Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Posts tagged ‘change’

The great discomfort

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A Facebook friend of mine unfriended me. Before unfriending me, she mentioned that she had observed that I had started a blog on feminism, and made a point of being offensive about the fact that I was an active feminist.  She told me that she didn’t believe in feminism and that although she championed for the rights of women, she would not want to be associated with feminism, adding that she would be offended if she was ever referred to as a feminist.

I had just started writing my blog at that time, and I was getting a number of interesting, sometimes ignorant and other times damn right offensive responses.  I was getting tired of explaining myself, and she found me at the point where I had learnt to be less defensive about what I believed in, and sometimes even listened to responses that made no sense, or added no value, for the sheer fun of it, and maybe write about it someday.

I guess she mistook my silence for interest, and continued to tell me that told me that she thought feminism was demonic, and the devil’s agenda to destroy the family, and spread ungodly practices such as lesbianism and homosexuality.  The Sodom and Gomorrah case got mentioned somewhere in between the demons and the ungodly practices that feminism sought to spread in society.

Feminism, she said was teaching women to reject femininity as they desired to be more masculine.  She went on about how proud she was of her femininity, how she loved dressing up and looking beautiful, and feminism was denying women the opportunity to be feminine and beautiful.

From her unsolicited and rather ignorant opinion, it was clear that my blog and posts on feminism made her rather uncomfortable, and I was not surprised when she later unfriended me.  It’s been eight months now since I started running my blog, and every so often, I am amazed at how feminism generates discomfort in just about every quarter.

The discomfort is to a large extent driven by ignorance, fear of losing power by the privileged, and uncertainty over what a society where women are regarded as fully human, and not subordinate to men would look like. Society is yet to accept that African women are embracing an ideology that has often been described as unAfrican, because it seeks to liberate African women, who have for the longest time been considered sub-human and accorded secondary status in society.

Those that have long enjoyed the benefits of women’s subjugation are afraid that feminism will turn the tables, and human beings regardless of gender will now be equal.  They misconstrue feminism to be about women competing with men, and tell us that this is not the way African culture should be. They argue that there is a place for the African woman in society, which unlike everything else, does not evolve with time, and feminism is destroying that.

The number of times I see feminism appearing in sermons that seem to have an agenda to take women back to 1950 is surprising, disturbing and annoying.  I reckon there are people praying and fasting against the “spirit” of feminism.

The fact that feminism is questioning religious norms that teach that God created man to provide, rule and dominate, while the woman was created to obey, serve and submit is likely to destabilize status quo, and therefore not a surprise that it generates a lot of discomfort. We are told that feminism is destroying God’s intention for women to “care” and “nurture”.  God apparently created woman with “special” genes known as the nurturing, caring and domesticity genes, which are easily destroyed by feminism.  Geneticists need to help us with these twisted biology lessons.

I must say that I am not surprised at the discomfort.  When people question things that seem so fixed such as gender, and the position of women in society, it generates discomfort because then there is fear that people might begin to question other structures including religion, politics and education; tools used by a minority to gain and maintain power to oppress a majority.

Because the feminist movement threatens to destabilize status quo, question traditions that have long silenced, subjugated and oppressed women in the name of religion and culture, it is no wonder discussions left, right and center are exaggerating the empowerment of girls and women, and claiming that this is contributing to the disempowerment and subjugation of boys and men.

Feminists are being advised to urgently shift attention to the boy child who is seriously threatened by the emancipation of the girl child, otherwise, these girls will have no one to marry them. Never mind that violence at home, school, work, on the streets and even on social media is something that many girls and women confront on a daily basis.  And that women are still highly under-represented in business, politics, leadership and ownership of property.

Women, like the Facebook friend who unfriended me, have bought into this patriarchal thinking, perpetrated by culture and religion, and are up in arms, protecting “femininity” from feminist destruction.  Their ignorance on feminism doesn’t help either.

The discomfort created by feminism is not fun for a feminist, because this results in trolls, unsolicited advice, sermons that make me want to weep, and anti-feminist discussions that make me question the ability of human beings to reason.  But the discomfort also tells me that feminists are probably doing something right, and rather than be cowed by the discomfort, it is time for feminists to speak louder, more wisely, more intensely and more articulately than ever.*

The fact that the feminist movement is growing like wildfire, with many young, intelligent and outspoken women openly identifying as feminists is not a comfortable position for society.  Society is having a difficult time with women speaking their minds, and using their voices to challenge society as we know it. But society has to come to terms with the fact that women are leading this revolution, or otherwise bask in this discomfort, because there’s no stopping this revolution!**

* Adapted from a quote by Neil Gaiman

** Adapted from a quote by Alexis Templeton

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I’m tired but I will keep going

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When I read Wangari Maathai’s autobiography Unbowed, I was going through one of my lowest points this year.  I was feeling tired, deflated and depleted, and questioning whether “all this” matters.  “All this” being my struggle for emancipation of women and other oppressed groups.

I was so deflated, that I thought I would never blog again.  I was tired of the constant scandals and crisis mode that has become of this country.  I remember sharing with a friend how tired I was of the fact that the entire year has been characterized by crisis after crisis, with a new scandal emerging almost every other week.  I was growing weary from the fact that despite so many efforts, women are increasingly becoming more unsafe, to the extent of being raped while seeking medical care.

Looking at the magnitude of what has been happening, I felt overwhelmed and wondered whether what I was doing really mattered.  I felt that I needed some inspiration, otherwise, my spirit was going to die a slow death.

It was at this point that I picked Wangari Maathai for inspiration. I chose Wangari for two reasons; one being that September was the month that we lost her four years ago, and I thought reading and understanding her cause would be a great way to celebrate her life. The second being that, I established a connection with Wangari at the age of 9, and over the years, I have considered her a soul sister, and I therefore expected her to speak to me during my low.

True to my expectation, Wangari spoke to me the way no one else would have at that time. I picked 3 key things from reading the book unbowed: one, the power of voice, two, that no matter how difficult, change is at hand when we persist, and three, that we are never alone, even when it seems that way.

  1. Voice is power

As I was reflecting on the power of Wangari’s voice in protecting Uhuru Park and Karura Forest, I realized that that we have those two green spaces in the concrete jungle that Nairobi is, because Wangari decided not to be quiet about it, and instead wrote letters to different government authorities questioning the intentions to build a sky scrapper on Karura Forest and put up private development in Karura Forest.

As if to confirm the power of voice through writing, I came across these tweets:Capture 1Capture 2

  1. Change is possible

The most profound part of Wangari Maathai’s struggle for change was the year-long vigil held at All Saints Cathedral with mothers of political prisoners, demanding for the release of their sons.  For a year, they slept on benches demanding for change, and they did not waiver in their pursuit, until their demands were met.

Wangari’s spirit must have had an agenda to reinforce the message because at around the same time, I received a number of comments on my blog, on email and even by my friends, saying that my blog was changing the way they were seeing things, and they were becoming more conscious and found themselves questioning what they would consider normal.  That energized me to keep going, knowing that no matter how slow, no matter how minimal, change is coming.

Another world is possible

  1. We are never alone

My third lesson comes from Wangari’s recollection of her horrendous experience being arrested and locked up in a cold cell at the age of 52, while suffering from arthritis in both knees, and the impact that had on her health.  She recalls how she had to be carried by four policewomen into the courtroom while crying and weak from hunger.  As she was being carried into an ambulance to take her to hospital, she saw a banner from a group of women reading, “WANGARI, BRAVE DAUGHTER OF KENYA.  YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE AGAIN.”

She says that this warmed her heart and helped her realize that no matter what happened to her, there were people who wished her well, and who understood what it meant to be a woman fighting for the future of her country.

I too experienced that towards the end of the week, when I was feeling as if I was alone in the struggle.  I met some wonderful Kenyans that spoke with deep concern about what is happening and the need for change.  Speaking to them reminded me that I am not alone, that there are people who care and doing whatever they can in their small ways to change things.

So, I may be tired, but I will not give up because I am convinced in the power of my voice to create change, and know that I am not alone, because there are many of us working to create the change we desire.  As Wangari Maathai would say in her humming bird story, “I will do something about the fire….I will be a humming bird, I will do the best I can”.

Wangari Maathai - We must not give up

Why every woman and black person should support gay rights

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Recently, I had the pleasure to talk to my grandmother. Though 84 years old, and displaying the frailty we commonly associate with old age, she spoke eloquently about her experiences living under the colonial regime. She recalled the memory of how Kenyans were driven off their lands, tortured, killed and raped, in such detail, depth and clarity.

At the same time, I realise that her story is of a life that did not happen: due to being born a black girl, in colonial era Kenya. From talking with her, I get the sense that she possibly would have made a great academic, who could have lectured and inspired the next generation. Those opportunities never materialized, for she was a black girl, in colonial era Kenya.

In that time it was the norm that girls would not get much of an education, if any at all. She did not choose to be denied, what we now think of as obvious rights. Her path in life was clearly set out for her, and her choices in life limited too. Being born a black girl meant that she would attend school for a few years, and drop out as soon as she was able to provide labour in her father’s farm. She would then get married as soon as she showed signs of being a woman, give birth to as many children as her body could bear, raise them and provide labour in her husband’s farm for as long as her body allowed. Sad as it is, that was the path set out for just about every girl born at her time.

Gender, race and disability are some of the grounds that have been used historically, and even presently to discriminate in just about every part of the world. These kinds of discrimination have seen minorities suffer tremendous injustices, ranging from gender inequalities, slavery, apartheid and colonialism.

The idea of reversing these injustices, and seeing groups that had been historically disadvantaged as human beings with rights was repulsive to the powerful. At that point, the idea of sending girls to school, or allowing women to vote, or to engage in any other public setting was unfathomable. The idea of black people mixing with white people was even more repulsive. People with disabilities were for a long time considered social misfits in Africa and Europe, often not worth living.

While a lot of advancements have been made to end the discrimination of women, black people and people with disabilities, bigotry is still existent in many forms. The most obvious form is expressed towards people with non-conforming sexualities. Be they lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender or inter-sex (LGBTI). The same Bible and other religious texts that were used to justify bigotry towards women, black people and people with disabilities, are now used to create homophobic sentiments. Consequently, LGBTI people have suffered rejection, torture, excommunication and even death, across the world. Many gay people cannot live ordinary lives of achieve their full potential because society has no space for them.

I am a person

Sometimes I get angry when I hear my grandmother speak, because I realise the impact of discrimination in depriving people of choice, and deterring people from achieving their full potential. Having faced double disadvantage, first as woman, and secondly as a black person, I imagine if I had been born at the same time as my grandmother, I would not have made the academic and professional achievements that I have made so far. These achievement do not only give me immense pleasure, but they also make significant contribution to society. I hate to imagine of the wasted potential that would have become my story.

At the same time I am glad because some people fought to make sure that would not be my story. Many women and black people were injured, excommunicated, and some even died for me to enjoy the freedom that I enjoyed today.

Had women or black people stopped fighting for their rights to avoid repulsing the powerful, most of us would not be enjoying the freedoms that we do today. People with disabilities would not have the right to live let alone enjoy any other rights. Yet women all over the world, black people, and those with disabilities are still so far, from being considered equal to men, white people or those more able-bodied. Our battles are far from over, and those of the gay community seem to have an even longer way to go.

A Kenyan High Court ruling that declared it unconstitutional to deny registration to a gay rights organisation, has been met with a lot of resistance by ordinary Kenyans, the Church and even our Deputy President, William Ruto. Many have questioned the need to have organisations that support such a ‘repulsive’ group of people. Others are now in panic, fearing that once gay people win this battle, they will move on to demand marriage rights. It is no wonder, the argument that gay people should keep their affairs private has gained so much traction.

Just like any other group has a right to form a group to advocate for its rights, so do gay people. Registration is essential for many organisations to operate. You can imagine the difficulties that any organisation, be it a company, a church, a school, would have if it was denied registration. Just as women, black people and other minority groups decided to move their support groups from private to public spaces, to advance their agenda to be recognised as people, gay people too should do the same. Because no battles are ever won in private spaces.

The journey for the rights of people with non-conforming sexualities has come a long way, and it still has a long way to go. I am hopeful though, and very hopeful for that matter, because if you told my grandmother that she would live to see her granddaughter travel abroad to get an education, she would probably have laughed at the ridiculousness of such an idea. If you told her that her granddaughter would be so political, declaring herself a feminist, sitting at the same table with men the age of her father to discuss issues of national importance, she would have taken you to the nearest mental institution. But she has lived to see it, and I pray that she lives even longer, to see her granddaughters do even more wonderful and amazing things in the public arena.

I say this, not to blow my own trumpet, but to cast hope to the gay community. I am hopeful that our gay sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters will write blogs to celebrate the battles that we fought for them. We therefore must keep hope alive.

We must refuse to be discouraged or to feel powerless. We cannot afford to become complacent, or allow lack of support to overcome us. We must shed off all fear, and refuse to worry about what other people think about us stepping into a role that might make us unpopular. We must silence the voices that urge us to shut up or quit, the voices that call us defeated. We must reject any idea to cave in to the discouragement that surrounds us. We must continue to work, fight, and challenge, awaken, and campaign for equality and social justice. (Quote adapted from the Pillion Trust Charity).

Wangari Maathai - We must not give up

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