“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former”. Albert Einstein
I am so tired.
For quite some time I have not blogged. Blogging helps me unwind and it does not mean there have not been many things I want to unwind on. In fact, there has been too much, I am just tired. It takes me back to many experiences I have encountered and more, in particular, this young woman…
Many years later, I keep thinking, what happened to her life? Some experiences stick in the mind for years to come.
I have worked on different programs in the social work field, and encountered many women and girls, with diverse experiences. This girl comes to mind ever so often, because I feel like I let her down. I was a fresh graduate from college in my first job. It involved engaging in life skills sessions aimed at preventing HIV infections among young people. It was in the early 2000s when the rates of HIV infections was quite high and many cases of orphaned children. I was not trained in counseling then and obviously felt inadequate. Maybe I am starting with a disclaimer to explain my inaction, or my “not enough” action. While doing the life skills education sessions in one school, this girl came to me. . Let us call her Lakeisha. She wanted to share her experience and seek support. She was being sexually abused by her uncle. The uncle was a pastor, ‘well respected’ man in the village. Lakeisha was about 16 years old, in high school and an orphan. Following her parents’ deaths, the uncle had been ‘generous’ enough to take over paying school feels for her and her siblings and their upkeep. She was the first born and with four other siblings. The uncle was the well-off person in the family and they depended on him for their daily ‘bread’. Did I mention he was a pastor, and ‘well respected’ in the family and community?
With the little I knew then, I explored with her what options she had. Her main worry was that (1) nobody will believe her and (2) her siblings will be thrown out to the streets. What options did this young girl have? I spent some time discussing with her and she felt her options are non-existent. Her auntie was an only option and we explored if she could tell her auntie. However, she was not sure how this would work out since the only safe space was her maternal auntie who may have been seen to be interfering. She was not able to take the four children in as she was struggling herself. This girl had really thought about her options and felt stuck. We explored and I was feeling more and more desperate as the options became less and less. By the time we parted she wanted me to follow up with her but that was not possible. I was not likely to go back to that school. I suggested to refer her to someone that could walk with her but she was not comfortable with this or to speak with her guidance and counseling teacher. In other words, by the time I left her, there was no end in sight or a good enough avenue for her to explore.
Over 15 years later, Lakeisha crosses my mind. What happened to her? Did she finish high school? Did the violence stop? Did she ever report? Did anyone believe her? Is she even alive? What about her siblings, did the younger sisters fall victim to the same? Was the SILENCE EVER BROKEN? How many more girls was this man abusing? I feel sad even as I write this.
The reason this come sot mind so strongly right now is because of what has been happening in Kenya of late. It is clear that material and financial support is becoming a justification for much evil and this is specifically when women are the recipient. It is clearly misogynist thinking. It is the same thinking this man had to sexually violate his niece. He was paying school fees he had rights over her body! Many are wondering why this is a “gender issue”.
Stay with me in case you are wondering.
I am tired of what is happening in my country Kenya and many times as I try to put something down, words will fail me. I start and stop. I feel I do not have enough energy to engage in the issues. Since last year, there have been so many cases of women murdered by intimate partners. It is like every day you wake up to a new story. They have become stories. Statistics. Sensational past times that we engage in and forgets. Data. Stories that are told retold and we move on. They make news and headlines and then we move on. Even grosser, some people think it is something fun to do a ‘fun challenge’ around it! It is insanity. Is this what Albert Einstein had in mind when he said that humanity has a large threshold for stupidity? I cannot start to summarize the ‘stories’ that have been prominent in the recent past. Just thinking about it makes me feel so tired so I have been quiet about it. I feel like shouting at the top of my voice then wonder who is listening. I read comments on social media and I lose the desire to live in the country. Maybe if I disengage from Kenya it will hurt less?
As I was speaking to a group of women yesterday, and giving them an assignment to journal their experience I found myself questioning my writing block as I spoke. I have not been able to write, every time I think of writing I get too angry to put anything down. I decided to put action into my words. I am trying to find words on something that is so annoying it eats at my core.
This is what is most annoying. The script is the same.
A woman is murdered by a man known to her. Or the suspect is a man known to her. The stories that are spewed start justifying the murder on several stereotypes.
She asked for it…
One would think that by 2019 we have got over this. Blaming the woman. But no. All the cases involve blaming a woman for the murder. She is to blame because in one way or the other she provoked the man. He did not have a choice, in other words, he has no self-control. The woman should have known better to avoid whatever annoyed the man enough to cause the murder to happen. She should not have taken any money from the man. I have not seen any indicator that a gun was held to a man’s head for him to remove his wallet. In which world do we justify murder? Not in self-defense but cold murder? In Kenya, it is a thing. Patriarchy has a way of rearing its head to blame the victim and of late it has come to a new low. Many responses are ‘advise to young women’ to keep off men with money. It is very sick that the older person (the man) is excused and the young woman blamed. Many reasons are given to justify why the man murdered the woman.
He was taking care of her financially or took care of her financially …
This has been the most spewed excuse. Somehow there has been this accepted notion that if a man makes any financial contribution to a woman (real or imagined) then he has rights over her liberty, her body-mind, and spirit. He gets the rights to her and if she says no, then he owns her and can take away her life. And many will not bat an eyelid with diverse expressions of this notion. First of all the same human beings that are justifying this will be up in arms if any woman expresses a desire not to have bride price as a ritual for their marriage. I do not share the opinion with many people on bride price with the “it is an expression of appreciation” line and all. I respect those who love the practice for whatever reasons. This is my way of looking at it. The main difference between the so-called “man was taking care of the woman financially” and the current practice of bride price is that in the latter the family of the woman, not the woman herself benefits from the monetary and other material ‘appreciation’. Is it any wonder that many men will feel justified to have a right over the woman’s body, sanity and liberty just because they contributed some materials for her? If contributing finances and materials is enough justification for murdering her if she does not toe the line, there is no reason the same will not be said of bride price. There have been many cases where “but I paid bride price” is used. So much for an “appreciation gesture.” That is very clear in my head. That does not mean it should be or it is justified in any way. It just means that there are many misusing the different practices to further subdue women. I recall we were having lunch with some group of women and men and a discussion on gender came up. I expressed my shock when waiters give back the balance to the man even when the woman had paid the bill. One man who had been expressing how gender sensitive he is and how he practices it in his home and workplace said “it is surprising that nowadays we have men who allow women to pay bills. In our days we would mobilize as the man at the table and pay the bills.” He could not see his contradiction. Well, there would be others like him who will not hesitate to say a woman should not pay a bill but will go ahead and call the same woman a ‘gold digger.’
I have seen many comments online that imply that if a woman has received materials from the man then it opens door to the possibility of violence. This makes it very warped up thinking in a society where the exchange of gifts (like bride price) is sanctioned and treated with high regard. It is the double standards that support one thing and at the same time uses the same to blame the victim.
Back to the financial aspect brought up in these murder cases; it implies that any money that one gives must be paid back by having the person on the receiving end having no say over her life. Since I started working, I have used the money, my hard earned money on many people. I contributed to the education of several children within and outside of my family. Do I have a say over their lives because of this? Absolutely not. I cannot even ask them to be my house worker or nanny during their holidays. I do not own them! They do not owe me. In fact, some of them are no longer in touch. There was no time that anyone put a gun over my head to remove a shilling from my pocket. If I take out my wallet and pay for a bill, pay school fees or medical bills it is well and good. There is no way that translates to ownership over other people’s lives. On the other hand, in such cases, this would be a mutual relationship where each person is having a benefit of whatever they get from the relationship. It is insane to equate material and financial support to rights over someone’s life. It is a gross violation. On the other hand, none of us know the nitty gritty of the relationships and the dead person cannot give their side of the story. For all we know, the stories are fake. But the tellers of the stories know how to get sympathy. I am tired of living in a community that thinks “I gave her money, she did not pay back in kind, and she dies” is a logical statement.
Women are luring men …
This has been said over and over for ages it is even annoying to try and engage with it. I do not know the world where there is a category of human beings that are lesser than or equal to animals; they cannot control themselves and somehow another of the same species have the power to. The double standards are so rampant. One of the owners of this world is that even if the woman is about 20 years younger than the man, she holds more responsibility for her actions!
Boundaries and saying no is something I learned when I was a teenager but it seems many skipped that class.
Lastly, while I feel exhausted emotionally and physically, I am encouraged by the category of women and men I see on social media who are condemning these kinds of attitudes with the kind of terse language they all deserve. The horrible attitudes seem to dominate, maybe because it is shocking to imagine there are some human beings with that kind of reasoning, but I take encouragement from knowing there is the category that is on the humanity path. Maybe there is some hope in humanity. Maybe a few of us can keep at it, keep pushing even when it is so very hard. There are many good-willed Kenyans and the world condemning these heinous acts. With all understanding, there is a lot of “supposing she is your sister or daughter”. The personal is political so it is a bit easier to put things into perspective when we empathize or own it. However let us remember that a woman does not have to be A SISTER, A MOTHER… FOR HER TO HAVE RIGHTS. SHE IS A HUMAN BEING. FULL STOP.
Let us say NO to violence because she is a HUMAN BEING. Let us get tired of these pretense and misogynistic tendencies.