Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Posts tagged ‘Voice’

I am because we are

Ubuntu 1

November 2015 marks exactly one year since I started blogging. My blog was largely inspired by the spirit of Ubuntu, an African philosophy that states, “I am because we are” and in some cases expressed as, “I am because you are”.  The Ubuntu philosophy that appreciates the interconnectedness of humanity; that our humanity is inextricably linked.

Writing was therefore my platform to use my voice to add onto the efforts to challenge exclusion that deprives some groups of people from experiencing their full humanity, with the understanding that I cannot be free when others, particularly women continue to be bound.

Ubuntu 2

My first blog post was inspired by the injustice faced by female hawkers on the streets in the hands of City County Officers, otherwise known as kanjo. My second post  was on “My Dress My Choice”, an initiative that was started by women in Nairobi at a time when violent undressing of women in public spaces was becoming rather common.

I wrote the blog post on “My Dress My Choice” because the incidents of women being stripped reminded me of my own experience when I was 15 years old, after a man threatened to strip me at Commercial Bus Station.

I was wearing a long wrap around skirt, and as the wind blew, it blew away the top flap. As I was holding onto my skirt to avoid it being blown off more violently, a man approached me and told me that if I continued to hold my skirt, he would undress me. He said that if I chose to wear revealing clothes, I should not show any signs of discomfort.

At the age of 15 I was beginning to understand that the world I live in is not designed for girls and women to just live, without being controlled by everyone including strangers.

I wrote the article and supported “My Dress My Choice” because it was unbelievable that close to 15 years later after my experience, and at a time when girls and women are said to have advanced tremendously, women were being violently stripped in public for wearing what was deemed inappropriate.

“My Dress My Choice” protest took place on November 17th 2014, and it was a huge success. Women came out in their numbers, supported by some male allies to protest against violent undressing of women. Some of the perpetrators were sentenced to 20 year jail terms and as a result, women to some extent feel safer knowing that action can be taken against such forms of violence.

A while back, I had an experience that made me realize that “My Dress My Choice”, did make gains for women. As I was walking to meet a friend one Saturday afternoon, I faced the all too common problem of society, and particularly men deciding to control what women wear. I was catcalled on several occasions because I was wearing a short dress.

Shake that ass

After ignoring a few catcalls, I got tired and decided that I wasn’t going to be made uncomfortable anymore. So, when another man walking with two other men catcalled me, I stopped him and asked him if he had something to tell me. To my surprise, he got tongue tied and started sweating and breathing heavily; signs that he was having a panic attack. He stammered that he had not said anything to me. I left him at that and moved on.

When I got to my meeting point, I narrated my experience to my friend, perplexed as to why someone would have the nerve to catcall me and then get a panic attack upon being confronted. My friend told me that things were changing and men were begin to get more cautious after men that had stripped women were sentenced to 20 year jail terms.

She shared with me of an incident that she witnessed when a conductor slapped his colleague who was making derogatory remarks at a woman who was wearing what he considered inappropriate. After slapping him, he told him to stop being stupid, asking whether he wanted their matatus to be grounded from operating. My friend said, the driver commented that the days of “playing” with women were over, as Uhuru had decided that abuse and violence against women on the streets would not be tolerated by his regime.

When I think of these two incidents, I want to shout “WE DID IT! We did it as women! We used our outrage to stand with the women that had been stripped, and made significant changes for women in this country. Many of us did not know the women that we were standing up for and wouldn’t even recognize them if we meet them. But that didn’t stop us from being sisters to one another.

mydressmychoice 1

But even as we celebrate this victory, girls and women are still not safe. All forms of abuse and violence against women continue in every imaginable space, be it private or public. The system is also painfully slow and unfriendly to women who seek justice.

An example is one of the women that faced violent undressing in public, who at some point opted to drop her case because of the challenges in the system. She said that as the sole breadwinner of her family and in casual employment, the legal process was taking too much of her time and prohibited her from fending for her family. The process of recounting her story at every stage of the lengthy legal process was also very traumatic and she wished not to live a life of constantly reliving this experience.

The experience of this woman with the legal process tells us that we have more a lot more to fighting to do to ensure that women are safe from violence and abuse, and guaranteed of expeditious legal processes as well as social, economic and psychological support to accompany the legal process.

As we begin the 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence from November 25th to December 10th, 2015, we must bear in mind that the journey ahead of us is long. To succeed in this journey, the spirit of sisterhood must prevail as it did during “My Dress My Choice Campaign”.

To win this battle, we cannot afford to be distracted by hostility towards each other or competing to be recognized.

We must constantly remind ourselves that this is about ALL girls and women and not about any individual. It is about our daughters, sisters, friends, mothers, grandmothers and each one of us to be safe in our homes, on the streets and every other space that we occupy.

Lastly, as I begin my second year of writing, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading, commenting, critiquing, and most importantly for giving space to my voice on your screens. I thank you for the wonderful friendships we have established on cyber-space and in the physical world. Thank you for meeting me and warming up to me like old friends or family because of the connection you developed with me from my writing. I have experienced the true spirit of Ubuntu this last year. I truly am because you are! Let us continue to be, for each other.

Ubuntu 3

I also wish to announce that my blog will be moving from ceranjagi.wordpress.com to http://www.kenyanfeminist.org.

I look forward to interacting with you all at http://www.kenyanfeminist.org.

Image credits: All the beautiful Ubuntu images are from AJ’s Art Journaling blog post on Ubuntu http://wp.me/p1D6U9-qM, Picture of My Dress My Choice demostopstreetharassment.org.

I’m tired but I will keep going

Wangari-Maathai-Unbowed-cover-photo-3

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

Mutumia

Giving birth to myself

A few days ago, I experienced this euphoric feeling that I get when I get intensely absorbed in writing. I do not know whether I can describe it, but I will try. I feel a warm grip around my stomach, as excitement builds up, my heart beats faster, my focus sharpens and my heart experiences this near-explosive sensation, and when I put a full stop to a sentence, I take a deep breath. The deep breath is followed by feeling of deep satisfaction, leaving me elated or in tears. Whichever emotion it evokes, I call it my writing high.

When I get my writing high, I lose sense of space or time, as I experience a spiritual interconnectedness with humanity and nature. I feel like taking a paint brush and splashing yellows, blues, oranges, reds, greens, whites, pinks, purples, blacks and all the colours imaginable on a canvas. My high makes me want to take an instrument and hit notes that are breathtaking. But I am not an artist or a painter, so during my highs my academic side takes over, and I get analytical, philosophical and theoretical, and I feel like I am communing with Karl Marx, Audre Lorde, Frantz Fanon, Leon Trotsky, Chinua Achebe, Bishop Spong, Bishop Tutu, Rev. Njoya and Chimamanda Adichie at the same table. It is a deeply intense feeling, and I don’t even think I have done justice in describing it.

The art of writing

When I experienced my most recent high, I was reflecting on the reason why I write. Like the highs, writing has periods of lows characterised by mental blocks, loss of creativity and even questioning whether writing is really my thing. When I got my high, after a low period, I remembered why I write. I realised that writing gives me untold pleasure; it is my world, and one of the things that I was born to do.

As a researcher, I write for a living, and as a blogger, I moonlight in writing. But beyond paying the bills and getting the occasional high, I write because I am a woman.

writing and discovering your beliefs

The word for woman in my language is ‘mutumia’. Loosely translated this means the voiceless or the silent one. Woman was named after silence, or silence was named after woman; I am yet to figure out which one is which. The fact that woman and silence are synonyms is reflective of the voicelessness of women. I live in a society whose intent to mould me into a ‘mutumia’ began from the moment it was declared, “it’s a girl”. This consciousness of society’s agenda has set me on a mission to re-create myself and my gender; to give birth to an empowered and vocal womanhood.

The journey to recreate myself and reclaim my voice has been and continues to be a long one, with many starts and halts. In a recent blog, I shared about a novel that I began writing in my teenage. The novel was my voice, my way of speaking out about the gender differences I noticed as I was growing up, and challenging status quo. I never finished writing my book because real life priorities set in and these silenced my voice. Like many women, the day to day demands and realities of life required that I ignore my voice and focus on things that would sustain my life. Between getting an education, succeeding in a career, creating happy families, making money and more often than not, juggling all these, many women lose their voice in the rut race.

There is no such thing as voiceless

I am fortunate that despite missing the missed opportunity to finish writing my novel, I have a few tools, thanks to technological advancements, that allow me to reclaim my voice. I cannot however give credit to my ‘privilege’ if any, in reclaiming my voice. Reclaiming my voice has been a process and a journey that has involved listening to the voices of other women that have refused to be boxed in the ‘mutumia’ category. Women that left a mark in society through their voices, and those in my generation that continue to follow in the footsteps of their great predecessors.

Many women are however not as fortunate as I am, and continue to face numerous barriers that limit their ability to defy the notion of woman as a silenced and voiceless being. I have met women in physically, emotionally and sexually abusive relationships, in their homes and places of work. However, social, economic and cultural limitations render them voiceless and powerless, putting them in the ‘mutumia’ box that society has created for them.

I-am-not-free-while-any

As I reclaim my voice through writing, I hope that I can help other women reclaim theirs. I also hope that the women that I reclaim my voice together with, will continue to catalyse and help other women to reclaim their voices.

Because voice is power.

Voices are power

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