over here waiting for it with a cup of chai masala!

Side note: Two other Kenyans have won the Caine Prize. Binyavanga Wainaina in 2002 for “Discovering Home,” and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor in 2003 for “Weight of Whispers.” Oh, book recommendations alert -> Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust.

3.

my dress my choice

#MyDressMyChoice was started as a response to the stripping of women in the name of “decency.” Active and passive perpetrators of this form of violence against women claimed that stripping women teaches us not to be “indecent” and to dress “respectfully” while upholding our “African values.” Seriously!? How much stupidity does one’s brain have to be cloaked in in order to even think like this!? Please, we all know violence against women is about power, control and intimidation, among others. Enough is enough. It’s time to put an end to violence against women.  Salute to all the women who organized and participated in the protest against these heinous acts.

4. Diana Opoti celebrating 100 Days of African Fashion was amazing. She showed all of us just how fabulous African fashion is and the phenomenal level of talent designers across the continent have.
Follow her on Instagram @dianaopoti for pictures of her different outfits as well as designer details, you know, in case you decide to rock out 2015 in statement-making African fashion.

Side note: This was my favorite outfit, not that anyone asked…ha!

5. Captain Irene Koki Mutungi became the first African woman Dreamliner Captain. She was also the first female pilot at Kenya Airways. Inspiration is her, for sure.

Irene-Koki-Mutungi

6. This picture of an all-women Kenya Airways flight crew. Definitely using Kenya Airways next time. Well, if I am guaranteed that I will be on their flight…ha ha ha ha #disclaimer.

crew

7. Tegla Loroupe wins the 2014 Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Like many, I heard the name Tegla Loroupe before I fully grasped exactly what running a marathon and breaking records entails. She is not only a marathon legend but also an advocate for peace, women’s rights and education. Not to keep all her winnings to herself, she started the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation.

8. Evelyn Watta won the Sport Reporting Award in the 2014 CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards. She won for her story “Inside Senegal’s Mythical Wrestling Heritage.” Hmmm…to think that there are people out there who are constantly coming up with ways to pigeonhole women. Meanwhile women are out here broadening your world with their words and award-winning stories.

9. The Wangari Maathai Peace Park is now under construction! Yes, it will be open to the public and according to the Green Belt Movement, they hope to have a library in it one day. I hope this is the start of many more parks with libraries throughout the country.
Also, I love the Google doodle of Wangari Maathai, below. It’s from 2013 but it’s timelessness landed it here.

wangari maathai

10. All the Kenyan warrior women who are constantly fighting/advocating for our rights. You are the reason we will have a better Kenya for women. You are an inspiration to many of us. You are everything and then some!

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‪#‎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.

#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.

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.”

True African Woman a.k.a Being Expected To Exist Solely For (African) Men

Who is considered a true African woman? What qualities must one possess in order to be considered one? If you lack said qualities, then are you considered a “fake African woman” or perhaps “a man”? Well, your guess is as good as mine, dear reader.

I have pondered about the concept of a true African woman for a while. Perhaps it is because I have been accused on more than one occasion of not being a true African woman. I say accused because people make it sound like you are committing a crime for refusing to be shoved into their myopic boxes, where you are expected to compete for air with their misguided opinions.

It seems that for one to be considered a true African woman then every single move they make and every breath they take should be solely to appease a man. No, African ladies, no, you cannot simply do things for yourself. Your every step should be designed to make (African) men happy. In case you forget this, even for a millisecond, society is more than happy to remind you.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of chatter on social media about the introduction of Camay, a luxury beauty product targeted to African women, into the Kenyan market. As an African woman, a Kenyan, and a person with more than a passing interest in beauty products, I was curious about Camay. I read a handful of blogs about its launch, the products in the collection, as well as the fragrances they have. The bloggers all had nothing but high praise for the products. Given that Camay is targeted to the African woman, I was interested to see how the company marketed it in their adverts. Hmmm…that is where the disappointment began. Below are the three Camay Kenya commercials that I found on YouTube.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjDBWpnb0sE

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3Pz-7S3iEo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYEq8tseDi4

In the first one, the lady sprays her deodorant and then twirls into the arms of her significant other. Because obviously it is impossible for her to want all day protection and the good smell just for herself. Why would a true African woman want that, hey?

In the second and third one, the lady has discovered the way to her significant other’s heart – Camay soap and lotion. The man is always in a hurry but a quick shower using Camay’s scented soap and a stop over at his job will stop him in his tracks, and enable him to realize that she is the queen of his heart. The soap is targeted to African women. African women work too! Why couldn’t it be that she took a shower and went to her workplace, and had very productive day? And still smelled good at the end of the long work day?

When the man is not in a hurry he is apparently busy. What’s the remedy to his busyness? Why, Camay lotion of course! Again, why couldn’t it have been that she had a busy day but the lotion kept her skin glowing and soft throughout? Can’t African women want soft and glowing skin for ourselves/just for the sake of/because it makes us feel good? Is that not a possibility?

Additionally, if your significant other is always in a hurry/busy such that you have to resort to such antics just to get a fraction of their time, then maybe you shouldn’t be with them. What’s going to happen when they get bored of the scents or are no longer amazed by your glowing skin? What’s going to happen when YOU get tired of the scents and want to change to scent-free products?

It’s just an advert, you say. Well, it really isn’t just that. It reinforces some of the negative and constraining attitudes with which women are viewed in society. Camay isn’t the only one either. The media is chock-full of such.

It’s about time we, as a society, let go of these notions that we cling to about a true African woman. All my African women, how many times have you heard the following: You should learn how to cook so you can find a husband, Our men like conservative women, You won’t get a man while dressed like that, Our African men will be intimidated by all your education, Wear some lipstick but not too much – you don’t want to scare the men away, and of course, You are too much of a feminist for our African men, among others. Obviously if you fail to tow the line then you are rapidly told just how much of a true African woman you are NOT!

It’s ridiculous I say!