Perhaps this is the title that many men who commented on a book I’ve been reading this week by the late BBC TV Journalist, Sue Lloyd- Roberts would have preferred.
The books’ actual title “The War on Women” (2016) seems to rub them all up the wrong way. What book are you reading? They would ask sweetly. As soon as I show them the title they would clam up and shake their heads “ there’s no war on women”. I have chosen not to entertain their denialism by choosing a nonchalant response, “I didn’t write the book, I’m reading it”.
But now that I have finished the breathtaking account of “the war on women” on all fronts from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the Gambia, Egypt and Afghanistan, to honour and dowry killings in India and Pakistan, to rape committed by UN and International peace-keepers in Bosnia and Sierra Leone, to rampant rapes of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the slavery of Catholic-run women only laundries in Ireland to the a lack of equal pay between the sexes in Britain.
Perhaps I am naïve to expect the men around me to say something different, perhaps even ask a question: Where? Or perhaps a more encouraging response would have been “ I need to read this book when you finish”
I am not going to delve into great detail about the books accounts of brutal sexism and gruesome misogyny in every continent – I think we’ve heard enough harrowing stories already.
I am reading this book during the sixteen days of activism to end violence against women and children, in a climate where even I as a woman am beginning to grow tired of women talking to women about men abusing them.
Perhaps we need to have a different conversation in this #metoo and #hearmetoo period. More especially now that there is a huge backlash on women who choose to speak out about their experiences of sexual and gender-based violence.
During these 16 days of Activism to end violence against women and children I have been having conversations with otherwise normal, well-meaning men about their understanding of equality. And just like the men who committed untold atrocities against women they often use culture, tradition and religion as the basis to justify why men are inherently superior to women and why women should in all intense and purposes submit to their men.
I tried to challenge their notions of culture by offering that culture evolves and is dynamic. In the African context, we have for the most part adopted “western” cultures; we wear clothes, we use computers, watches to tell time, and cell phones to communicate instead of drums.
On traditions – African nations were mostly matriarchal and women were often given a pride of place in the family or communities. A man could not make life-changing decisions including how to run a home, what to do with the children, whether to take a new wife or even when to have sex without the consent of a woman.
These traditions have also since been discarded – just like my male counterparts who dismissed my views on equity adding that I could not expect a man who has paid a dowry for his wife to treat her as an equal. She might clean the house, do the laundry, cook and look after the children, but the men were ultimately responsible for providing money for food, housing and electricity which means the wives should be grateful.
On the second day of having these conversations without any breakthrough, we came to the issue of religion and a verse that men often like to quote to women when discussion about equality within marriage come up. “ The bible says a woman must submit to her husband”
A submissive wife according to them is a woman who, even after working a full eight hour shift in an office just like men has to rush home to cook, feed the children, clean the house, make sure that everyone’s clothes are ready and clean for the next day and provide her husband with conjugal services at night, while men are allowed to “ rest” and relax after a long day at the office. It’s all part of the package they said. If I marry you, you must know that these are part of your duties as my wife – they insist.
But times, as with culture and traditions have changed, and what used to be expected of women and men a hundred years ago is not only no longer relevant but not even applicable to the lives we’re living today so why would they insist on maintaining archaic traditions on women when they, on the other hand, are afforded the opportunity to be and do whatever they want and move with the times irrespective of their marital status.
That’s how we do things here, don’t come with your European ideas in Africa they said.
I thought about my life as a 37-year-old unmarried woman who has gotten an education and travelled the world and lived a life which for the most part is autonomous and independent. A life in which I have had agency over what happens to my body and my time. I am grateful that my parents, country and more especially my father have given the freedom to live life in my own terms. I am happy I have not tied my wagon to a controlling patriarchal husband.
While my own life is by no means perfect, it does set a high bar for most women around the world who still live in oppressive patriarchal and sometimes war-torn societies. In this context, I must seem to them like someone who comes from out of space to expect men to treat me equally.
And the men I was in conversation with agreed.”Your husband will have to come from outer space”, they told me, “no man will accept your terms”.
I thought about it for a moment and realized that even in the religious texts men love to quote about God ordering women to submit to their husband they have missed a very important part of that verse in the bible. After he orders women to submit to their husbands he also gives men a very clear and straightforward order:
Ephesians 5:25 says “So husbands love your wife, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
There are more verses on love in the bible such as:
1 Peter 3:7 “ husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as a delicate vessel and with honour as fellow heirs of the gracious gift of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
Colossians 3:9 “ Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them
Ephesians 5:33 “ Nevertheless each one of you also much loves his wife as he loves himself and wife must respect her husband”
It’s an important missing ingredient in the conversation about submission. Love. Which means God intended for women to submit to men who love them.
Any conversation outside of Love is mute.
I can only submit to a man who loves me. Anything less than that is simply unacceptable. I am not a domestic worker, a chef, nanny or sex-worker. If my husband expects me to perform all these duties over and above my paying job as a working woman, they must also be prepared to do the same. This is fair.
In ” The War on Women” there are many stories in which women colluded with men to perpetrate atrocities against women and children. Women are also complicit in the rape, sex-trafficking, FGM, honour and dowry killings of other women with men.
So maybe it is true that there is no war on women per se; there is a war, but it’s against humanity. Because women’s rights are human rights.