Blame Game: On African Women, Empowerment And Violence
Almost every other day, an article is written about how women are to blame for the violence that we face on a daily basis. Society is awash with individuals who are more than willing to tell women what we should or shouldn’t do so as not to invite trouble from men. Such people blame violence against women on women. Talk about being champions of victim blaming.
Last week, the Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Development in Uganda urged women to not deny their husbands conjugal rights, according to an article by the Daily Monitor. The minister opined that women’s refusal to have sex with their husbands breeds domestic violence. She further added that a woman has to have a sound reason for refusing to oblige her husband. Basically, as a woman, “I don’t feel like it” is not an option. The man has to get what he wants, when he wants and how he wants it. If she doesn’t bend to her husband’s will then she is inviting violence in one form or the other. It’s her fault. How dare she say no to her husband? At least that is what the minister would want women to believe.
African women are socialized to aspire to marriage. Our value is more often than not based on how marriageable we are considered. Can you cook? Can you clean? Can you cater to a man? Do you have child bearing hips? Do you dress in a manner that will maintain a man’s interest but is still conservative enough to keep with the African culture? There are always people ready to remind you that if you don’t do all those things then you are failing as an African woman and you will not find a husband. It doesn’t matter whether you want to get married or not. Pursuing a higher education will also make you ineligible for marriage. You have to be educated enough to make a man comfortable but not too educated to intimidate him. Why pursue a graduate degree when your biological clock is ticking? They ask. Society insists that as a woman your primary goals should be wife and mother. It doesn’t matter how successful you are as an individual. There is always that question, “But where is your husband?” or “What will you do with all your wealth and no children?”
Society teaches men that women are objects that were placed on this earth to fulfill their every desire. If a woman doesn’t fulfill their wants, or does something that they (men) do not agree with, then they can and should “discipline” the woman. In short, women belong to them. Towards the end of 2014 videos were circulated on social media showing several women in Kenya being stripped naked on the streets because they were dressed “indecently.” Gangs of entitled men decided that the women were not dressed decently and proceeded to strip them so as to “teach them a lesson.” Never mind the fact that decent and indecent are both subjective. These men appointed themselves the moral outfit police, judge and jury and went on to violate women all the while laughing gleefully. These heinous acts ignited a debate on both traditional and new media about whether it is right to strip a woman for dressing indecently.
As if there is a debate to be had about women’s safety. There are those who said that wearing a miniskirt is asking for trouble and shows a desire to walk around naked. Others claimed that showing ones skin is against the African culture. Let’s just forget the fact that the attire worn traditionally by a good number of African communities covered the bottom half of one’s body and not the top. Colonialists came in and threw their form of dressing on us and now men, and some women, have turned around and claimed those very clothes as a part of African culture. Oh, the irony!
There are those who argue that the progress of African women is resulting in violent response from African men. African men resent the strides women have made to date, and show this through street harassment and public stripping. The men apparently cannot cope with today’s empowered African women. Such ideas imply that the violence wouldn’t occur if women were not advancing. Isn’t that then blaming women because we are the biggest supporters of our own progress? Violence against women has unfortunately been occurring for a long time. Long before Africa got it’s first female head of state and women occupied CEO seats throughout the continent.
Assault on women is about power, intimidation and control, among others. The only people to blame are the perpetrators. Women are not objects and neither do we exist to be used and abused at men’s whims. These traditional notions of masculinity need to be done away with. Today’s African women are pushing back against these societal impositions. We have dreams and aspirations that may or may not involve marriage and motherhood. We are constantly fighting and advocating using tools available to us to ensure that were are able to navigate our world on our own terms – freely, independently and without fear. The continued progress of African women is as inevitable as dawn.
In the words of Wangari Maathai – “African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.”