Saturday, March 23, 2013
Years ago when I heard the word ‘woman’, my head gets filled with mental images of someone saddled with the weight of the world, doing endless chores and still not being appreciated and for a long time I thought that was ok, that is how it ought to be.
As I grew in both age and self-realisation, I realised that the woman was a far cry from those stereotypes, and I began to see her as a being equal to her male counterpart.
Most religions and cultures across Africa depict the ‘woman’ as the weaker one and the ‘home maker’, who should not be seen or heard. Many people have grown up with such beliefs and therefore view women who challenge and defy the norm as deviants – westernised rebels. In some cases, this engenders violence against them if only to force a change of attitude but also to deter others from following in their footsteps.
Society has made adequate room for the man to excel: HIStory, HEro, etc. But I feel and believe that the time is right to try HERstory? And what should an ordinary woman who has achieved extraordinary feats be referred to? Why don’t we try Shero? It is time to shift and even rattle the status quo. Women deserve their stake and rightful place in our society.
During one of the "You And I Teach Each Other (UNITE)" program sessions that I co-facilitated, about 30 students who participated talked about Man vs Woman. When asked what comes to their mind when they hear the word Man, a lot of them answered: father, strong, bully, doctor, discipline, God, carpenter, strong-willed etc. However when asked what comes to their mind when they hear the word Woman, they responded: care-giver, cleaner, nurse, mother, teacher, hairdresser, emotional, weak, loving etc.
In comparing Man to God, it was as if they were asserting that any being that is intelligent and strong and has the power to create something as vast as the universe must be Manlike; and conceding that a woman could not have such attributes. Ms Erica Licht (Facilitator) pointed out that it was very possible for both sexes to have these attributes as they were not innately pre-programmed into the bio-physiological makeup of the man or the woman.
Within the UNITE sessions, the word gender was analysed and broken down as a "socially constructed phenomenon", in other words, these are roles that we have learned over time, that have been imbibed in us, that we have been made to role play either through customary traditions, religion or even through ‘formal’ education’. The point is that we accepted these ‘half- truths’ without stopping to ask or think – do I really agree with this role bestowed on me?
It is almost as though the woman is forbidden to rise above defined ‘expectations’ and venturing out of the ‘confinements’ would be regarded as delinquency and she could be seen as a ‘black sheep’. In some ways it is as though, she has become a perpetual mental slave to religious and cultural ideals and a concomitant dread of challenging the norm.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that if we collectively want to put an end to gender- based violence, inequality and discrimination, we must learn and teach others to see the woman as first of all a ‘Human Being’ equal to any other whether male or transgender and not as a slave or weaker being who exist only to do the bidding of her 'master'. By so doing, her place and contribution to modern society can be established. Only then can women be viewed as partners and as equals and as stakeholders in the future of our world.
I feel like a hypocrite, standing in front of this signpost that reads: 'Welcome To The Mobee Royal Family, Original Slave Relics...'. Was it appropriate for me to smile for the camera, with full knowledge of the pains and dark memories (the documented and undocumented ones) this place holds? Was I happy because I thought of myself as a free being - not born in the slave trade era, thanking God for the 'freedom' I now enjoy?
Indeed, centuries ago, our ancestors - great men and women were forcefully removed from their homes, sold without their consent, shackled, subjected to the most inhumane treatment and were made to march in chain gangs across fields they once ploughed; to the shores of the sea they once fished in; where great ships awaited them, ready to take them to a new and unknown place, a place where they will be forced to pledge loyalty to foreign 'gods'. I can only imagine the deep sadness and uncertainty they endured as they looked behind just for one last time at the land they and their children once held dear, their beloved home!
The end of the slave trade that violently raped Africa and the emancipation of black people hold great significance to me as it should to you. However are we truly free? Or do we have delusions of freedom?
Think about it, while we are no longer shackled, bought and sold in the open market, we are still puppets doing the bidding of the unseen highly advanced puppet master.
- Who decides what we should wear to certain occasions, how to wear them?
- Who decides what is trendy and what is not?
- What informs our choices of cars, decorations, religious practices and romance?
- Who dictates being fat is ugly and being skinny is sexy?
If you could be honest and think deeply about these things, you may come to the same conclusion as I have - that these choices have been implanted in our subconscious, deliberately or not, by people whom we look up to, people we model our lives after. We may find ourselves rationalizing our actions by stating that if it’s good for him/her then it must definitely be good for me, if s/he says this is fashionable and acceptable then why not?
This realization may be scary, as Goethe rightly said " none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free," but this is scarier; outright disregard for the rights, freedoms and dignity of citizens, disrespect for the constitution and the rule of law, insensitivity and violence towards vulnerable and at risk populations notably children, women, people living with different forms of disabilities and until we realize how close we are to falling into a new era of slavery and collectively device non-violent means of resolving these differences amicably, we may not have freed ourselves from those shackles that had bound our ancestors.
Today at EWOF, we formally introduced the project, its aims and objectives and announced a timeline for the 12 weeks long programme with the community to the 20 participants.
We started the programme by distributing MTN branded notepads and pens to all participants to enable them take notes from this meeting and subsequent ones.
We also agreed on the Sheros Creed.
Some of the agreements we reached were:
· No late coming;
· Respect for self and others;
· No putting down of self or/and others;
· Volunteering of self;
· Sharing information we are comfortable sharing with each other freely and truthfully.
We then spoke one after the other about community; things that we like about our communities; things we like about ourselves; a woman we admire and one thing we hope to change in our community.
Some of the participants said they would love to put an end to violence against women, teen pregnancy and illiteracy of the girl child, joblessness and indecent dressing of some of the youths, build good roads, schools and a functional healthcare centre in their community if they had the power.
Participants were then given these essay topics to write on and submit at the next group meeting:
I. Violence Against Women
II. Teenage Pregnancy
III. Education of the Girl Child.
The 1 hour 30 minutes session closed with Affirmation of self.
Speaking with some of the young women afterwards, they were very excited about their MTN branded Note Pads and Pens which were generously donated by Mr Sam Arewa Jnr, the Regional Sales Manager for MTN Nigeria and they were anxiously anticipating the end of the 12 weeks programme ceremony where awards will be given out to outstanding young women. They also expressed their gratitude for the clothes and shoes we donated to them.
Facilitators for this session were Vera Edore, Blessing Ashi and I.