I have neglected my blog for a while. Not because I had nothing to write but because I simply didn’t have the words to express how I feel; what I’ve been thinking and so in the end it seemed prudent to say nothing.
I write this blog entry from New York City in the United States of America. I won’t lie and say coming to America is a dream come true because the truth is I never dreamed of coming here nor did I harbor any particular desire to see the Big Apple.
What is a dream come true for me is the opportunity to attend the United Nation’s 55th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women that kicks off today; what is humbling beyond measure is that
I will get to speak at this auspicious gathering – to address at an international platform the issues that have forced me to the frontlines of gender activism.
I am not a man hater and most of the credit for the woman I have become goes to the men in my life who have loved, raised and supported me – my paternal uncles.
I am a gender activist because I believe in justice; because I believe the patriarchal status quo is unjust and because I believe that protecting it will do more harm than good to humanity as a whole.
In many instances, I have come off as an anti-marriage crusader but I am not. I just do not believe in preserving marriage if that institution is used to oppress and marginalize women – if marriage is an excuse to abuse women, to disempower them, to “own” them and to silence them – then that kind of marital arrangement is totally unacceptable to me.
In some cases, I come off as an anti-culture/tradition campaigner but I am not. I just do not believe that people should die just so a culture can live – if the fact that Southern Africa carries the heaviest AIDS burden can be attributed to reckless sexual behavioral patterns that are condoned socially and have a cultural basis – then I say we need to reject these dangerous values – the values that promote philandering in men and require women to accept, endure and excuse such behavior.
Often I have been labeled a rabid feminist; feminist I am but ‘rabid’ is a matter of opinion – I am devoted to the cause of women education, empowerment and emancipation by whatever means at my disposal.
Having identified patriarchy as the system that underpins, legitimizes and authenticates the status quo in which women are marginalized, oppressed and considered subordinates of men – feminism is the ideology I use to confront and reject this system of male supremacy. I refuse to believe that a person’s womanhood should obscure their humanity.
And every now and then I am accused of being too emotional and I wonder what that has got to do with anything? Does being aloof make one’s opinions any more potent than being emotional?
Must I be indifferent and detached to get a point across and how can I not be emotional – I care deeply about the condition of women’s lives; I live constantly frustrated at the number of young women who throw their lives away trying to conform to silly stereotypes and to the many women who are so caught up with making sacrifices rather than chasing their dreams and more importantly I rage against a society that allows this to be so.
Then every now and then – someone comes up with the revelation that my ‘problem’ is that I am overeducated (sic) and therefore incapable of relating to my ‘Africanness’. Well there is nothing African about condoning wife bashing all because women supposedly ‘hear’ better when thrashed with a knobkerrie (Ndebele saying); among other crazy dictates passed on from one generation to the next and accepted without being subjected to any scrutiny. Education is responsible for making me interrogate the world I live in and the place I occupy in it.
My African sensibilities inform me that culture is not infallible; that it is dynamic and that it must serve people and not enslave them.
So what will I say given the chance to tell the world about the African woman and the condition of her life.
I will say the African woman has none but herself – that her identity has been so distorted by years of internalizing values that emphasized her inferiority in relation to her male counterpart.
I will say that the African woman has none but herself – that her support system often revolves around family who expect her to conform; who will reward her conformity with their approval and often punish her deviance with ostracism. She must decide at some point to be a citizen of the world or the appendage of a man. Whether she’ll advance her career or settle to keep the home fires burning.
I will say that African expectations of women are ponderous – that they rarely encourage the pursuit of individual expression or self-definition but rather they teach that the interests of the collective supersede the desires of the individual. African norms teach that the needs of the community are more important than those of the individual; that the greater good matters more than a person’s will.
But that is not all the African ethos teaches – it teaches that women’s human rights are incorporated in the rights of men; that their voices are carried in the baritone tones of their male counterparts; that their needs are catered for when the needs of men are met; that their wishes are expressed in those of men and that what they desire is included in whatever the men find desirable. The “greater good” often requires women to cede everything to men because anything else is regarded as “uncultural”.
I will say that in view of these highly damaging, stilted values internalized since childhood – women in Africa have none but themselves. That their emancipation can only begin in their minds; that a paradigm shift is needed to reverse these deeply imbedded beliefs of their inferiority or the so-called “naturalness” of their subordinate status.
Some people say it is impossible for the status quo to change but I think it is impossible for it to remain as is because women all over the world are changing – women in Africa are no different – slowly we’re breaking the barriers and limitations imposed on us by our female genitalia.