Tag: women’s rights

#MyDressMyChoice: Protest over Nairobi miniskirt attack goes viral

The grainy mobile phone video shows a mob of Kenyan men surround a woman and grab, grasp and yank her clothes until she is naked. Several such videos have emerged recently of attacks by males who deem a woman to be provocatively dressed. The attacks have created a groundswell of anger that saw mostly women protesters flood downtown Nairobi on Monday.

Rachel Machua wore what she called “a little black dress … my normal outfit” to Monday’s protest. She views the recent attacks as stemming from socio-economic conditions: Lower income men are attacking successful, well-dressed women.

The attacks are not overtly religious in nature, though this is a conservative, mostly Christian country. The women at the march described “normal” levels of sexual harassment over the years and said that peers will warn other women that “you’re gonna get undressed” for wearing a particular outfit.

“Kenyan men are in different groups. My father wanted me to be here and said you can dress however you want. Then there are others who think you are out of their reach and they try to victimise you,” said Machua (26), who runs an aid group called Transforming Generations.

Women play an active role in Kenyan society. The country’s foreign minister is a woman, though few women hold high-ranking elected office. Parliament is a virtual men’s club, unlike in neighboring Rwanda, where more than half of parliament is female.

Women at Monday's rally chant slogans in support of the woman who was attacked and stripped. (Pic: AFP)
Women at Monday’s rally chant slogans in support of the woman who was attacked and stripped. (Pic: AFP)

After the recent attacks, elderly Kenyan women are said to have rescued the naked victims by giving them a shawl to cover up.

James Wamathai, said he was marching because he believes in equal rights. “I think it’s really horrible and no women should have to go through that,” said Wamathai (33), who does commercial media work. “It’s a weird sexual fetish. If you see some of the videos some of the men are groping the women. … But it’s not based on anything (like religion) because in Africa we didn’t used to wear clothes.”

Just 100 metres from the march’s meeting point, park worker Ulda Akinyi emptied trash. Akinyi looked at the demonstration with disdain, and said she has instructed her three daughters to dress conservatively for fear of attracting unwanted attention. “Wearing miniskirts is the devil’s work,” said Akinyi.

Men gathered against a nearby fence. Most said they didn’t support the cause. A man who gave only his first name, John, said he didn’t want Kenya’s women to “seduce” him by wearing revealing clothing.

“It’s like three-quarters naked if you are wearing one of those short skirts,” said David Ndongo, who works on one of Kenya’s mini transport buses known as matatus, where women can also face harassment.

The hashtag #MyDressMyChoice is trending on Twitter since yesterday, with many users voicing their outrage against the incident and their support for women to dress as they wish.

Source: Sapa-AP

Africa needs a new feminism

Africa needs a new feminism. A feminism that rises from the throats of ungovernable women, rolls down the backs of intellectually curious young men, and trickles down from every corner of government to reinvigorate the cultures of our continent, cultures that were greyed out by years of colonialism and the subsequent years of preoccupied capitalism. The feminism of Africa cannot be the same as the feminism of the West.

The cries of western feminists, seemingly weighed down by the apparent woes of suburban housewifery and the very troubling issue of beauty in the mainstream media, are swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean before the old African woman even has time to tie a hungry grandchild to her back, or the new African woman can use her entry-level salary to take care of a mismatch of relatives who Did Not Have Her Opportunities.

My feminism cannot be the same as that of my western counterpart. As tempting as it may be to sidle up next to a fellow soft-breasted twenty-year-old and talk heatedly about what Beyonce’s ‘suggestive’ gyrating means for ‘respectability politics’, I am not yet there. As fun as it appears to be to park onto a social network and turn my woes into a trending topic, I must remember my place. For my place is not the same as that of a woman in a first-world country – no matter how identical our birthdays are, no matter how “universal” female suffering is. We are not the same.

So why should my feminism be the same?

I am an Africanist. A third generation independent African, my father and mother were born just a couple of years shy of their respective countries’ heated dash from the clutches of a tired Britain. My task is not a simple task – my debt to the continent has not been paid. But I am only one of the few that realises that we owe the continent more than it does us. And I will be damned if Africa loses another young, energetic, liberated mind to the lazy glamour of participating in western feminism’s weak assault on society.

Delegations of women coming from various Malian regions attend a rally against femal genital mutilations as they sit under a banner asking for the end of excision and forced marrriage, on February 6 2014 in Bamako. (Pic: AFP)
Delegations of women from various Malian regions attend a rally against femal genital mutilations as they sit under a banner asking for the end of excision and forced marriage, on February 6 2014 in Bamako. (Pic: AFP)

African feminism has bigger fish to fry. Tasked with the burden of taking the blame for decades of societal degrade – alleged to be picking up where colonialism left off; the crumbs of African traditions are swept to the feet of the African feminist and she is expected not to accidentally crush them. When feminism or any allusion to gender equality is mentioned in a room full of traditionalists, self-proclaimed and otherwise, the voices shouting about the “un-Africanness” of a notion as simple as women’s rights are often all one can hear over the murmurs of those only beginning to find comfort in the idea.

But this cannot go on.

For all the other movements (like the pure socialism of African freedom fighters of the past)  are dead and capitalism has swept up my generation of Africans into a sea of perpetual desire, too busy copying American consumerism to actively participate in the reshaping of the African political landscape. Many more are too busy simply trying to stay afloat with western debt-collectors chopping away at their sodden feet. They cannot express interest in feminism thought processes – especially if said thought processes seem to be limited to concerns common to first-world women only.

So Africa needs a new feminism, one that recognises that the young men of this continent, though allegedly protected by the warm veil of patriarchy, are as much at risk for poverty, disease and hunger as women are; one that recognises that after two or three generations of single-parent homes, young men have little to no idea of what it means to be a man and are left to grab blindly at caricatures of sexist male figures for guidance. Africa needs a feminism that sees that it is the last original attempt to take our cultures into our own hands and shape young men and women that can lead this place away from the greedy claws of ‘foreign investors’; away from the cement-like clutches of heads of state too old to care; away from the exploitative ideologies of fly-by-night politicians.

Africa needs a new feminism, because it’s our last hope.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 20-year-old Mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She blogs at siyandawrites.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites

Legalise polygamy for both men and women

(Graphic: Flickr / charlesfettinger)
(Graphic: Flickr / charlesfettinger)

By now you will have heard,  in the most recent instance of testicular politics,  that Kenya’s Parliament recently passed a Bill that will recognise what they call ‘polygamous unions’. Apparently there haven’t been any real legal provisions for this form of marriage to date, except for citizens of the Muslim faith through the Kadhi court system.

What makes this Bill notable is the fact that the male legislators – the majority – managed to get rid of a clause in the Bill that would require consent on the part of current spouses before a man could bring another contracted partner into his domestic situation. If the Bill is signed into law, wives who have enjoyed a legal monopoly on matrimonial benefits are going to lose their security of tenure just like that. Take note: Kenyan women can’t legally marry multiple men.

If I had a suspicious nature I would imply that judicious pillow-lobbying on the part of shrewd girlfriends and concubines probably explains the enthusiasm with which the Bill was passed. But did they have to turn the contract of marriage into a form of Russian roulette for all other women while they were at it? Of course this Bill deserved a protest. So I stand in solidarity with women of Kenya in terms of opposing this law.

I am disappointed to have to do so because I am very much in support of legalising polygamous marriage and have been for much of my life. Freedom and fair play, say I, and if people have to sign a legal contract for reproductive purposes then let’s at least offer every citizen the same range of flavours.

How did I get so corrupted? Simple, really. Catholic Mathematics.

When I was growing up in one of those delightfully cosmopolitan yet shockingly conservative “middle-class” families, I learned about the birds and the bees and the morality thereof. One man plus one woman plus some love equals legitimate offspring, full stop. Real life, though, didn’t make this lesson convincing. I highly recommend that all children supplement their social education by eavesdropping on their mothers’ conversations with her friends.

Sifting through rants about husbands’ secretaries who wear miniskirts and suchlike, I realised that things were not adding up. All unmarried women were chaste, married women were faithful and men couldn’t keep their zippers closed. Catholic Mathematics? I might not have been in secondary school but I could do addition and percentages. Someone wasn’t being forthright about these birds and bees.

The one who truly sank me, though, was the Zanzibari gentleman who moved next door when I was about eight or so. He had two lovely spouses: a plump older light-skinned one and a slim, shy, dark-skinned younger wife. Not only did they smell deliciously of incense and pilau spices, they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and any opportunity to lavish food and attention on anyone who walked through the door. They seemed happier and healthier than all the desiccated diplomatic wives who darkened our doors with gin and bitterness.

So I thought: yes. People grow up aspiring to their fantasies of fulfillment, be it financial security, fame, power, whatever. Me? Two husbands, maybe three. One to go out and make some serious bacon and wear bespoke suits with great ties to feed my craving for some alpha male. One to stick around at home and make sure the kids get to bed on time and we’re all eating enough greens and bully me into getting a pedicure. One to be the Saturday night special: excitingly undependable, prone to adventures that might land us in jail, entirely too charming and handsome for his own good.

What will I be doing? Well either recovering from a night out with Number Three or chairing a board or simply co-ordinating and popping out and loving the United Colors of Benetton offspring of our unconventional family. I said it was a fantasy. But when these things take root in your formative years, there’s no getting past it.

To lay the Catholic Mathematics to rest, I had to figure out a moral basis for it that works for me and it has to do with polyamorous principles. Turns out it’s entirely possible, and also sane. As usual the laws and legal system are not keeping pace with the progressive nature of our contemporary society. I am only angry with Kenya because this crusade is personal and they have made it difficult for everybody for chauvinist reasons.

Polygamy, mostly polyandry, has always been around and in principle I have no beef with it. But the point is, and always is, to be fair when it comes to legislation. You can’t refuse people rights because of their race, their religion or their just about anything unless you’re unspeakably heinous. So why is it still okay to get gender politics wrong?

By all means, let us condemn this silly Kenyan polygamy Bill and all that it represents. In the meanwhile, though, if anyone is writing up a real progressive alternative please swing it my way. There are guys out there to marry simultaneously and this woman is trying not to run out of time and available options, not to mention patience.

Elsie Eyakuze is a freelance consultant in print and online media from Tanzania, working mainly in the development sector. She blogs at mikochenireport.blogspot.com. Connect with her on Twitter.

The tragedy we found in Tuesday’s trash

It’s another pretty day in Ngong with clear skies and chirping birds. Jackie, the newest member of my circle of parenthood help, has just returned home from fetching my son Shaka, who is three months away from turning five. As I open the gate, she says to me: “Mama Shaka, kitu kimefanyika!” Something has happened.

Tuesday is rubbish collection day in our town, which is located in the Great Rift Valley near Nairobi. My family has lived in Ngong for over 20 years, and no municipal or county rubbish removal initiatives have existed during this time. So local entrepreneurs came up with their own trash collection initiative, a service that we use at the moment. On this warm, summer’s day we put our trash out as usual for the truck to collect.

Jackie lives about 50 metres from my childhood home, and just 10 meters from the pile of trash at the end of our street. At 30 she is no shrinking violet, but she doesn’t say much. Today, however, she is more excited than usual. She tells me that a little baby boy has been found on top of the pile of rubbish. I don’t understand. Where is the child’s family, I ask? How do you tell a child to sit on a pile of rubbish? Jackie says she doesn’t know. No one knows. All they know is that the little baby was wrapped in a curtain and left there. A curtain. Now it makes sense. The little baby was aborted and dumped along with Tuesday’s trash.

While rummaging through the rubbish, a street child had found the aborted baby. It was a baby, not a foetus, because this abortion was carried out very late into the pregnancy. Jackie tells me that the child had all its parts – all it had to do was grow. She reckons it was five months or older. She laughs as she relates this to me, but her laughter is not out of malice or insensitivity. Like many others, she just didn’t know what else to say or do.

I ask Jackie why no one called the police. She says someone has to go to the police station and write a statement before they would come and collect the body. I want to do this – but with the law enforcement system here, there’s a chance that I would be questioned, and even suspected of the backstreet abortion. I’m a single mother, with no important surnames that can offer me any kind of protection, and no husband to come vouch for my moral worthiness. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong police officer would get me into trouble.

I go to cover the body. It is placed at the side of the road where children pass by on their way home from school. They do not need to see that. Worse still, they do not need to hear the conversations vilifying the woman or girl that had aborted the baby, and shaming the faceless and nameless doer of this ‘evil’. Someone ventures that they know whose curtain the baby is wrapped in – but fortunately a witch-hunt is not called for. In places like Ngong with slow justice systems and even slower delivery of public services like police protection, the people’s thirst for due process comes fast and furiously.

Abortions in Kenya
Kenya has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Over 460 000 abortions were carried out in 2012 alone, according to research by the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC). The majority of these were due to unwanted pregnancies. Another survey revealed that more than 2 500 Kenyan women die annually from complications arising from unsafe abortions carried out by unqualified medical practitioners. Kenya relaxed its abortion laws in the new Constitution that passed in 2010. Before this, abortion was illegal unless except to save a woman’s life – and  in this case, three doctors would have to approve a woman’s request for one. The new Constitution gives healthcare practitioners more latitude to determine when an abortion can be carried out. But as you can imagine, if the decision to grant a woman or girl an abortion lies in the hands of a healthcare professional, this leaves a lot to chance. Many Kenyans are still largely conservative when it comes to discourses on abortion, and chances that a nurse in a rural village will grant a 15-year-old with an unplanned pregnancy a requested abortion are very slim.  Commenting on the APHRC report, researcher Dr Elizabeth Kimani said that there is still a lot of stigma in Kenya around access to abortion as a reproductive health right for women. The government is dragging its feet in upgrading not only the facilities to carry out abortions, but also initiatives to sensitise health care professionals on why there’s a critical need for conversations about abortion in the country.

(Pic: Flickr / Damien du Toit)
(Pic: Flickr / Damien du Toit)

Ten years ago, when I was in high school, I was subjected to a mandatory pregnancy test after what the school authorities found what they suspected was an aborted foetus  in one of the dormitory bathrooms. The test was not a pee-on-a-stick type test. The school nurse carried out a vaginal exam, pressed down on my abdomen, and squeezed my nipples – to check for milk production, I guess. It was humiliating to say the least, and all the girls – nearly 1000 of us – had to undergo this. I could not imagine how or with what a fellow student could have carried out that suspected abortion. According to 2012 report by Kenya’s human rights commission, women take overdoses of anti-malaria medication or insert sharp objects like knitting needles and sticks into their bodies.

Back in Ngong, I dared to think about the woman that had just aborted this baby. She wasn’t a statistic in a report far away – she lived in my neighbourhood, she was close enough for me to have maybe met her or even spoken to her. Was she okay? Was she alone? Did she have help? Was she slowly bleeding to death in a little flat somewhere? Had she been raped? Was it an unplanned pregnancy? Maybe it was a case of incest, or maybe it wasn’t. To attempt a backstreet abortion this far into a pregnancy was an act of despair and desperation. The young woman or girl who did this really had no other choice. She didn’t. The people gathered by the side of the road did not ask these questions – all they saw was an aborted child, dumped on top of Tuesday’s trash.

I am unapologetically pro-choice. Restrictive laws and harsh social systems leave women and girls with such few options and virtually no bodily autonomy. And this goes beyond just the right to have safe abortions – it begins with a woman’s or a girl’s right to decide what happens to her body. A lot of underage sex is coerced and transactional. Many unplanned pregnancies are unwanted, even in marriage and in situations of perceived social stability. There’s no safety anywhere as far as women’s and girl’s bodies are concerned.

While society, religious organisations and indeed governments attempt to put their best moral foot forward, the reproductive and health rights of women and girls continue to suffer. And this suffering is not left to the women and girls alone – society suffers too. Women, men and children had to see an aborted child dumped on the side of the road, and the traumatic effects that witnessing such a sight can have on them goes ignored. As a passionate advocate for the right of women to choose, it was a humbling moment when I realised that these ‘issues’ are not happening  ‘out there’ – they are happening right outside my front door, right on top of Tuesday’s trash.

*This post was edited to correct the number of abortions carried out in Kenya in 2012.

Sheena Gimase is a Kenyan-born and Africa-raised critical feminist writer, blogger, researcher and thought provocateur. She’s lived and loved in Kenya, Tanzania, ZimbabweZambia, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Sheena strongly believes in the power of the written word to transform people, cultures and communities. Read her blog and connect with her on Twitter.

Culture clash over tribal wife-swapping in Namibia

Wife-swapping among Namibia’s nomadic tribes has been practised for generations but a legislator’s call to enshrine it in law has stirred debate about women’s rights and tradition in modern society.

The practice is more of a gentlemen’s agreement where friends can have sex with each others’ wives with no strings attached.

Swinging with an African tribal touch? Or “rape”, as some critics see it.

The wives have little say in the matter, according to those who denounce the custom as both abusive and risky in a country with one of the world’s highest HIV and Aids rates.

But the Ovahimba and Ovazemba tribes, based mainly in this southern African country’s arid north, contend their age-old custom strengthens friendships and prevents promiscuity.

“It’s a culture that gives us unity and friendship,” said Kazeongere Tjeundo, a lawmaker and deputy president of the opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance of Namibia.

“It’s up to you to choose (among) your mates who you like the most … to allow him to sleep with your wife,” said Tjeundo, a member of the Ovahimba ethnic group.

Concerned that HIV and Aids could be used as an excuse to stop the ancient tradition, he and others are suggesting regulations be adopted to ensure “good practice”.

Tjeundo said he plans to propose a wife-swapping law, following a November legislative poll when he is tipped for re-election.

Known as “okujepisa omukazendu” – which loosely means “offering a wife to a guest” – the practice is little known outside these reclusive communities, whose population is estimated at 86 000.

Mainly found in the northwestern Kunene region near the Angolan border, the tribes are largely isolated from the rest of the country. They have resisted the trappings of modern life, keep livestock, live off the land and practice ancestral worship.

A woman from the Ovahimba tribe. (Pic: Flickr / Martha de Jong-Lantink)
A woman from the Ovahimba tribe. (Pic: Flickr / Martha de Jong-Lantink)

Many still reside in pole-and-mud huts and both men and women go bare-chested.

The women wear short skirts of goat skin, carved iron and cowshell jewellery and cover their braided locks in thick red ochre paste, which they also rub on their skin as a sun screen.

Unlike any modern-day swinging, tribal members make no random draw to pair couples. They meet in their own homes, while the husband or wife of the other party is banished to a separate hut during the exchange.

‘Not benefiting women’
Women cannot object to sleeping with a man chosen by their husbands, a point that angers rights activists like Rosa Namises who says the custom is tantamount to rape and “rape is illegal”.

“That practice is not benefiting women but men who want to control their partners,” said Namises, a former lawmaker who heads a non-governmental organisation called Woman Solidarity Namibia.

Other groups like Namibia’s Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), a public interest law firm that vows to protect the rights of all Namibians, have challenged its continued existence in a country where 18.2% of the 2.1-million residents have HIV, according to national statistics.

“It’s a practice that puts women at health risk,” said Amon Ngavetene, who is in charge of LAC’s Aids project. He contends that most women are opposed to the practice and would want it abolished.

But 40-year-old Kambapira Mutumbo is completely comfortable with the custom and has been asked to sleep with her husband’s friends.

“I did it this year,” she said, and “I have no problem with the arrangement.”

“It’s good because its part of our culture, why should we change it?” she added.

Cloudina Venaani, programme analyst with the United Nations Development Programme office in Namibia, is adamant that women only tolerate it because they are afraid of defying their husbands.

Traditionalists, however, insist the custom does not violate the rights of women, noting that women are also free to choose partners for their husbands – even if this rarely happens in practice.

Like opposition lawmaker Tjeundohe, Uziruapi Tjavara, chief of the Otjikaoko Traditional Authority in the Kunene region, wants the custom to continue but paired with education on HIV.

Details, however, are still vague.

“We just need to research more on how the practice can be regulated,” said Tjeundohe.

Shinovene Immanuel for AFP