There is No War on Women

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. 

Advertisements

“SECRETLY WE ARE GAY” – MY ANC, MY SWAG CAMPAIGN

One of the Embassadors of the" My ANC My Swag" Campaign  being Interview i n Umlazi  at the Weekend.
One of the Embassadors of the” My ANC My Swag” Campaign being Interviewed in Umlazi at the Weekend.

Did You know?  That back in the 1960s a new word  emerged. Swag. An acronym used by those  in the know to communicate  that aha   ” Secretly We Are Gay” and the word/slash acronym soon became a popular word used world-wide to  describe  really cool people who more often than not tend to dance to their own tune and possess copious amounts of style  and were more often than not – quite simply fabulous people to be with.  So it was with a great sense of irony and (private  humour  on my side) that I observed  that the African National Congress’s Youth League (ANCYL) has adopted this term for this year’s election campaign in an effort to lure  young voters  to join and vote for the party.

It was actually quite hilarious to watch  the ANC’s General Secretary Gwede Mantashe, former National Police Commissioner (a man with a lot of “swag” read style ) Bheki Cele,  KwaZulu Natal Premier – Senzo Mcunu and a host of other ANC provincial and national officials literally shaking their bosoms to the South African hit song and now the MetroFM  song of the year “Y-Tjukuja ” by Uhuru, next to skimpily clad young girls wearing the Yellow Black and Green  T-shirts with the tag-line “MY ANC MY SWAG”

They all clamoured on stage  and  jokingly tried to out-do each other with their skillful dancing: shaking hips, waists, bottoms and stamping their feet at the launch of the  ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal “ANC Friday ” campaign. It was meant of course to be a hip cool event with the goal  of projecting the  ANC as a current and relevant professional party, not stuck in old traditions and customs , but a party  which is truly moving with the times; one which is relevant and accommodating of young people’s love for fashion, accessories, music and the good times.

I mean it was really funny to observe because though the ANC was at the helm of ensuring human rights and dignity for all including LGBTI (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex) people;  although both party and government policies are quite progressive on that front: I  honestly doubt that the ANC would have approved such a campaign in aid of the LGBTI community.

The ANC and government have maintained a very  contradictory (if not schizophrenic) narrative when dealing with issues pertaining to the  LGBTI community.  Two cases spring to mind.  Comments by the former Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xigwana in 2010  after viewing  Photographer Zanele Muholi’s work at a collective art exhibition held  at the Constitutional Court’s Women’ Goal labeling her photographs; portraits of women in same-sex relationship as  ” non nation building” as she angrily walked out of the exhibition co-funded by her own Department  of Arts and Culture. She was indeed quite disturbed that she had been made  party to such “wrong behaviour, which disturbed core  South African society, it was simply not nation building”.   We can also  similarly recall hateful  comments made  by South African Ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane in his July 2008 article  published in the Sunday Sun titled: “Call me names, gay’s not okay”  which he skillfully penned at the height of brutal killings of black lesbians in the country. Though the Human  Rights Commission (HRC) launched a case against Mr  Qwelane for Hate speech. Mr Qwelane stood by his words asserting that he too has a right to freedom of expression and those rights are guaranteed by our constitution. Not surprising the Department of International Affairs and Corporation (Dirco) said in a statement responding to President Museveni’s draconian  new  anti -gay law  would see  queer people being sentenced to life in prison, that  ” The South African Government will adopt a quiet diplomacy approach on the Ugandan issue”. Constitutional Court expert Pierre De Vos says there is untold danger in this particular type of quiet diplomacy:”

Sometimes absolute silence becomes politically impossible. Those who are not prepared to embrace the full humanity of fellow human beings because of prejudice or self-protection will then hide behind impersonal statements or will make hollow declarations devoid of any real compassion.

It is the absence of any words or actions that display true solidarity with the oppressed minority that is usually the dead give-away. Such statements impose a different kind of silence – even as it pretends to speak about the love that “dare not speak its name” – which can often have equally devastating effects. This silence – which hints at but never names or describes the oppression of gay men and lesbians and its often devastating effects on fellow human beings in full – is the silence of the hypocrite and the closet homophobe. This, unfortunately, is the quality of the “half-silence” of the South African government about the horrors faced by many people who experience same-sex sexual desire in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.

So while this may have given me a chuckle and some much-needed comic relief,  it left me with more questions than answers. I wondered if they would have danced and jived, with such glee had they known what  Swag actually stands for. I wondered if they would have approved the SWAG campaign had they  known  that SWAG is in actual fact an acronym declaring that they are secretly gay.  Imagine if  Secretly We Are Gay was an actual ANC election campaign – what difference that would make to so many people on the continent….  but the ANC’s SWAG is all about appearances as concept developer (pictured – far left)  explained on Friday that the  campaign was to lure  young people who love fashion, to express themselves in ANC colours. The MY ANC MY SWAG  Facebook page states:” MY ANC MY SWAGG AIMING @ KEEPING ANC MEMBERS ON A SWAGG ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE THIS IS A ONE OF BIG CAMPAIGNS MOVING TOWARDS 2014 N BEYOND THAT WILL KEEP ANC IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE THIS WILL ALSO ASSIST IN KEEPING BORN FREE GENERATION MOBILIZED ”

One can only sigh at the missed opportunity.  More than anything though,  the recent events both in South Africa and in Uganda make one thing crystal clear: Those in power will do just about anything to get votes and  remain in power for as long as it is humanly possible. They will do so by any means necessary even at the expense of minority groups, the poor , the young and the uninformed. They will hold on to power even at the expense of everyone’s most basic human rights.  Which means we must equally stand up and  defend minority rights and the basic human rights for ALL  by any means necessary. Because power plus love equals Peace.

Ends

MARI- KANA?

Is a place filled with fear now.

On  Sunday a Woman  is shot dead. Why?  No one knows.

Women and children fear for the lives, caught between rubber bullets on the streets

and police threats in their tin homes.

Mara  kana?

Men dig holes at corners of the streets,

To stop the hippos from terrorizing us.

They say

Men in red T-shirts spread suspiscion,

Cupboards are empty… no bread, no food, no school

Mari – Kana

Hhayi man go back to work

to the barracks, were we can share one toilet all 96 of us

sharing is caring.

It’s a Wild

Cat

Strike

Mara – kana.

Mama ubaba ubuya nini?

Mommy when is  Daddy coming home

Mara Kana? What year is this?

There’s no place to hide

No space to walk

No way to make a living

12, 500

Marikana ?

What are we  fighting for?