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We look for balance in our lives everyday. Most of the decisions we make will have us consciously or subconsciously make a decision with the aim of finding the right balance. Do we increase the interest rates to now encourage savings and curb the inflation? Or should I work or watch netflix? That might depend on whether I have put in too many hours at work already and really need some down time. It’s all a balancing act. Every day in pursuit of that sweet spot! Have you found the right balance?
I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit this year. What I love about travelling is meeting new people and especially realising that what you believed to be the truth is not necessarily universal. This of-course presents some challenges but there is a richness that a diversity of ideas brings to the table. This year I have also had the fortunate pleasure of being part of a group that works to address an imbalance – specifically gender disparities in Malawi. EmGender is an organisation that works in the area of advocacy to raise issues on gender disparity and through its blog brings to light the everyday day struggles women face due to an imbalance in power dynamics. Their work highlights challenges that are a plight for women in Malawi but am sure a burden borne by women worldwide. EmGender’s work also speaks into a space that so many African women wrestle with – take for instance the blog by tendayigrowsthings titled “A successful woman is her own man” which examines this imbalance of expectations and the rigidity in the role assigned to the sexes based on society’s gender mapping. I too have documented extensively in my blog, adevelopinghuman, of my experience of working and living in patriarchal societies. Challenging this as a status-quo is a value I hold very dear to my heart.
Before this year, I had a very narrow view of the divergent challenges that are present in a patriarchal society. I always thought the challenges were because of hierarchy placed between sexes. With abuse of power and institutional biases seeing the woman undervalued in the workplace and in the household . I am now asking whether the cultural practices as we know them now, if not abused, would actually serve a purpose? Also, and more importantly, to what degree women have a part to play in reinforcing the imbalances that place women at a disadvantage.
I use Malawi and Nigeria to explore the benefits which can be seen when gender roles are defined by culture but also explore how these very practices when abused (by men and women equally) mainly serve to undermine women.
In Malawi (specifically amongst the northern ethnic group called the Tumbuka), when a bride/wife is referring to her husband she says Mfumu wane which translates into “My King” with the marriage taking a pseudo-monarchy structure. Such that, for example, when the couple attend engagement parties, family gatherings, funerals etc, this can be observed when the woman will tend to the needs of her husband making sure he has food brought to him, has a comfortable place to sit/sleep etc. I would go so far as to say that in this setting, her primary responsibility is her husband and not her male relatives. He is her king!
This also plays out in how the couple makes decisions, what the couple have decided is the final decision. My husband and I have decided pretty much brings the issue at hand to a close. The “monarchy” brings about an expectation of sovereignty.
Additionally, how the husband or wife interacts with his/her in-laws is also very much governed by this understanding with one spouse playing the role of mediator between their spouse and their family. On account of the emphasis the northern culture places on the sovereignty of a couple, the relationship between in-laws is often times very distant. My mum once explained to me that because of the fragility of the in-law relationship it is by design that communication is kept distant to avoid conflict and that any maturity in said relationship is kept organic.
What could go wrong? This reads like a foolproof plan, in place to protect the sanctity the marriage, or is it?
What is evident here is the absence of the queen and the undefined role of the King. When referring to the queen, she is mfumu kazi – Female king. The language has not been extended to have a word for a queen. She is a mere derivative of her husband. Her role is very clearly defined but if you drill down to the details her function is to ensure that her king is supported. The lack of acknowledgement in the vocabulary and the stiff enforcement by society that she adheres to her role often sees the value of the woman undermined.
This asymmetry can also be seen in how loosely defined the mfumu’s duties are. Aside from the provision of funds it’s a struggle to think of what is expected of the King. What else should society expect from the king? I would argue that the lack of clear , more defined exception of what is expected from the King leads to men not being held accountable for anything other than provision of a pay-check. Is having just the one indicator for success a true measure of their worth?
I recently went to Nigeria and got to meet a lot of my in-laws. In the west-African heat , wrapped in fine cotton traditional garments I became acquainted with the reality of “Our Wife”.
I had previously stumbled on this concept when we had just gotten married and we went to visit my husband’s uncles. They would give me some money and mentioned that I was “their wife”, its a tradition amongst their clan as a “welcome to the family”. I felt really welcomed and loved. My in-laws talked to me freely and celebrated my marriage very openly. This was a stark contrast to the relationship my husband had with my family, as newlyweds my mum kept her distance for reasons mentioned earlier. There have been times, I wish we could speed-up “the getting to know you process” but I respect her position and this is a practice that is familiar to me.
So at this recent family gathering, everyone called me “our wife”. I walked in blindly unaware of what this meant in this cultural context. It came with its demands and the most obvious contrast with my culture was that instead of me being a queen to my husband , It felt like I was accountable to all my in -laws. I was everyone’s wife! On one hand I am able to talk freely with everyone but it also carries with it the burden of serving too many masters.
As a new member of the family I can call on any of my husband’s family but on the other hand there are issues that I am only really comfortable discussing with my husband alone. How does one find the balance? Unlike the Malawian culture, here the tension comes when as a new member one feels overwhelmed and unprepared. How do you strike a balance between being respectful (we all want to get along, right?) and communicating a position that is in opposition to the “norm”
What do women want?
In both Malawi and Nigeria I have observed that women play a part in reinforcing these gender roles in the family. It is often the case in Malawi where women will sit down with a young bride to tell her of her role to meet the demands of her “King”. Independence can sometimes be seen as a defiance of culture with women the first to point out how being different will not get you married – see Emgender blogs* – Women can sometimes be made to feel like it is a privilege that their “King” picked them for marriage , a by-product is the lack of acknowledgement of love-less or hurtful marriages. After-all he is a good provider.
Equally, during my short experience in Nigeria, I met with female allies who treated me like family but just as strongly there was a push from some for me to carry out my gender roles and at times go above and beyond what I found to be stretching.
As a cross cultural couple, my husband and I are constantly working to find our sweet spot and often realise that not only is this a moving target but the tensions to adhere to our roles is compounded .We have often reverted to doing what is right for us and trying to strike a balance between what we need as a couple and how we can still interact with our cultures in a truthful way. A pressing question for us is how do we do this respectfully? Respect our union and also those around? When we have children, how will we raise our daughter to value herself for who she is and not what her multi-culture heritage defines her worth? As for our son, how can we raise him to treat women as the queens that we are?
Either as his invisible queen or as she negotiates the pressure of being “their wife”, her role is pivotal in acting as a change agent or a reinforce(r) of practices that can sometimes undermine her value.
I strongly believe that cultural practices were and still can provide a framework and guide to navigate through the myriad of expectations. I also believe when we were all of the same ethnic group, with limited migration (pre-visas) and the gender roles were rigid (hunters , gathers and child bearers) then cutting across gender lines served a function and arguably was needed for survival. With the complexity of the world today , migration of people , the evolving role of women and as a consequence the changing demands placed on the man can we still afford to say “Its our culture and that’s how we have always done it”?
Season’s Greetings dear EmGender Family and Friends!
I hope that you are staying safe during the festive season. I have managed to find a minute to reflect upon how fast the year has zipped by. Which naturally led to thinking about the coming year and what I hope to achieve with EmGender in 2016.
I have before me the piece of paper where I jotted down the notes that led to EmGender, it is a quick sketch that outlines the bare bones of my hopes, dreams and ideas for this organisation:
goals – catalyse interdisciplinary collaborative research and to provide information, case studies and resources to help researchers; to act as a springboard for grant applications and joint scholarship; to encourage, create and maintain researcher profiles: a database of gender justice researchers and their specialities; fostering real collaboration and collegiality; creating a space for feminist voices/research/writing/thinking/discussion; AND to work towards gender justice in Malawi.
That was September 2014. The very next day I set up this website, followed rapidly by the Facebook and Twitter accounts and I sent out an invitation for people to set up their membership profiles. over the past year and four months, EmGender has taken on a life of its own in some ways. Whilst in many other ways it remains closely tied to the original vision that I wrote on a piece of paper.
Here are some highlights of 2015:
It was a really important for me to ensure that EmGender was deliberately branded, that the logo made a strong statement about the organisation and its values. Enter the magician Joe Ruzvidzo and the development of the official logo. “At the centerpiece of our logo is an Adinkra Symbol of West Africa “BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO” which means help me and let me help you, and symbolises cooperation and interdependence. Through our logo we express the founding principles of this research network – connection, cooperation and interdependence.”
The work of EmGender members
I have been most surprised and gratified by the level of engagement from young Malawian feminists and activists. They have taken the baton and run faster and further with it than I had ever dared to hope. It is this energy that has shaped some of the work EmGender did this year. Members have written blog posts on a variety of subjects (how menstruation matters; maternal health; natural disasters and GBV; normalisation of violence in relationships; and, “Trophy” wives and the objectification of women). EmGender members (aka The Gender Justice League!) have taken up gender justice issues in new and creative ways both on and off-line. It was a member who brought our attention to the Norwegian Development Fund advertisement that only called for single women to apply for an internship – she wrote to the organisation to question the criteria and her concern led to our Open Letter, the organisation’s response and adjustment of the advert and even on-line news coverage of the issue. This was a group effort that developed with the collaboration and the input of all the members, it gave us an opportunity to think through what issues are important to EmGender. And furthermore, what actions we can and are able to take on through our collaboration.
A sister organisation!
Other work that has happened this year is the birth of UgGender – The Uganda Gender Justice Research Network; a sister organisation in Kampala. I had the great fortune to attend their first event – a film and discourse session hosted at Cavendish University. Keep a lookout for their on-line presence in 2016!
Surveys and social networking
I originally believed that the web page would be the lifeblood of EmGender – which is essentially organised as a digital organisation. This hasn’t been true for 2015. The (members only) WhatsApp group, the FB page and the twitter account have provided a platform for multi-faceted engagement. The mobile messaging app has allowed for a high degree of connectivity between members, whilst the social networking sites have allowed for broad access and input beyond the members. EmGender now has almost two thousand followers across the social networks. People often comment on and react to the posts that are made. It is also the primary means that we have utilised for sharing opportunities/calls for papers/jobs/scholarships etc. The social network has also been extremely important for gathering data – over the year there have been surveys on #revengeporn, the Maputo Protocol and #GBV. The revenge porn results will contribute to a paper on the issue; the survey on the protocol have been incorporated into a chapter on Malawi for the Pretoria University Law Press publication: The Impact of the African Charter and the Women’s Rights Protocol in Selected African States. The results from the GBV survey were published on-line during the #16DaysofActivismAgainstGBV. The poignant and often painful contributions from those who took the time to share their truths provided a deeply personal context for the #16days campaign.
Whoo 2015 has been a busy year! It has been engaging and enlightening; a steep learning curve for me and a resounding affirmation that EmGender matters. Thank you to each and every one of you who participated in this journey – EmGender could easily fall into the trap of simply being an ephemeral internet bit of fluff, the only way that it remains real and relevant is through the contributions of the members, the readers, the followers and the friends. Basically YOU.
So, what next for 2016? Lets dream BIG…
Around this time in 2014, I listed a bunch of goals for 2015. Some of those are still a work in progress including registration, research, funding and re-imagining membership.
All the legalities…
It is certainly time that the legal stuff got sorted out. So at some point in 2016 we need to get the registration sorted out. This is no simple undertaking – it requires deep, strategic, and forward thinking. How do we build an organisation that lasts and grows, something that lives longer (and larger) than its founder? How do we divorce an organisation from the personalities that created it and make sure that its ownership is deeply rooted so that it can branch out but stay strong, bend with the times but not break…. See my plight?
The research output
This year has been about growing in numbers and establishing a voice. Now we need to put our minds to research – both the development of evidence based research as well as the collection and curating of resources for researchers. In this effort I am guided by this saying: “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” We need to tell our gender justice story in our own voices.
Well at some point we are going to have to generate money, sustainability demands it and so does growth. the key will be to find the balance between financial strings, independence and integrity. EmGender is not about making money, it is about fostering connections. But some of the activities to enhance the research and networking objectives will need to be bankrolled. So let’s dream big!
Time to wrap this up (I have kept going for waaaay longer than I intended when I sat down at the computer)! As always I want to end with a reiteration of my gratitude for your support and to wish you all the very best for the new year. The biggest dream of all is that we create and live in a more just Malawi!
peace & love,
Natural Disasters: An avenue for increased violence against women and girls. #16daysOfactivism #GBV #VAW #NaturalDisastersandGBV
Mr. Ajay Madiwale of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies delegation speaking at the 57th session of the commission on the status of women on 11th March 2013 in New York said, and I quote,
“While we have paid needed attention to violence in armed conflict, and must continue to do so, the same focus has been lacking in situations of natural disasters. Every year, natural disasters disrupt the lives of more than 200 million people, the majority of them women and girls. Among the often hidden impacts of disaster, is the devastation caused by the gender-based violence that often follows. The evidence shows that in disaster after disaster, violence increases, including domestic and sexual violence. This violence occurs in camps, in shelters, in homes, and on the streets. The effect of such violence is not limited to the devastating physical and mental impact on its victims. Instead, this violence also has social and economic repercussions for individuals, families and the entire affected community. It is not an issue we can afford to overlook. As we face the increasing frequency and intensity of disasters, we need to simultaneously scale up our efforts to prevent violence.”
These are sentiments I share wholly. Earlier this year, on a humanitarian quest and as co-founder of Each 1-Reach 1 a flood relief mobilization campaign, I found myself somewhere down in Chikwawa at one of the camps where the 2015 flood victims sought refuge. Tidzola II Camp, home to about 246 displaced households many of them; women and girls. I couldn’t help by ask myself, what experiences these women and girls go through? Are they not abused in any way? It was a relief to find out that the UN and many various organizations had taken a number of steps towards the elimination of gender based violence (GBV) among the flood victims. We visited one of the tents that was said to be ‘a safe space’ where the women and girls would take time off from the group and enjoy some recreational activities. One of the chiefs we spoke to also assured us that some general sensitization activities were conducted to reduce cases of violence.
Though I did not hear first-hand of any cases of GBV the UN reported one such case (http://www.mw.one.un.org/un-responds-to-gender-based-violence-gbv-in-flood-affected-districts/). They tell a story of Mary, a mother of 11, who was severely beaten by her husband. She is a 3rd wife to her husband, who has several other wives and is currently living with his 7th wife. According to Mary, she was invited by a friend who has a house near Jombo camp to go and eat some food. They were four women eating together but soon after the meal, her husband who was not living with her in the camp suddenly appeared with a knife in his hand and started beating her severely. He accused her of having affairs and sleeping around in the camp. Mary’s screams for help were heard in the camp by a group of young men who were playing football at a nearby school ground. They apprehended her husband but before they could take him away from Mary, he forcefully bashed his head against Mary’s forehead and this caused a very deep cut on her forehead. Mary’s husband was arrested by the Camp Police and taken to the Chikwawa District Police Station where he was kept on remand overnight. Mary was taken to Montfort Catholic Private Hospital where she failed to pay MK 4, 500 ($10) to have her wound sutured and she was only given some pain killers and kept overnight. In the morning she was referred to the Project Hunger Clinic where she received free treatment and was discharged. Mary was later met by the UNFPA gender based violence Coordinator in the camp for counselling and support. By then, her husband had been released because Mary had decided not to press charges. She explained that she made this decision because she is afraid that if he goes to prison he may kill her when he is released.
Ahem!!!!! Your reaction is the same as mine!!
‘Global warming,’ ‘climate change’ and ‘natural disaster’ are ‘terms’ we throw around every day. It is important to take a step forward and realize that the effects of global warming and climate change have increased in frequency and intensity and the effects through various natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods etc. do indeed increase vulnerabilities and give way to increased risks of GBV.
As we commemorate International Day for the elimination of violence against women and girls the need to protect women and girls in situations of natural disaster cannot be overemphasized. The UN and many other organizations should be acclaimed for the job well done in reducing GBV risks and incidents in the camps during the 2015 floods. However, this is something that calls for collective action; WE MUST JOIN HANDS IN COMMITTING TO IDENTIFY, MITIGATE, REDUCE AND EVENTUALLY TERMINATE THE RISK OF ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS IN SITUATIONS OF NATURAL DISASTER.
“Decision-makers in government and in humanitarian organizations, as well as donors, need to commit the necessary financial and human resources to prevent and respond to violence in disasters. Working in partnerships, we can draw on community strengths and capacities, including the engagement of men and boys, to identify, mitigate, and reduce the risk of violence. All actors in a disaster response have a role to play in addressing the problem, and by adopting an evidence-based public health approach, we can monitor, prevent and respond to violence in natural disasters.” –Mr. Ajay Madiwale.
#16daysOfactivism #GBV #VAW #NaturalDisastersandGBV
The Malawi Gender Justice Research Network (EmGender) is a collaborative research network of individuals and institutions who share the goal of realising a more gender just Malawi. EmGENDER applauds the work that your organisation (and many other development partners) are undertaking towards improving gender equality in Malawi generally; and, in particular your efforts to increase the number of women in leadership and decision-making positions in Malawi. These efforts are precisely the type of engagement that our members value and appreciate. As such, when you create openings for young women to take on leadership roles in Malawi, this matters to us and we take note.
When your recent advert inviting young women to take part in a leadership internship was published, our members were united in their desire to publicise the opportunity to as many deserving candidates as possible. Notably, one of EmGender’s core endeavours is to share knowledge of opportunities and vacancies, particularly those that seek to enhance the possibilities for young women to rewrite the gender narrative in Malawi. As you are aware, Malawian women face many challenges when attempting to reach their full potential. Many girls are married and have children at a tender age. Thankfully, we have a Government that is working hard to change the cultural, social, political and economic structures that perpetuate yawning gender disparities. One particular example is the body of gender justice laws that have been enacted over the past decade – the most recent of which addresses that very concern of child marriages. We have a Constitutional Bill of Rights that prohibits discrimination; and an Employment Act that echoes this commitment to equity in the workforce. All of these are values that your institution, your government and your Norwegian constituents strongly support and espouse. We know that as a country Norway values gender equality as well as child protection.
Imagine then our dismay when we read the requirements listed for those women who would seek to step forward, apply and take part in your leadership programme: “Applicants should be single young women…” Hoping that this statement was merely the result of an oversight or unfortunate wording, one of our members emailed to inquire as to the veracity and reasoning behind the request and requirement that applicants be “single.” The probe was met with a confirmation that the internship was meant only for those young women who are not burdened with the time-consuming factors of a husband and or children, since past experiences with such interns had proved that these women were often distracted by their familial responsibilities.
We must consider the impact that such a statement and such a stance might have on the young Malawian woman who not only has accomplished the fierce task of attaining a tertiary education BUT has also taken on the Constitutionally protected (and deeply gendered) role of being a spouse and/or a parent. If we were to step into her shoes for a moment and imagine her reaction to an advert that ostensibly denounces everything she has achieved and punishes her for also taking on the socially expected role of caretaker/homemaker… Are we to understand that the young woman who is not “single” cannot become a leader? That a young mother has no meaningful role to play in the advancement of Malawian society? That caring for an ailing child or spouse is not a valid reason to be called away from an internship? The request, and the reasoning behind it, exudes a lack of nuanced understanding of gender roles in society. Incidentally even a “single” young woman could find herself in a place where she has to care for family members.
That single word (pun intended) flies in the face of everything that Malawians strive to achieve –
- the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi prohibits discrimination in any form (s.20(1)) and further stipulates that women have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their gender or marital status; discrimination in work affairs is explicitly prohibited (s.24); the Constitutional principles of national policy call upon the State to progressively achieve gender equality (s.13(a)) and to protect the family as a fundamental and vital social unit (s.13(i)); the Constitution also protects the rights of all persons to freely engage in economic activities (s.29), to develop (s.30), and to fair labour practices (s.31);
- The Employment Act spells out and gives life to the Constitutional principles, s.5 provides that: “No person shall discriminate against any … prospective employee on the grounds of … marital or other status or family responsibilities in respect of recruitment, training, promotion, terms and conditions of employment, termination of employment or other matters arising out of the employment relationship.”
- The Gender Equality Act (2013) categorically prohibits sex discrimination (s.4) and further underlines the principle that every person has the right to access training (s.14).
According to these many protections that Malawians have put into law, we are a nation that believes in the capacity of all young women (including those who are wives and/or mothers) to become leaders. Those young women who have the added responsibility of caring for their families have already demonstrated that they are leaders and they should be celebrated for showing other young people that being a spouse or a parent does not prevent anyone from being a leader. Your organisation is surely aware of the social realities of your applicant pool and ought to understand that limiting such opportunities to so-called “single” women is discriminatory. Furthermore, such a limitation is unconstitutional, objectionable and untenable in this (or any) open and democratic society.
Accordingly, EmGender calls upon you to revise the conditions of this call for applicants and open the internship opportunity to young degree-holding women, irrespective of their marital, familial or other status. Women around the globe continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace and still shoulder responsibility for most unpaid care work. As partners in the quest to advance gender justice and gender equality in Malawi, we ALL need to change the narrative that presents the “best” employee as the male stereotype of the person who comes in at 6am and leaves at 10pm. Our goal should be creating an enabling environment for all Malawians to take part equally (and with equal respect and recognition) in the workplace and in the home. We must work together to break down the barriers to full and equal participation of women in the workforce. Internationally, regionally and nationally we have acknowledged that family responsibilities shall not exclude any person from entering and remaining in the workforce. The Malawi we all want is the one where persons with family responsibilities who are employed or wish to be employed, can exercise their right to do so without being subjected to discrimination and, as far as possible, without conflict between their employment and family responsibilities.
EmGENDER is conducting research on non-consensual pornography (the phenomenon widely known as revenge porn) in Malawi. The results will be used to inform a larger research, support and advocacy effort on the issue. Please take the time to answer a few short questions:
- click on this link to take part —> #RevengePorn in Malawi
- or copy and paste this url —> https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SNH253R
Share the link as widely as possible, the survey is completely anonymous (not even IP addresses are collected/stored)
The term “revenge porn,” though frequently used, is somewhat misleading. Many perpetrators are not motivated by revenge or by any personal feelings toward the victim. A more accurate term is nonconsensual pornography, defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. This includes both images originally obtained without consent (e.g. by using hidden cameras, hacking phones, or recording sexual assaults) as well as images consensually obtained within the context of an intimate relationship.
Nonconsensual pornography transforms unwilling individuals into sexual entertainment for strangers. A vengeful ex-partner or opportunistic hacker can upload an explicit image of a victim to a website where thousands of people can view it and hundreds of other websites can share it. In a matter of days, that image can dominate the first several pages of “hits” on the victim’s name in a search engine, as well as being emailed or otherwise exhibited to the victim’s family, employers, co-workers, and peers. (For more information see the FAQ section of End Revenge Porn these were written by Mary Anne Franks, Director of Legislative & Tech Policy and Vice-President of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative; Associate Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law. Contact the author at email@example.com. )
We are very excited to introduce the EmGENDER logo! The insanely talented Joe Ruzvidzo has worked with us to translate our vision for EmGENDER into a unique visual statement. The result is an elegant logo that captures the essence, energy and import of EmGENDER.
At the centerpiece of our logo is an Adinkra Symbol of West Africa “BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO” which means help me and let me help you, and symbolises cooperation and interdependence. Through our logo we express the founding principles of this research network – connection, cooperation and interdependence. The logo is part of an ongoing process of developing and establishing the network’s brand.
When designing the logo the key focus was on finding the best way to visually describe the networking framework that EmGENDER seeks to introduce: providing real support to individuals and civil society organisations working on gender justice and gender equality in Malawi – through access to resources, exposure, networking, publishing opportunities, providing a platform to get access to grants, and through strengthening the gender justice research community. Our aim is to enhance the community, capacity and professionalism of those working on gender justice and gender equality in Malawi. EmGENDER also seeks to nourish, encourage and offer a safe space for a new generation of gender activists in Malawi to voice their experiences of gender in Malawi.
EmGENDER is young, and our logo is a strong step towards introducing and establishing this nascent endeavour. Ultimately our logo speaks to our intent: working together towards a more just and more equal Malawi.
We invite you to join this incredible journey.
Set One. From the Archives: The Colonial “Beholder”
This is the first installation of an online exhibition, a visual her-story of Malawi as captured through the lenses of various people at various times. There is something so powerful and moving about each of these images. Often it isn’t about the picture itself, but what/who it represents. There is also the omnipresent Beholder. The photographer, this voyeuristic recorder of history sneaking furtive glances at the forbidden, the erotic, the sensational and the sordid. Each image demands attention and reflection: who is “the beholder”? what does the image say? Who is she? What is her story?
When I hear feminists talk about the objectification of women, what comes to my mind are the images in the magazines, movies, adverts and the Internet, of women in tiny outfits for the pleasure of men. However sexual objectification, although a problem worth recognition, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Objectification: we can define this word as seeing and or treating a person, usually a woman as an object. Cambridge Dictionary goes further to define this as treating people like tools or toys, as if they had no feelings, opinions, or rights of their own.
“In everyday conversation, male pronouns dominate our speech and ideas. Every dog we see is a ‘he’, humans thought of as simply ‘mankind’. There are exceptions, though. Boats, cars, bikes and ships always seem to be ‘she’, but this is hardly exciting once we realise that they are all objects, and possessions of (usually) men, at that.”- Huffing Post
Society continues to reduce the value of a woman. This highlighted further when you are a woman born in a developing country. In some societies we see the possession of more than one wife as a sign of wealth, this can be equated to having more than one car parked in the garage.
One time I had the privilege of sitting and listening to a group of guys in their thirties giving each other advice on how to find the perfect wife. After several ideas being thrown around, one married guy finally spoke up
Pempho: Don’t listen to these guys, I am married. Do you know what you need to do to find that perfect girl?
Pempho: Date more than one woman at the same time aise! You test things out where the grass is greener you migrate there.
This was a new thing for me to hear, I honestly thought I had heard it all. An array of thoughts went bouncing into my head as I thought of what kind of man is capable of this, stringing two unknowing women along for his amusement and judgement.
Then I realised he is not to blame; he has grown up in an environment where women were nothing more toys. I realised this is probably a man who was raised to believe that men are exempted from all moral misconduct. His confidence in his statement confirmed that he was justified.
Out of curiosity I asked Pempho if this would also apply to me, if say I wanted to find the perfect husband.
Paul: Ah iweyo uzangodikila mamuna azakupeze, koma mmene umapangila makani udzadikila nthawi yayitali. [No, you just need to wait for the right man to find you. But the way you are so adamant you will have a long wait.]
One time I had a similar conversation with my male colleagues, we were debating on why cheating has become a norm among men.
“Men are men you just need to accept that at some point we all cheat. Iweyo uzingodziwa kuphika ndikukhonza pakhomo, ukavitika ndi kumulonda londa mamuna sudzakwatila ndithu”… [all you need to be concerned about is cooking and cleaning, if you keep trying to keep tabs on your man you will never get married.]
The statement “Men are men” is thrown around a lot, even by women. If your husband cheats on you, “he is just being a man, forgive him, as long as at the end of the day he is yours. Just make sure you create a good enough environment for him at home so he doesn’t stray. Maybe try nagging less”
I am appalled by the way we have imprinted this uniform image in our heads about how women should be. Objectification scares me, with the current mind sets most have it’s no surprise HIV/AIDS spread so prevalently, I have heard one too many stories about women who died because their husbands brought home HIV. It’s this type of justified thinking that has claimed the lives of many innocent women and continues to do so.
Objectification is used to dehumanize people; the same way it is used in wars to make it easier to kill it can be placed in our households. The more we dehumanize people the easier it is for us to oppose them, here the “objectifier” has the potential to treat you unfairly or in most common African households violently. Even in situations where a man has been violent towards a woman we hear such statements as “Oh, he must have been provoked to have done that,” “He was a nice man who just snapped,” “He must have been confused by her signals”.
One of the worst fears I have is that I will have my daughters grow up brainwashed to believe their worth is determined by a man’s view of them. They say “today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity.” I do not want my children to grow up in a world where beauty and adequacy has such a shallow definition.
I have grown up hearing statements of disapproval come in the form of “ndesimukakwanitsa kubanjatu” (you will not survive when you are married) “nde amuna anu mukawasunga bwanji” (how will you keep your husband). I am lucky that I know I am more. I know I am not just “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister,” I am a woman and I am “somebody” with more to offer the world than what is external.
“We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gender have not evolved…The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. “- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“People who have no respect for the life around them earn no respect themselves. If you devalue people, there is not much value to your own character, despite how many good deeds you’ve done.”- anonymous
WATER & GENDER IN URBAN MALAWI
The #MalawiFloods have highlighted and exacerbated the ongoing challenges posed by ensuring sustainable access to water and sanitation in Malawi. After the floods the situation is even worse. Water and electricity connectivity is intermittent and unreliable. Whilst the worst hit areas have been declared disaster zones and have attracted international and national attention, the impact of the floods reverberates across Malawi. Before the floods people in the urban centres were struggling with water shortages. The Lilongwe and Blantyre Water Boards constantly failed to meet their customer demands and consumers spent days on end with dry taps. Whilst internationally funded and fundamental water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects target water crises in the rural area, the water crisis in the urban areas has steadily worsened.
How much time do women in the urban areas spend thinking about water?
Who is responsible for ensuring that there are buckets under the taps and a plug in the tub for when the water should start? How do women organise their lives to make sure that enough water is collected and that the water that is collected is made to last till the water board comes through?How often do women avoid using the bathroom even if they need to? Forgo the bath they are longing to have? Pass up on a glass of much needed hydration – all for the sake of ensuring that there is enough water to go around?
Women in Malawi experience time poverty due to inadequate urban services.
Throughout Africa women and girls are the main providers of household water supply and sanitation, and have the primary responsibility for maintaining a clean home environment. The lack of access to safe water and sanitation facilities therefore affects women and girls most acutely. (UNICEF). In urban areas, “[w]omen and girls typically take responsibility for fetching water when supply is poor, just like they do in rural areas, and this can take hours out of their day, reducing time for education, employment, childcare and rest. A lack of separate-sex toilet facilities in schools can cause girls to miss class or drop out of school in adolescence. These same processes take place in rural areas, except in urban informal settlements women are exposed to an extremely violent social environment with even fewer safe ablution facilities or amenities per head.” (CDKN Global).
Access to water is gendered, that is true for the entire country and for women living in a range of economic realities. You can be a lawyer in the city or a woman eking out a living in the village, the impact of water challenges will still rest heavier upon your shoulders than upon those of the men around you. So what now? What next? While the international donors are digging boreholes and well-ventilated pit-latrines kumudzi how are the town mice coping with the poor service-provision? This is not merely an issue of consumer rights, it is a HUMAN rights issue and more so, it is an issue of gender equality.
CALL FOR GUEST POSTS
EmGENDER is working on compiling a comprehensive analysis of strengths and challenges in WASH for women within URBAN Malawi. “Development planners often see water as a ‘technical issue’, and the social, cultural and gender relations that surround water are overlooked. This affects public health, family welfare and the rights of women. The world currently faces a range of crises with environmental, economic, political and health-related dimensions, making water a key issue for all development researchers and workers. A gender perspective is essential. The mismatch between women as primary water-users and men as household, community and development decision-makers needs to be challenged and changed to realise the right to water for all, including the poorest and most marginalised. ” (http://www.genderanddevelopment.org/). Guest posts are invited that question a range of issues on water and gender in urban areas.
Posts should be at least 200 words and no more than 1000 words; however, submissions longer than this can be turned into a series. Make sure your posts are easy to skim (perhaps by adding headings and bullet points), are in your own words, and are factually correct. Photos, graphs, and charts are encouraged, but be sure to credit any sources that aren’t your own. After submitting to the email address listed below, posts will be subject to light proofreading before publication.
For submissions or more information, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org