Tag Archives: Women’s rights

#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.

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Touch Me Not

This is not about the plant…although it could be…in some alternative universe.

A few weeks ago, while leaving the club (had to be right!?), a man grabbed a lady’s hand while trying to talk to her. She pulled her hand away and simply said, “Don’t touch me,” as she walked away.The man appeared puzzled and shouted that he just wanted to wish her a good night. “Don’t touch me though. I don’t like people touching me,” she said while glancing back.

The scene was all too familiar to me, as I have seen it many times before, unfortunately. I have also had the displeasure of going through such experiences. Why do some men feel the need to grab a woman’s hand so that they can talk to her? Is it really necessary? Do you think that grabbing my hand will make me suddenly want to stand there and have a conversation with you? I really have tried and failed to understand this move. Personally, when someone grabs my hand, I immediately get alarmed. That feeling heightens when the face attached to the hand is that of a stranger, which is typically the case. I always pull my hand away, yes in a this-hand-belongs-to-me type of way, and then walk off. On days when I am in a generous mood I typically say, “Don’t touch me,” accompanied with an eye-roll. Yes, eye-roll, because it is very annoying to be minding your own business and then someone decides to grab your hand all in the name of wanting to talk to you.

Seriously, if you want to talk to someone do just that. If they respond, good for you. If they don’t, then good for you too…it’s not the end of the world. Grabbing someone’s hand shows that you think they should/have to respond to you, and if they don’t realize that, then holding them hostage will make them respond. Really, men…you have the right to speak but you do not have the right to my response and I have the right to not speak/respond.

I have never seen a man doing this to another man though. “Hey sir”…grabs hand…”Can I talk to you for a minute?” Yurp, I am yet to see this happen. Why? Probably because you might get knocked in the eye for grabbing a stranger’s hand. So why do it to women? Just STOP! If you think we owe you a conversation (or anything really), you have another think coming. While we are at it, you might as well wipe that shocked/ surprised/ did-you-just-brush-off-my-advances?/ how-dare-you-reject-me-in-all-my-glory? look off your face.

The case of the anti (part 2)

I am convinced that some of our leaders are quite simply anti-women. Yes. Why else would people support and sign into law an act that has such vague descriptions of terminologies and puts women directly in harms way!? I am talking about Uganda’s anti-pornography act.

The anti-pornography act bans women from exposing their breasts, buttocks and thighs, and from “ dressing indecently in a manner to sexually excite” In order to comply with this law then it seems that you just have to wear a sack. You might wear your fitted clothes and someone decides that they are too tight and constitute an indecent act that will corrupt their morals. What exactly is considered indecent!? Are they going to circulate infographics on types of dressing that sexually excite people!? The act is extremely vague on definitions. It really is subject to the interpretation of the reader and the self-appointed keepers of societal moral codes…and that is a very dangerous thing.

The act has already resulted in the assault and sexual harassment of many women in Uganda.  There have been reports of women being undressed for wearing miniskirts as they are considered indecent. These violating acts are carried out by groups of vigilante men who obviously thrive on harassing women. Why else would they be so readily engaged in stripping women!? They justify their behavior with statements like “well she wanted us to see everything,” “it’s against the law,” “this will teach other women to cover up,” “why did she leave the house in such indecent attire?” There have also been reports of police harassing women and forcing them to remove their skirts in public. I thought the police are supposed to protect and serve!?…sigh

It’s infuriating to hear the so called leaders take on the matter. Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister, last year said that women who wore “ anything above the knee” should be arrested. Really Lokodo!? Why should they be arrested!? Is it because their uncovered legs are going to detach from their body and run off to rob a bank!? Or because they are going to interfere with the progress of development projects!? Perhaps women’s unclothed legs are going to engage in corruption…empty the public coffers and what not. Except politicians already have that angle covered. So why exactly should they be arrested!? Lokodo is also the same person that said “One can wear what one wants, but please do not be provocative.” Hmmm…so women are supposed to have the feelings and potential reactions of men in mind when they dress every day!? You can be covered from head to toe and there will still be someone who will be provoked by that. Why should women be assaulted/harassed/arrested because men cannot control and curb their sexual excitement!?

Yes, the act applies to everyone not just women. However, it is primarily women that are in danger because of the act. Why? Well, words such as “indecent” and “provocative” are more often than not used to describe women’s dressing. When is the last time you heard a man’s dressing being described as “indecent” or “provocative”? Even men who sag their jeans so low that you can see their knees aren’t typically described as being dressed indecently or provocatively. Makes you wonder, who is this act really against!?

No Country For Women

About Kenya and all the other countries that are increasingly becoming hostile towards women.

Last week, two public incidents happened in Kenya that made me question whether I would live to see the day when women are accorded the respect and honor that comes with being human beings. The social media commentary that ensued after both incidents simultaneously infuriated and saddened me. What am I talking about? Well, read on dear fan.

Mike Sonko, the Nairobi Senator, called in to Caroline Mutoko’s morning breakfast radio show. Now, Sonko has been known to help his constituents by paying their rent, hospital bills, school fees for their children and transport costs among others. He is the regular communal PIN-free ATM if you will. There’s nothing wrong with that. He is after all helping people make ends meet. However, as good-intentioned as his actions are, dishing out money is not a comprehensive sustainable plan to get people out of poverty. When he called into the radio show, Caroline asked him what his long terms plans were. You know, plans to ensure that people are able to become financially independent as opposed to constantly seeking help from Sonko. This is a reasonable question and it’s something many people want to know. Sonko went on a non-answer spree and Caroline, not one to be deterred, repeated the question several times. Now, we all know long term plans are many a Kenyan politicians enemy. Sonko was clearly out of his comfort zone. Instead of giving the typical diplomatic BS answer that politicians have prepared for anything, he begun hurling insults at Caroline.

Why is it that the first response to be being challenged by a woman is to resort to sexually-related insults and threats to her life!? I doubt that insults would have been his first line of defense if it was a man who asked him the question. What does it say about our society when an elected leader, unable to articulate himself, instinctively eases into the verbal abuse lane!? What’s even worse is the number of people, both men and women, who supported his actions and even made numerous jokes about it. It really is not a laughing matter.

In the same week, Evans Kidero, the Nairobi Governor, showcased his true colors to those who couldn’t/ were pretending not to see the black and white before. A group of city county workers, led by Women Representative Rachel Shebesh, went to Kidero’s office to demand better pay. At one point in the video, you see Shebesh having a conversation with Kidero. What does the man do seconds after!? He slaps her and walks back into his office promptly shutting its door. Really!? On being asked about the incident, Kidero’s first instinct was to cling to temporary amnesia. Later on, he claimed that the slap was in reaction to an assault around his lower abdomen. Wait…wait…wait….first he has no recollection of slapping Shebesh and then suddenly he remembers why he slapped her!? Huh!?

Needless to say, Kidero’s behavior was unacceptable. I thought everyone would share that opinion but to my shock and horror many people, men and women, spoke out or rather typed in his support. Memes were made and jokes were told. It all honestly worries me. What kind of a society are we trying to create here!? Claims were made that Shebesh acts like a man and should be treated as such. What!? Such comments are way too dumb for me to address. Others said she deserved it because of comments she made in the past. Again, what!? There is absolutely no reason for Kidero to have done what he did. None. As a leader, one should be able to diffuse situations. All Kidero had to do was to calm people down and have a conversation with them. Or he could have simply stayed in his office if he wasn’t ready to deal with life at that point. It would be better if he just removed himself from office but I don’t see that happening. A girl can wish though!

We, men and women, need to stop condoning such behavior and speak out against it. Violence against women is not a women’s only issue. Men are part of the cycle…so step up to the plate men and do the right thing. I urge you to think twice, and possibly a third time, before you stick that “Angry Feminist” label on me. If violence against women doesn’t make you angry then you really should reevaluate your life space. I have said it before and I will say it again….women should be treated with respect and honor because we are human beings not objects for you – misogynistic men and the women that constantly cheer you on- to do with as you please.

On being a feminist

“The problem with you is that you are too feministic.” This was said to me by a man who happens to read this blog. “You should try adding a human aspect to your blog posts,” he added. Apparently, I am too feministic because I advocate for women’s rights and condemn violence against women through my writing. Really!? Too feministic? Are their levels of feminism? If so, what level is comfortable for people out there? It appears that to some people writing about women is devoid of that much-needed human aspect. That to me is simultaneously baffling and frightening.

I didn’t always think of myself as a feminist. I don’t know why. Every time someone told me I was a feminist my internal response was always, “I am a woman who believes I should be treated as a person not an object, I have rights that are accorded to me by virtue of being a human being and my opinion matters.” My external response on the other hand was always, “Well, I don’t know about all that.”

I’m not sure why I didn’t embrace it before but now I do. Yes, I am a feminist. I realize that it means different things to different people and that’s o.k. To me it means advocating for women’s rights and empowerment. It means recognizing that our value doesn’t stem from being Mr. X’s daughter or Mr. Y’s girlfriend/wife – it comes from being people. Yes, I will continue to speak up against the injustices and violations that women face. If my feminism and that of others makes you uncomfortable then too bad – such is life.

Side note: I know several people who don’t think of themselves as feminists but they really are, as per the definitions of the word out there.

Jackson Katz, PhD, gave the TEDx talk below about “Violence & Silence.” It contains a lot of food for thought. One of which is, “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem for a number of reasons. The first is that it gives men an excuse not to pay attention.”