Celebrating East African Writing!
Feminist! You say that as if it was a dirty word. I have been accused of being a feminist. It’s an accusation as though by standing up for my rights I am doing something wrong. Maybe it’s the brazenness that I dared to speak up for myself and other women. Maybe it’s the temerity I had to know my rights and insist on them being upheld. Perhaps it’s the sheer fact that I am a woman. Feminists are hated mainly by a society that disregards women, that does not consider us even human. I will go ahead and let you know what feminism really is because it’s easy to hate what you are ignorant about. Feminism is the notion that women are people too.
Yes, women are people too. As in the person who gave birth to you is a woman who is also a human being just like you. Kenya is a patriarchy inherited from a country that is ruled by a Queen, and yet our patriarchy resolutely dehumanizes its women. Let’s face it, there is no gender equality in this country and I doubt there ever will be. Why? It’s because misogyny is also practiced by women.
Yes, it’s a shocker, but women are their own worst enemies. It is us who will hold down our daughters so that their genitals are cut. It is us who will shout down the outspoken woman. It is us who will be home wreckers and conduct love affairs with married men. It is us who will scream pro-life and then refuse to use a condom. It is us who will call each other prostitute, and gossip about each other. It is us who won’t vote for female political aspirants. It is us who will deny feminism and hate on feminists.
But it is not just women who are misogynists.
It’s the church, the schools, the government and the husband. It’s the men who claim that “you are just emotional” when they are losing an argument, to psychologically manipulate you into thinking that you are crazy. It’s the doctor who takes a woman’s menstrual pain as something she is exaggerating. It is the teacher who will not let the girl go to the toilet to change her sanitary towel during class time such that her underwear becomes soaked with blood. It is the Pastor who insists that women must submit to men even though submission should be a choice made willingly. It is the husband who treats his wife like a domestic and sexual slave and nothing more.
It is the government that provides free male circumcision and charges women expensively for tubal ligation. It is a country that insists that abortion is a crime and a sin, and yet does not provide access to adequate maternal healthcare. It is a society that punishes women for being sexual beings and for having sex and yet praises men for “sowing their wild oats.” It is a continent where rape is used as a weapon of war on innocent civilians. It is the proliferation of female genital mutilation even though we are in the 21st century.
Women mean nothing here. We are no better than cattle. When we are young our bodies are cut so that we are “clean” for our future husband. When we are married we are sold off for a few goats. When we have children, we are blamed for the gender of the baby – if they are girls we are chased away. When we are old, we are called witches and set on fire. We spend our whole lives being an accessory to someone else.
In politics, because it is purely tribal politics in Kenya, when the opposition want to insult each other they refer to their opponents’ women. “Kikuyu girls are …”, “Luo girls are…” You can fill in the blanks with every sort of epithet under the sun. We are the brunt of vitriol spewed on other ethnicities, in the name of politics. One leading presidential candidate even wondered whether other tribes don’t give birth to presidents, it is only certain tribes. I wonder what the hell our mothers have to do with a failure to convince an electorate of your own suitability for the job.
Sojourner Truth put it best when she remarked on the oppression faced by African women. “Black woman, you are the mule of the world.”
In our own sort of perverted way of trying to balance things out, the drafters of the constitution crafted the one third gender principle. It’s a part of the supreme law that states that in all elective and constitutional bodies one third of the officials or state officers must be of the opposite gender. I don’t know how they came up with one third, seeing as equality would dictate that HALF of all officials are male and the other half is female. The result of this debacle of a principle is that one’s gender supersedes one’s qualification for the particular post. It certainly is not a feminist ideal to be given a post simply because you are female, but to be given the opportunity to contest in a level and fair playing field and to be taken seriously as a professional.
The more hilarious application of this false equality is found in the sexual offenses act, section 3 (1) a person commits the offense termed rape if (a) he or SHE intentionally and unlawfully commits and act which causes penetration with his or her genital organ. The essence of law is in the language of the law; perhaps English was just too difficult for the person who conjured this up. How it is possible for a vagina to penetrate anything? Physically, it’s a hole! Poor women, there is a law out there that can criminalize the physically impossible all in the name of “equality.”
We don’t deserve to be taken for granted or taken for a ride either. A government that declares free maternity care for all women is certainly pulling our legs especially considering that the maternity costs were as low as 50 shillings. Never mind that free or not, the maternal death rate will not drop because there aren’t enough doctors or resources anyway. To add insult to injury, the government hashed out a deal with rogue MPs where they are to receive KES 150,000 maternity allowance. I wonder what sort of babies the mostly male MPs will be expecting. Some already look quite pregnant with their fat bellies.
I am a feminist because I refuse to be dehumanized any longer. Because I know that I am just as human as any man. I am a feminist because I value my life and the lives of other women as well. I am a feminist because I have to stand up and speak up for my rights, my concerns, my privileges and my future. Until all men and women are considered equally human with equal rights, no society can claim to be civilized while mistreating the life bearers, the mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. No society can claim to be civilized while dehumanizing half of humanity. No religion can ever justify oppressing God’s creation. I am feminist because I am human too! If you can tell a civilization by how they treat women, then ours is a truly primitive nation.
Betty Waitherero Njoroge is a writer, a human rights activist and a producer for television. She writes commentary and opinion pieces on socio-political matters in Kenya and runs her own blog on www.bettywaitherero.blogspot.com
She is passionate about the color red, loves roast chicken and red wine, will spend most of her day buried in literature, articles or texts, and she is a mother. Betty hopes to join the University of Nairobi in 2013 and pursue masters in Anthropology, concentrating on Gender, Culture and Language. Her favorite quote is “Brevity is the soul of lingerie” by US author and humorist Dorothy Parker; her rather amusing take on Shakespeare’s famous quote by Hamlet – “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Betty is participating in Storymoja Hay Festivals conservations on “Imagine the World; WAZA DUNIA”.