Author Archives: unculturedsisterhood

Trouble in the Sisterhood

Two articles that were published over the last few days, and the reactions that followed in their wake, are proof of backlash against the progress made by the women’s liberation movement. Whereas one was an open letter calling out the no-platforming at universities in England of some feminists because of their “unpopular” opinions, the other, related to the first, highlighted the ongoing erasure of references to women at women’s colleges in America.

Anyone who was shocked by the anger directed at the signatories of the letter has not been following the on/offline application of nearly every weapon in the master’s toolbox to silence women into submitting to male interests. This really wasn’t news – but of course it was shameful; the offense taken and ageism that ensued stuck to the book.

The other story captured another shade of arrogance and male entitlement. Apparently, at one of the women’s colleges, the word sisterhood has been replaced by siblinghood because the former is “exclusionary” language. There even is (or was) a petition to the school’s administrators to cease referring to it as a women’s college… because that is not “gender inclusive language.” Colleges, established through vision and hard-won battles fought by women for women, are now in the bulls-eye of patriarchal backlash.

It is bad enough that there’s even need for feminism, but now women are… totally non-existent? Let’s brace ourselves for more petitions to erase all symbols of female progress, visibility and loving in society. All this while we are singing kumbaya #HeforShe. Unbelievable! How is this supposed to bring about liberation?

Feminists know well that female socialization makes women an easy target for those who have been trained to take by bullying: “Colonize. The world is your oyster Mr. White Male.” Personally, I endeavor to make some small but conscious efforts everyday to resist gendered socialization that thrives on division among women. I don’t think any feminist enjoys arguing against another. Debate, yes. Empathy for women, even those who seem to put all their energy into the thankless task of keeping females at the bottom of society, is sisterhood.

I struggle when it comes to criticizing women, as not only do those who are anti-feminism thrive on that kind of drama, but in my opinion, it often veers into its own strain of victim-blaming. It points to evidence of a mind that chooses not to remember that all women, regardless of any societal privileges they may enjoy, still face some level of sexist oppression. Some of us, to save ourselves, endeavor to throw this burden that we are born into under the bus, in the hope that doing so will keep us safe and fed in a male-dominated world. It is survival101.

But the stuff that is going on at the moment, not just in the U.K or U.S.A, makes me angry.

When female politicians join their male counterparts in making misogynistic statements, which happens more often than not, I despair because if girls/women are sold out by even those who should at least have a modicum of care for their predicament, then there are tougher times ahead. When laws that stump upon  women ever more ruthlessly are passed while our sisters watch on voting ‘aye!’, it is beyond heartbreaking. Yet I know that just having them in those chambers in the first place is a victory.

And so I’m tempted to let it go when the words spoken by daughters of the struggles that preceded us, those who have been raised because of their own hard-work and the sweat and tears of our foremothers; women who have the platform to appeal on behalf of the most downtrodden seem especially vested in massaging the male ego. Time and time again. I negotiate it mentally: ignore it, let it pass, my voice won’t make a difference.

Yet I won’t and this is why.

I will not count myself in the wave of the global feminist movement that cheered on while the battles fought and won by our fore-sisters were erased for “inclusion.” Inclusion into what? A class where the status of females is pushed even further below – meantime race and class continue pushing some further down? A class where women are expected to give and give, and even their giving is spat at because “women have enjoyed very privileged lives, it’s now our turn.” Because male violence against women is no longer an everyday issue, and all other systems of sexist oppression have been vanquished?

Inclusion into a feminism in which feminists cannot speak about the misogynistic burden that certain trans ideology selectively places on women? For goddess sake, we live in a time when feminists can hardly discuss FGM without being “called out” because they are excluding males. Inclusion into a non-existent class?

The historical exclusion of black women, lesbians, and other female minorities from mainstream (white) feminism in the west is no excuse to throw away a rich heritage of gains contributed to by women of all shades; a heritage that continues to empower girls/women world-over to this day. Wake up sisters. Surely, this spineless, one-dimensional, whatever-[insert preferred pronoun]-says feminism can’t be what was fought for by those who came before us. Inclusion that demands no-platforming and erasure of women is not feminist.

Well-played to all the feminists who are sitting by playing justice chief; throwing stones with the oppressor and attempting to silence their sisters while this bullshit is underway.

In the meantime, we third world feminists best await the arrival of the latest “gender inclusionary language” manual draped in donor funding coming to an NGO near you. We are in this together.

 

 

Why we need a Ministry of Gender

When men are denied sex by women, to the point that the poor fellas have to rape and/or kill their wives, it is time for the Minister of Gender to step forward and remind women to refrain from such dangerous behaviour and return to the true path. To warn them that denying their husbands sex breeds domestic violence. And that they risk meeting the same fate as the woman who was recently hacked to death by her husband of 20-something years for committing the crime of refusing access to her body.

This is the advice that was generously given to female constituents by the Minister of Gender, who also happens to be a women’s representative in the parliament of Uganda. Only a fool could fail to understand where she was coming from with that dose of wisdom. It is one thing to live in the city, somewhat self-reliant, and scoff at such advice. Screaming about the need for women to assert their rights without taking stock of their material realities is unhelpful, even endangering, especially to those with minimal to no way out – be they constrained by the shackles of bride practice, lack of formal education and skills, and outright poverty going back generations.

But one shouldn’t be distracted by those minor socio-economic issues facing women. Instead, we must stand in solidarity with the honorable and see to it that the men are catered to, both in the kitchen and in the bedroom. As we were taught by our Ssengas: A hungry man is an angry one. Why tempt the devil’s fist by shunning one’s divinely gender-given duty to satisfy the toes off members of the stronger sex?! Why forget that the only reason that you even have a body to carry you around is because your master was kind enough to spare a rib for you? It seems as if whenever things are going smoothly, one is bound to find a few scatter-brains losing their way and taking us steps behind.

That is why it makes sense to put these recalcitrant women in line before the fish rots any further. Policing… oops! rather, ministering “gender,” that gospel which tells of the glorious inherent superiority of one sex over the other, is a sacred duty that requires a national office to enforce. If gender wasn’t ministered, how else would men have known of their rights to sex and of a woman’s duty to give it without limit? How would we separate those who were born to sell it from the ones who can’t help themselves but do the buying? How else would we know who is supposed to own the land and multiple spouses? Who heads the family, from who is meant to do all the unpaid “domestic” labour in the home? Who is to be feared; who is raped and who does the raping? Who must be controlled in nearly every aspect of their life from childhood to “protect” them from the predatory other who can’t help but be that way, poor thing?

Seriously, without ministering gender, how shall we identify those who have a God-given right to walk around bare-chested from those who must be stripped naked at the mere show of their knees? Those who play with toy cars from those who must only be interested in playing with dolls? The ones of high heels from those of flat, firmly grounded footwear? How shall we know who must be respected by default and who can only earn respect, if ever, by being passive and subordinate and beholden in their place, however oppressive? Most importantly, how can society continue to exist if we can’t tell the baby in club pink from the one in blue?

The day women adhere to their roles and stop this foolishness of plotting for “liberation” and wasting time gossiping about these selfish, unAfrican “rights” will be the day we no longer have need for a Ministry of Gender.

Until that day, there’s work to be done.

 

 

 

Reflections: Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution

As the 2001 Uganda presidential elections loomed and the drama that came with it ensued, I hit voting age with no fanfare, rather, steadfast preparation for a matter of greater personal urgency – final examinations. It wasn’t up for discussion that I wouldn’t participate in the election fracas. Attempts at that debate came up again in 2006, and were avoided altogether by 2011. Being a woman, the right to vote isn’t something I take for granted in a world that is still as sexist today as it was centuries ago. But it always seemed piteous to stand in line for an ink-stained thumb and claims that one had exercised a constitutional right in a shady political environment.

Thus, although I have a high level of interest in Kizza Besigye, particularly the motivations for his campaign(s) against the presidency of Yoweri Museveni, it hasn’t materialized into actually voting for any of these men, or their opponents – seeing that members of the establishment and many of the so-called opposition seem to be cut from the same cloth; looking out for their personal share of “the national cake” to the continued exclusion of the bulk of the citizens of this country. Yet, choosing not to vote out of despair without committing any effort towards the solution, is not only unhelpful, it is in fact the head-in-sand attitude that has in some ways contributed to our present situation.

And so it was with curious detachment that I began reading the recently-released Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. Like many, part of what drew me to it stems from being a keen follower of the work of the writer, Daniel Kalinaki, one of a handful of insightful Ugandan journalists and a former Managing Editor of the nation’s leading independent daily newspaper, Daily Monitor. Most importantly, the book promised first-person accounts from Besigye and his wife, Winnie Byanyima. The latter, an astute politician in her own right and currently head of Oxfam, is a remarkable daughter of our country and continent. Daniel delivers exceptionally in this detailed, fast-paced account which in parts reads like the screenplay of a Hollywood blockbuster about an(other) African despot.

besigye

The book presents a relatively concise history of Uganda politics for the un-immersed, interspersed with the story of Besigye’s journey from his childhood in Rukungiri in western Uganda, his years in medical school at Makerere University, and his subsequent recruitment into the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebel group which later morphed into present-day Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). From then on, we dig into his transition from bush-war comrade to the man at the centre of one of the most intense and long-drawn challenges to power on the continent. It is a who-is-who of the people who spent the first half of the ’80s decade fighting against the government of two-time President Dr. Apolo Milton Obote.

The hook is that while it isn’t excessively a treasure trove of hitherto unknown information much as it provides eye-opening spots of insider tidbits (mostly on NRA/M and suspiciously very little on FDC – Besigye’s party), a lot of the juice in it is the commentary shared on otherwise public news events from the perspective of some of the key players in this political opera. Some questions are answered, albeit subject to Besigye’s corner of the ring; some rumours quelled, dots connected, and memories kindled. At various points I was left mouth agape, others very disturbed. Mostly both.

One needn’t be a professional politician to know that taking on President Museveni and the system in which we find ourselves is not for the faint-hearted. Too many have a personal stake in maintaining the status quo. And for those who have lived through war and are drained from the daily bombardment of even more gruesome versions of it on television, the fragile peace that we have enjoyed since 1986 is too intoxicating to consider tampering with. But what is peace in a country where our sisters and brothers in northern Uganda spent a decade facing the brunt of a madman and his crew of bloodthirsty rapists, mutilators and murderers?

What is freedom in a militarized democracy where the voice of the people  is stifled in the name of maintaining public order? Where youth unemployment is raging, while corruption, theft/misuse of public money is rampant but mildly penalized, if at all? Where communities are brought to a standstill by the infestation of jiggers, maternal and infant mortality rates remain high, and essential services like healthcare are a luxury preserved for a few? Where is justice (and common-sense) when the supreme court can rule that an election wasn’t free and fair, and yet claim it to be a legal election?

Yet that is the Uganda we live in, even as we are admonished to be grateful – things were, and could be, much worse. Granted, there are some positives, but apparently we ought to be giddy over an economy in which the gap between the haves and the have nots continues to widen as disparities, particularly in relation to one’s proximity to the powerbase on the basis of tribe, and to a lesser extent religion, keep alive the divide-and-rule antics of colonial thugs that were adopted by the ensuing regimes.

The timing of this book adds to its wow factor; the year ended with the major fall-out of Museveni’s right-hand man, the former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, who many believe is after the top post. We begin ’15 with the drama surrounding the return from exile of Gen. David Sejusa (formerly Tinyefuza), a war veteran who fled the country in 2013 following the leak of a letter he authored in which it was alleged that there was a plot against NRM historicals who didn’t support plans for the future presidency of Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba. Incidentally, this wasn’t the first time he was clashing with the powers that be. Some details of this friction go as far back as those guerrilla years in the bushes of Luweero, as explained in the book. Just this past weekend, he was under siege at his home in a Kampala suburb. Like or loathe Tinye, it was disconcerting reading about the man’s woes during the liberation war while following his ongoing clash against state forces.

Which sadly is the story of Uganda; history, however bloody, keeps repeating itself. For all the fifty years plus of independence, the country has only seen a peaceful transition of power once, from the colonial government. We are our own enemies, with our greed, selfishness, and cognitive dissonance. Take for example the fact that it took our Judas Iscariot MPs a bribe of five million Uganda shillings (approx. equivalent to U.S $3000 at that time, slightly over half of that today) for them to sell-out the future of this country and vote to remove term limits from the constitution. Yet many of the loud-mouths who played a key role in that campaign are the same ones now claiming to be critical of the government and NRM; banking on national amnesia to score access to power that seems ever more elusive thanks to the blank cheque that they gifted the incumbent.

This is why people like Besigye, who played a role in birthing the ticking mess in which we find ourselves, present a dilemma for the skeptic. Obviously it would be naive to think that this is the whole story, or even an entirely factual version of what happened. But at the very least we now get to fashion some idea of why Besigye took the road less travelled and what keeps him fired up to continue the struggle in this yet unfinished revolution.

In the meantime, some of those mentioned within its pages have already come out to refute the Rtd. Colonel’s recollections. Regardless, we are fast-approaching the 2016 elections, at which point President Museveni will have ruled for 30 years. Those of us who are politically lukewarm are indebted to the millions of Ugandans who turn up to vote in every election, journalists (such as the author of the book) who have paid heftily for writing the truth and watched as their employers are shut down for it, and the many who walked-to-work and continue in various modes of protest as tear gas, beatings, the jailer’s wrath, and bullets rain(ed) on them. Some have lost their lives in the process. It is thanks to them that we are drawn to questioning the system. And that is why this book is important. Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution fits the bill of ‘required reading’ for all Ugandans, especially the youth, and particularly those approaching voting age.

 

 

Madam Speaker, stop stigmatizing women to ‘save’ them

Dear Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament,

You owe an apology to girls and women in communities which enforce Female Genital Mutilation for your recent comments in Moroto (originally reported in the Wednesday 3rd, December edition of Daily Monitor). Therein, you advised men to shun marrying women who have been cut; referring to them as ‘burdening women’ who are ‘no longer valuable’ as compared to ‘normal’ women, that is, those who (luckily) have not undergone FGM.

Speaker of Parliament in Moroto - anti FGM drive

Speaker of Parliament in Moroto – anti FGM drive

Really, Madam Speaker. As though the humanity of a woman is in whether or not her genitals are mutilated.

While it is essential to de-market the practice of FGM, your wording reeks of [surprisingly] weak, sexist discourse surrounding harmful cultural practices inherent in the historic oppression of girls/women for the benefit of men.

What next, ask men to shun women who suffered rape? Child sexual abuse? Or advise men about the ‘value-less’ women whose families demand bride price. What about women who are battered by their husbands, stripped naked on our streets? And so on.

By the way, in my opinion, you are doing these women a service by keeping men, the class that gains from their has untold suffering, at bay. But I doubt that was your objective.

How long before we stop this victim-blaming and instead go to the root of the culturally-accepted subjugation of girls/women in Ugandan/African society?

Sadly, giving men a pass while penalizing women for being oppressed is not new. But there’s something about it coming from a woman – albeit a highly educated one who wields so much power and influence. Why not use it to  push for an amendment that criminalizes male demand for wives who were cut, while offering protections (even compensation, as had been suggested by some members of the house) for those facing lifelong maladies due to having been cut?

You are the Speaker.

Tell the millions of Ugandan girls who look up to you that their value is not in their marital status; that they needn’t be mutilated in order to appeal to men as viable partners. Challenge the practice of bride price which, closely linked to FGM, reduces girls and women to objects for exchange and ownership in the patriarchal institution of marriage. Continue advocating for income-generating projects so that our sisters in communities which enforce harmful cultural practices like FGM have sustainable pathways to self-reliance.

Show compassion to girls and women who have been cut and remind them of their value as citizens of this country, despite the horror that they’ve lived through for the ‘crime’ of having been born female in a male-centered world. Remind Ugandans about the repercussions of the anti-FGM law that was passed by your parliament a few years ago.

Let’s see your ‘feminist nature’ which was recently lauded by the Kampala Woman MP, Hon. Nabillah Naggayi, as the lifeline that saved Ugandan women earlier this year when you ordered the State Minister for Ethics & Integrity to withdraw his statement – that which sparked off physical/sexualized assaults targeting women on our streets. Incidentally, Hon. Naggayi has mentioned how female MPs are sexually harassed by their male counterparts. It would be obtuse to advise constituencies not to vote for these women [again] because of the sexist objectification they suffer in the course of doing their work. Moreover, if female lawmakers are treated this despicably by men, no guessing the experience of women outside your chambers.

The irony is that this episode occurred during the #16DaysOfActivism when voices around the world were joining together to decry [male] violence against girls and women. While we enjoy significant improvements in the status of women, thanks to trailblazers like you, we must be mindful of the uphill battle facing all Ugandan women in the movement toward liberation from male dominance. And of the massive disconnect between urban and rural women.

Yet I expect that your comments in Moroto will be of no consequence, this being Uganda where time and again, leaders say dehumanizing things about women and members of minorities without any remorse.

Stigmatizing the oppressed in order to ‘save’ them is assuming the role of the oppressor. As is the duplicity in the selective politics of preserving African culture. But I digress.

We can all do better.

 

 

 

As it is, Genitals matter

In patriarchal heaven, a special award for total disregard and hatred of females is reserved for people who blather on about how genitals don’t matter and male circumcision is just as bad as female genital mutilation. You are more likely to encounter such drivel from those who are furthest removed from communities which enforce atrocious cultural practices like FGM. But while the temptation is to blank out their appropriative erasure of women’s struggles, there will be no silence in the face of this covert wave of misogynistic violence.

Perhaps in an ideal world, genitals would have as much importance as arms, or ears; vital but not weaponized as they are in sexist, male-centred, capitalist society. But wishing something were different doesn’t make it so. Here and now, genitals matter. And it is essential that those at the receiving end of oppression on the basis of the type they were born with understand exactly why and how this oppression is actualized. For us, this is a starting point toward liberation.

Undeniably, consent is a major issue in both female and male genital cutting. Consent  is compromised, often nonexistent, not only in the circumcision of male and female babies/children, but in cultures which provide no other option for their members except to endure it. And while tribal and religious women/men may proclaim agency and pride in having undergone the ritual, the fact that doing otherwise would have led to grave repercussions undermines the context of choice.

The absence of consent is one of the main arguments against male circumcision. But critique and comparisons between genital cutting of males vis-a-vis that of females must go further, beginning with acknowledging the fact that FGM and male circumcision, both of which center the penis (i.e ‘manhood’), are just two of several gender rituals which pay homage to and reify the belief in the superiority of maleness – even as their enforcement hurts boys/men too. This universal culture of phallocentric worship, and in turn, male domination and female oppression, is at the root of most, if not all, practices of genital cutting.

Consider Uganda where male circumcision is popularly practiced by the BaMasaba (or Bagisu) tribe. The upbeat imbalu festivities, held in the month of August in every even-numbered year, are recognized in our mainstream culture. During each season, teenage boys are initiated into manhood by the cutting off of the foreskin. This marks one as a man; giving boys unfettered access to the spoils of male privilege.

Of such importance is imbalu that adult males who aren’t circumcised are referred to derogatorily as boys. Wives are urged to report uncircumcised husbands. Males who escape from their villages/families in fear or defiance are hunted down and forced to undergo cutting. It is said that if a Mugisu man dies uncircumcised, his corpse ‘faces the knife’ before burial.

Male circumcision is also practiced within Uganda’s muslim community, in the belief that circumcised men are ‘cleaner’ than their uncircumcised counterparts. But the practice goes beyond Bagisu and Muslims. With the dawn of the new millenium, we have seen an increase in cases of child sacrifice, attributed to witch-doctors demanding offerings of human heads, blood, and genitals from wealth-seeking and/or wealth-protecting clients. The ideal ritual is said to be infants (preferably male, as indicated by a 2008 Uganda Police Annual Crime and Traffic/Road Safety report showing that of 25 cases of ritual murder of children, 6 victims were female and 19 of them male), specifically without any cuts on their bodies. Blemishes have been given as a reason as to why some children, supposedly kidnapped for sacrifice, have been dumped off by the perpetrators. Thus, as protection, many Ugandans now rush to circumcise their sons weeks after birth.

Some Ugandan men also opt for circumcision on the basis of the W.H.O finding that circumcised men have less chance of contracting HIV. In a country where despite massive efforts to drive awareness, infection rates are still high, this is not surprising.

Still within these borders, we have the Pokot, Sabiny, Kadama and Tepeth in and around the district of Kapchorwa – the only known indigenous Ugandan tribes which practice FGM. The procedure varies across cultures; here, it mainly constitutes clitoridectomy, that is, cutting off the clitoris. In some cases with partial cutting of the inner labia. While in others, infibulation whereby both labia are cut off and the resulting wound is sewn up, leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual blood. Upon marriage, this hole is raptured open by a penis, usually with the help of a knife. More cutting is often required to widen the opening during childbirth.

In excising the clitoris, female capacity for sexual pleasure, and thereby likelihood of sexual misconduct are curbed. This ‘purification’ ensures that men have control over the sexuality of ‘their’ girls/women, some of them pre-teen by the time of cutting. Whatever their age, girls with mutilated genitals are considered ripe for marriage, and are regarded highly in the community unlike their ‘incomplete’ counterparts.

Genital cutting poses a high risk of transmitting infections, including HIV, due to the sharing of instruments. But while this issue has been openly addressed by tribal and medical practitioners of male circumcision, this isn’t the case for FGM. Moreover, in Uganda at least, female genital mutilation is carried out underground, and not by medical professionals in specialized establishments. Therefore, naive equivalence simply works to sanitize the realities of an absolute tragedy, and accrue to it the surgical advantages in male circumcision.

But this is a fraction of what girls/women who undergo FGM face: excruciating pain from the moment of cutting (without anaesthesia, unlike in the modern practice of male circumcision), and a lifetime of painful urination, on/off urinary tract infections, inflammation of the bladder due to urine retention, painful menstruation due to blood retention in the uterus, severe pain during sexual intercourse, prolonged labour due to loss of elasticity of the vaginal canal, fistula due to rapturing of the vagina and/or uterus during childbirth, and even death. Incomparable to the healing process of circumcised males which generally takes couple of weeks, using local herbs and/or western medicine to numb the pain, hasten the process, and ward off infections.

This is why women world over continue fighting to end this inhumane, barbaric practice. We also recognize that the ultimate beneficiary of all genital cutting, particularly that which is culturally-mandated, is the class of men.

When male children are promoted into manhood through circumcision, continuing male subjugation of girls/women in the footsteps of their forefathers, it is men who benefit and women who pay the price.

When male children are valued over female children, so much so that they are prime offering for sacrifice – as done by biblical patriarchs – it is boys who pay  the price and men who benefit from it.

As they do when circumcised to reduce their chance of being infected with HIV, even as male violence places women at higher risk of infection, with females aged 15-24  (who, according to UNAIDS, account for 75% of infections in sub-Saharan Africa) three times more likely to be infected than boys/men of the same age.

Importantly, men enjoy benefits (real or imagined), whereas women lose whichever way you look at it, in the practice of female genital cutting. And yet even in this day, the subordination, dehumanization, and destruction of femaleness itself in FGM culture is continually defanged in relativism and equality rhetoric.

Enough with those spewing ‘genitals don’t matter’ and ‘just as bad as…’ foolishness while the genitals of our sisters across the globe are cut and diced to the whims and for the ego of men.

The oppression of female persons, girls and women, will not be queered out of existence by the language policing (clitoral amputation?!?) and derailing tactics of conservative idealists and men’s rights activists cloaked in liberalism. We must remain vigilant.

Her Dress, His Choice

In the nineties, girls and women navigating through downtown Kampala would have been surprised to end the journey without being groped and stalked. By men. This was normal; men being men and women being, well, objects for men to grab, gawk and leer at. Negative reaction often resulted in a barrage of insults. It didn’t matter that they had just called you ‘sister’ or ‘mummy’ or ‘auntie’. You were buttocks, breasts, legs. Yours was to suffer it, preferably with a smile, and keep walking.

Years later, we hear stories of women who have retaliated against this harassment. Surprisingly, men are said to cheer them on, and playfully chide their colleague for the unthoughtful move. And so you would think that a lot had changed on these streets. However, last year when Ugandans were gifted with a Christmas of laws, including the notorious anti-miniskirt act, hardly had the thud of the honorable speaker’s gavel died out, than mobs were undressing women in the name of policing decency.

Such irony in a country still beset by the legacy of Sharia-champion Idi Amin who woke up one day in the ’70s to outlaw the predominant ‘mini’ fashion, and decreed that only ankle-length dresses/skirts (‘maxis’) were acceptable for Ugandan women.

Evidently the obsession with strong-arming women in the name of decency isn’t unique to Uganda. Just last week, the #MyDressMyChoice uproar was in full swing across our eastern border following the recent assault on women in Kenya for similar reasons.

The arrogance of men in their self-appointed role as gatekeepers of morality is but another vehicle for male violence against girls and women. Many glorify these criminal acts by claiming them using all manner of excuses for misogyny that have been recycled through the ages. Ultimately, such violence ensures that men retain domination and control over women by maintaining fear of and deference to them.

That some are quick to castigate the women who suffer this abuse, rather than the men who perpetrated it, is inevitable in a culture where boys and men are socialized to believe that female life solely exists to serve their interests. This has bred male sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, time, attention, and labour. Women too have been groomed to see such as their position in society, and our choices – however fragile the context – become a threat to male dominance if seen to be made without buckling to men’s dictates of a woman’s place.

This blatantly sexist conditioning of women and men is evident in the positioning of #NudityIsNotMyChoice as some enlightened rebuttal to #MyDressMyChoice. To see one as being in opposition to the other is typical male-centred thinking where women only exist along the angel/whore dichotomy as objects to be viewed by men; justifying men’s violence against women whose choices don’t fit into the ideas of what is and what isn’t approved – as decided by one man to the next, from one generation to another.

Whether groping, undressing women on the streets, or other forms of sexual assault, the message is the same: women must be kept in their inferior position, by use of violence if necessary. Thus, as we stood in solidarity with our sisters proclaiming #MyDressMyChoice, we were reminded that although separated by distance, the struggles of women around the world are, if not similar, rooted in shared oppression.

Every positive step forward in women’s emancipation is bound to come with tightening of this noose of oppression. Women’s liberation from sexism is under continuous backlash not just on the streets, but in our homes, and parliaments. As such, the pursuit of it must be relentless.

 

 

 

Missing: The Great Daughters of Afrika

The revolution and women’s liberation go together.

We don’t talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity,

or because of a surge of human compassion.

It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution.

Women hold up the other half of the sky. 

Thomas Sankara, Pan-Africanist

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Got into a small exchange the other day with the lovely person who handles the Steve Biko Foundation twitter account. Now, I greatly appreciate the work they do to keep the legacy of the South African anti-apartheid icon alive, and that of many others who have worked toward the liberation of black people in Africa and across the world. Biko reminds us of their ideas, contributions; and to be proud of being African. Encourages us to not tire from doing the work.

Last week was 27 years since the murder of Thomas Sankara, one-time President of Burkina Faso; ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’. The leader of the ’80s Burkinabe people-centred revolution not only challenged the global capitalist system, his feminist work is remarkable even for today; banning misogynistic practices like female genital mutilation and polygamy, which are still rampant world-over, improving conditions for women in the labour market, and boosting reproductive health options. His firm stand on how Africa’s progress is inextricably tied to women’s liberation is itself revolutionary. For that alone, he is worth celebrating.

And so on the morning of this anniversary, a Biko tweet flashed by:

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Curiosity forgot the man and his ‘uprightness’ for a moment, to ask:

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Fifty-two weeks a year, celebrations of one man then the next pop up. That day Fela Kuti was also filling my timeline. All the great men of Africa, great men of the American civil rights movement; Sons of the Soil. And I am grateful for what they did. But for Mother Africa’s sake, were there really no women involved in steering black consciousness forward?

To which they kindly responded:

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The response was refreshing. I was prepared for some defensive retort about derailing and stuff. And while I  agreed with their sentiment, couldn’t help noting “…Afrikan leaders were not alone…”; a Freudian slip in line with the idea that men are the default African revolutionaries. That said, except perhaps for those in the academe, tracing any of the wisdom and tales of the contributions of our foremothers who toiled alongside men like Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkurumah, and Patrice Lumumba is quite exhausting for the rest of us. One would love to learn more of the revolutionary work done by Africans like Graca Machel, not about her marriages. But it is not for Biko Foundation alone to collect and share this work.

This challenge isn’t unique to African women. Universally, women’s intellectual, activist, and work in diverse fields of endeavor is largely hidden from view. Western women have been ‘luckier’ in maintaining and retrieving writings and records. But the work of the Great Daughters of Afrika remains largely unknown; deceptively implying by erasure their historical absence in continental and global anti-colonialism, anti-racism and feminist movement.

As children, the ‘village’ of mothers who raised us often provided our earliest exposure to the power of sisterhood and all the good and great that a woman could be. There were also the TV women, whom my mother pointed out with pride – like close friends: Winnie Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, and for not good reasons, Imelda Marcos. Quite oblivious to their politics. First-forward years later, away from home: Winnie and Margaret were considered top villains by all my peers. Indira was somewhat forgotten even if her legacy is still strong in India; powerfully carried forward by her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi.

Writing on women in power, Naomi Wolf discusses whether this is real power or the women are just figureheads; or if it is only a phase wherein men are temporarily handing over the reins of leadership for women to clean up the mess men created. After hailing the Merkels, Kirshners, Livnis, and Rousseffs of this world, Wolf segues to: “The last three decades have yielded a cadre of women leaders even where women otherwise lag far behind in terms of opportunity.” That murky corner is where you find Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Joyce Banda, recent ex-President of Malawi. She throws in Park Geun-hye, President of South Korea – a woman from the one continent where women have for decades held top office.

Evidently, the narrative persists that African (and Asian) women have only recently arrived at the table of leadership. This is intellectual dishonesty, in line with Audre Lorde’s critique of Mary Daly’s work – about how the voices of African women, their history and perspectives, are generally excluded from writings about women, and if at all included, focus on negatives and/or are fashioned to reinforce negative stereotypes about  Africans. Correcting this misrepresentation is a hell of work. Sadly, it is a reality that is pervasive.

Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela, who I still consider a great Daughter of Afrika, is now known in the west for the death of Stompie and for neck-lacing. I do not condone murder. And neither do I believe that her ex-husband was, in his life and activism, the saint that is portrayed in the mainstream; the image celebrated even in countries where he was once considered a terrorist.

But those who care for balance know that her work during the struggle was invaluable, know about the persecution she suffered at the hands of a racist government (which, as a matter of fact, was supported by Margaret and her bestie Reagan), and know that her husband’s legacy wouldn’t be what it is without her work whilst he was on Robben Island. Africans know this, and some South Africans consider her mother of their nation. You sense this in public reaction toward her. She isn’t perfect, but she matters. Thank goddess some people remember.

Similarly, popular representations of the American civil rights movement largely exclude women; overwhelming us with sanitized versions of men like Martin Luther King Jr., with little trace of the blemishes lurking in their shadows. Regardless, we hail them and gloss over the negatives. Which makes you wonder: how many women, Daughters of Afrika here and abroad, have been Winnie’d, so to speak? Even worse, how many have been totally purged from our collective memory? Which Pankhursts do little African girls grow up looking up to?

As we find our way through this abyss of male-celebrating and white-centered written history, we must also come to the acknowledgement that the idea that African men will, guns ablaze, deliver Africa to post-colonial glory is an experiment which has not only failed, but has evidently cost us lives and time. Colonialism is an excuse which has done its time.

It is fifty bloody years long-overdue.

With many African governments characterized by endless corruption scandals and poor service delivery, it is no wonder some are conceding that collaborating with women is a prerequisite for progress. In any society, worst still a corruption-filled one, the structural dominance of men in leadership isn’t only a factor in the high levels of poverty among women, but also means that we don’t have as much to lose when it comes to doing the right thing. African men are deeply entrenched in the gut of the system that has stunted the revolution.

It is about time women’s contributions toward moving the world, Africa forward, were recognised. We need a coalition of equals; beginning in our homes, stretching to the rural-most corners of the continent, and spreading outwards to the wider social and political structures.

As the revolutionary said, women hold up the other half of the sky, alas:

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There’s no Africa rising without the voices of the Daughters of Afrika.