Last week I was at a GLOW girls camp in Mai Mahiu. To say that I had a wonderful time is an understatement. I had the time of my life! You should have heard me screaming and dancing when I entered the dorm where the facilitators were sleeping. I was running from one end to another, nostalgia. The memories of being in Boarding High School came flowing back. It did not help that the dormitory was almost build like the one I lived in for 4 years back in High School. But there was definitely some differences. Like the tiled floors, fancy bathrooms with beautiful multicolored curtains and the lack of a ceiling on the roof. I chose to sleep on the top bunk and could not stop grinning and chatting my friend as we made our beds. Looking up and seeing the efflorescent long light bulb, the one where we would wind around our socks to dry overnight, I burst out laughing. My friend also shared that they did the same socks drying trick.
The next morning my friend and I together with another lady were facilitating a session on Menstruation and Pregnancy. We did the same session 4 times! Lots of customization depending on the groups of girls and their age brackets. That afternoon, there was a session on the ‘Sponsor Culture and Relationships’ Bearing in mind that Mai Mahiu is a transit town, this is an important conversation. More so made real by what one of the facilitators shared just before we went into the sessions. She had been harassed by a truck driver as she alighted at the bus stop on her way to the camp. And she is an older girl, she is married, but she was really traumatized and livid from the harassment.
It is during the ‘Sponsor Culture and Relationships’ that I went online and found the story of the young 15 year old girl who was murdered by a 17 year old boy for rejecting his advances. My mind stopped. My mouth dried. My body shook. I suddenly felt cold. I still have all these reaction every time I talk about or think about this young girl, even now as I type away. I looked up at the room full of young girls, most of them same age as the young girl who was murdered. My eyes moved across the room and settled on the 6 panelists sitting at the front answering the questions from the girls. And my heart sank. We were telling these girls the same things, the girl who was murdered had been told:
“call out the attacker by name if you know them”
But the girl who died, had she not followed all these rules? But she still died!
I have been asking myself a lot of questions since that dark Wednesday last week. 3 reasons stand out for me:
1. Male Identity Crisis
We live in a society and culture where the Male Identity is dependent on how women respond to them. I am a man because women obey and serve me. I am a man because women are at my beck and call. I am a man because I can command women to respect. I am a man because I can domineer over women.
This is a warped identity. It is a dependent identity. It is a shaky identity. It is an identity entirely dependent on the mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and social oppression of women. It is an identity that places women as a second class of human beings (apart from ‘my mother’ of course).
The problem with this kind of identity is that it is always under threat of being dismantled and the men who base their identity on a male supremacy ideology have it rough when the women do not conform to their set ideas. So they get angry. They lash out at strangers who do not respond to them as the blueprint in their heads dictates. They express in words, actions and way of life a hatred for women who are not conforming. They are completely unable to deal with a situation where a women is occupying space other than for them, their validation and identity.
In their quest for dominance and public display of the same, they will insult and disparage girls and women. They will create and crack jokes on female bodies and publicly make women a laughing stock. Their identity depends on it. The lower they can crush women the higher they score on identity in their eyes and the eyes of the fellow males. Then just like rats that bite and blow, they will coil around in the dark and praise the same women they broke in public. This is a sick and twisted identity. And the result is death. Death on the men and the women they get in contact with; physical death, mental death, emotional death, spiritual death and social death.
2. Entitlement to Women Bodies
This second reason is an offshoot of the male identity crisis point. The sheer absurdity of it makes my stomach churn. But it is the reality we live in and one that needs to change. Men feeling entitled to the women bodies. They will cat call, and when you ignore they will walk close to you and out-rightly smack your behind to the cheering of their male squad. They will sit and strategise and make bets to sleep around, grope women in work and living spaces.
To treat women in this way, they must first dehumanise the woman. Reduce her to something below human, which is the level preserved for men and ‘my mother’. This entitlement to women’s bodies reduces women to their sexual organs, specifically their breasts and their vaginas. Any other part of their bodies become negligible.
So when a woman decides to use her mind, her emotions, her arms and legs the entitled man is in shock; how dare she? She must be punished, she must pay the ultimate price. How dare she humiliate me by being anything other than breasts and vagina. To think that thie thought process and entitlement of women is not just thrown to know females but even strangers. So a woman will be in a public spaces and a man will demand use of her body and expect her to comply without question. The sheer audacity is nauseating!
3. The Me I . . . Even Us We . . . Squad
This is the enabling squad of the continued abuse and violence towards women. Unfortunately this squad is a mix of both men and women.
You begin to talk about harassment and they brush you off:
“Even us we were harrassed . . .
“Boys will always be boys . . .
“How were you dressed . . .
You begin to talk about violence within a relationship they brush you off:
“Even me I have lived in such a relationship and I am ok. Wasichana wa siku hizi sijui mnatakanga nini . . .
“You must have provoked him . . .
“Even us we have been there and look at us . . .
“You need to know your place . . .
Unfortunately while this squad claims to have been abused by men, the patriarchy system and turned out just fine, they did not. They have infact become apologists for the status quo and enablers for the dependent male identity, the male entitlement to women bodies and continued abuse and violence towards and against women and girls.
In this category also lies the ‘transition mentors’ for boys during the circumcision period. Those that spew lies and implant hatred and despise for women in the hearts and minds of young boys. Those who plant the seeds of entitlement to women bodies and a confused identity into the male psyche. For what reasons: Even us we were taught the same things/way and we have turned out just fine!
No you haven’t!!!!!!!!!!!!
In this category, sadly and quite unfortunately lies mothers. Mothers who were treated as ‘others’ and are now enjoying the benefits of being squarely in the highly priviledged ‘my mother’ category of women. They are a silent majority. They are the defenders of our killers. They are the groomers of our killers. They are very loud on “Even us we were . . .” and we turned out ok. They are happily enjoying the spoils and turning a blind eye to how their sons view and treat girls and women. I am a mother of sons. I choose to change this narrative.
Young girl who was murdered and laid to rest last week followed the rules. She said No. She refused the advances. But she still died. She was murdered in cold blood. And she is not the only one. Many girls and women continue to be killed physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually by men in Kenya and beyond. We continue to bury those who die physically and worry about the walking dead.
- We have followed the rules but we are still being killed
- We have learnt defense but we are still being killed
- We have changed our dressing but we are still being killed
- We have abandoned our dreams and visions but we are still being killed
- We have changed our names but we are still being killed
- We have served and obeyed but we are still being killed
- We have stopped asking questions but we are still being killed
We have lied flat but it is still not enough.
Maybe its time to change the narrative.
Maybe its time to try a different approach.
Maybe its time to fight for ourselves because it does look like the cavalry isn’t coming: We are the cavalry!
We need to begin to occupy space.
We need stop apologizing for existing in our thoughts, words and actions.
Then we need to teach the same to the girls and women around us.
Next is turn our focus on the boys. For long we have expected the men to teach and train them. And the result is that a batch of broken men have faithfully raised up broken, disillusioned women killers.
I am convinced that we as women MUST become actively involved in shaping the boys and young men under our care. We must teach them Identity that is not wrapped around how girls and women respond to them We must teach them to respect girls and women not just ‘my mother’. We must deconstruct in their minds that fatal dichotomy of women into ‘My mother’ and others by first transforming our thoughts, words and actions. We must raise up mentally, emotional, spiritually, socially and physically healthy boys to men.
Nobody is going to do it for us. We are the cavalry!