Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Our loss! Musings of a Kenyan woman

Due to some technical problems I have not been able to watch Kenya news for a while now. Sometimes this is a good thing, some detox from news. But, I want to know what is happening in my homeland Kenya. I saw a friend post on facebook about matrimonial property, the 50/50 sharing of matrimonial property etc. I was not sure I wanted to find out what was happening but when a non-Kenyan colleague forwarded a BBC News update I knew ignoring is not making it go away. So here I am reading online comments from some of the members of parliament and wondering if it was worth it waking up early and traversing different counties talking about ‘Gains of the proposed constitution’ back in 2010.
recall why I was very keen on the constitution, because I had seen some gains for women and girls in Kenya and wanted to protect that. One of the clauses I liked is 45(3) “Parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of the marriage, during the marriage and at the dissolution of the marriage” among many others. However, day by day I see more efforts to reduce these gains if not removing them. The current members of the legislative body have a very unique role of ensuring that the provisions in the CoK 2010 have been put into laws. Most recent debate saw the proposal to deleting provisions in the Matrimonial Property Bill which wanted spouses to share property equally in case of separation r divorce.
Reading article in the Capital FM online News left me wondering if some of these persons are really living in this world!
>>>“Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Hon Samuel Chepkonga said most of male MPs loved their daughters, and whatever gifts they give the daughters on their wedding day should not be included under matrimonial property”
Hon Chepkonga sir, were you debating for your daughter or against your wife? For your wife is also someone’s daughter, you know! On the other hand, not many daughters’ of women are as lucky as your daughter, some of us need to feed our parents not get property from them at marriage. On the other hand, would you have minded sharing in your wife’s property? Does it mean the sons should also keep their pre-matrimonial property to themselves? So both start at square zero?
>>>>“MPs John Mbadi (Suba) and Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda) opposed the amendment saying “it does not protect their daughters’ welfare in a marriage. “If it were the case of my wife it would be very easy to deal with because I always register property with my wife… I’m protecting my sisters, my daughters, whom I don’t know how her husband will behave”
I am wondering really, aren’t these people hiding behind ‘daughter’ where they mean they don’t want their wives to have equality in marriage??
Hon Gumbo on the other hand claimed that the laws are to protect women and men since some men sit back and not work and hence wait to share in the woman’s property. At the face value it seems he has a very good point, but let us define what is working. I do not know of any women who does not work, maybe there are women who do not work and sit around waiting for husbands to provide. I can give it 1% as guess work. The large percentage of women work, no toil hard! But guess what, they have not a single penny paid to them for the work. They wake up at 5.00 am, prepare breakfast, fetch water, prepare children for school wash clothes, go to the garden,  prepare meals for family fetch fire world and many much more. This is the unpaid labour that more women than men are engaged in. This Kenyan woman will not have any property in her name at the end of the day. Her contribution will remain unseen since nobody measures how water is worth, and healthy children in ‘matrimonial property’. The man will pursue his career and accumulate property since there is someone somewhere who is in the house looking after the citizens of this country. Then what do we call her “housewife”.
Some Kenyan women do work more for a pay...but hold on; how many men have failed in getting a promotion since they could not go to work since the domestic worker took off without notice? Or who cannot go for important conference since they are pregnant and nursing? Guess how far the man will go and accumulate more property in the process.
However, my agitation is not personal, I am in the second category, possible can also get my ‘personal property’ that does not go into matrimonial property; but guess who loses?? My sister in the village whose contribution remains unseen, unaccounted for. Her work is not considered ‘work’ in fact even if you ask her she will say “I do not work”
>>>One Hon Lomenen wondered: “Before you marry, you pay a lot of dowry… so many cows, and after you pay all that, do you again share the remaining property?”
There you go; the thorny bride price question that is very jealously guarded by patriarchy to ensure dominance. Gone is the idea of ‘appreciate’ but to paying for a human being and guarantee some privileges over her. Either way, we lose!!!!

All in all, it more of wait and see to see if the 'contribution' of the spouses will be determined in fair way as the non-monetary contributions are hard to meausre




Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rejoicing in the global Sisterhood

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey 

Last Sunday I had one of those moments that many questions linger and bother. In the process of trying to separate issues I felt down and I was not ready to share with anyone. ‘Unfortunately’ (and very fortunately) a sister of mine started chatting me and I found myself sharing a lot with her. There is something amazing about sisterhood, you know that there is this lady or these ladies whether you share blood relation to or not that you can easily share with and count on their support no matter what. That person who tells you “I am not tired of listening” I feel I am among the lucky women since I have several such sisters! My first experience of sisterhood is in my family, as I grew up. I recall my eldest sister, (RIP dear Jane) and how she ensured I was socialised as a young girl in work and play. While she was a disciplinarian, she also spoilt me especially in the garden where we each had a section to dig. This was one task that made me wish I can go to ‘child labour activists’. I would look at my share and wonder if I could weed or dig it in one year. She ensured that I got the space next to her and several steps ahead she would start digging my space and her space! It was a relief that when I was lagging behind I could suddenly exclaim” my portion of the land has dug itself” and go back to rest.

My mother has given me two more blood sisters; I am blessed to have them and I would not give up for anything in the world. There are many incidences of small gestures that I still recall from my blood sisters and feel very lucky to have them. They are there for me in more ways than I can count! I am also blessed to have several brothers and as a result sisters-in-law. In addition, there are many sisters that my mother did not give birth to, but as I grow up I have met many friends, girls who have ended up being sisters to me in every way. I can recall from childhood, some girls who were there for me, and throughout my teenage and now adult life. When I reflect on sisters that I have met along the way, I lack words to express just how lucky I am to have every one of them. Some of the sisters no longer hold the bond, but they were there for a time, for some season and left a mark in my life! The interesting thing is that if I try to see what I share with them, I won’t find much. It is not age as some are many years older than me or many years younger than me; neither is it tribe, nor religion nor education status, nor... All we share is sisterhood! Those deep love, that is only reserved for sisters and makes us feel safe with each other.

Today I celebrate all my sisters. 
The sisters who have laughed with,
  And tickled me when I was not ready to laugh,
The sisters who have cried with me,
                                           and listened without asking questions. 
Sisters who have celebrated with me, 
And given me a pat on the back even when I didn't think I deserved one, 
Sisters who have listened to me, 
And carried my burden to heart. 
Sisters who have challenged me to reach my full potential, 
and loved me with my imperfections. 
Sisters who have allowed me to say “I have messed again” 
And not judged me. 
Sisters who have supported me in thick and thin, 
And reminded me they are there. 
Sisters who with a smile have used their resources, 
Their time, their money, their emotions, 
And never sent me ‘IOU’ note. 
I dedicate to all my special sisters, 
Who have been in my life at one time or the other, 
I pray I have been a good sister too... 
At least sometimes!
 For the sisters I have spent time with, 
Or just chatted with, For those I have met, 
And for those I have not met physically; 
The sisters that we have shared deep secrets, 
May you be blessed in abundance! 
I celebrate you!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Keep your cool and tame your daughter, she deserved it

Dear Sir and madam, This is to let you know that your daughter Stacy was slapped by a boy in class. Now before you start getting annoyed please listen to these facts. First the boy is also 7 years old, they are kind of the same age. In this case really we cannot say there is bullying or anything. If he had slapped a three year old we would have taken action but now that they are kind of age mates or rather they are in the same class then you see it is not bullying. Secondly, your daughter asked for it. Relax I explain, she has not been behaving like a good girl. First let me define for you what a good girl does. A good girl doesn’t go into the boy’s turf, you see your girl is a ‘kiherehere’. The other day we had an argument in class and instead of her shutting up she was there making her point, in front of the boys imagine! A good girl keeps her cool and just smiles! Yes just smile and be a good girl that’s all. However you Stacy has been doing the opposite. When we ask for a class monitor, she raised her hand! Surely we know that she should not have done that but haa she did; doesn’t she realize that leadership is for the boys? Now if she is in that turf she needs to be tamed lest she grows a big head. On the other hand during the class debate she was seen to be assertive, you see aggressiveness is for boys so instead of being humble she kept insisting to be heard. You need to tame her. On this last incidence I am just writing to explain since I understand she has complained about it; doesn’t she know she deserved it? I am not sure what caused this but I can guess she deserved. She must have done something to annoy this boy who is the head of the class. How could she do this? Oh and the boy says he doesn’t remember, and I believe him, how can he remember such a minor issue? I advise that she stops making a fuss over this, keep her cool and move on. Yours head teacher, Signed. Reflections of a disturbed mind in the 21st century. No woman is safe until all women are safe, the house girl or the Member of Parliament, the beggar in the street or the nun in the convent. Nobody deserves to be violated, and sorting misunderstandings cannot be done physically. Adults talk, walk out, disagree, convince, but violence is a no no. As we debate the occurrences in Nairobi Hon Rachel Shebesh slapped (or is it alleged – politically correctness) by *Hon Evans Kidero, what are we telling the girls and boys growing up?? There is something degrading about a slap on the face! It speaks volumes about the person meting out the violence; regardless of their gender, age, political standing etc. Violence is about the perpetrator not of the survivor. How the society handles the issue determines the impunity with which it can be repeated; or as we say in Kenya ‘uta-do’ Sophie Ngugi September 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

‘Life skills for life’ as small acts count for life

Last week I had an interesting experience together with my colleagues as we visited some groups that are undergoing trainings in Mugwo Payam of Yei River County of South Sudan. Women for Women International (WfWI) works with socially excluded women affected by conflict and civil strife. The program empowers women through trainings and provision of resources in order to enable them sustain an income as well as get knowledge on key life issues around health, decision making and social networks. On this particular day we were accompanied by the WfWI Vice President Programs – Julianna - who had visited the South Sudan program, the Country Director - Lizy - among others. On the way we decided to enter the local market to buy a few fresh products as well as experience the local market. That is where an interesting incidence happened. We knew what we wanted to purchase and top on the list were pineapples, avocadoes, greens – items we know very well. As it is the case in many African countries majority of the sellers in the market were women. This is where we met an older woman who was selling some product that I have never seen and none of us really noticed it. This lady who I will call Joy since she seemed to radiate a lot of joy started gesturing towards us to buy her product. We have no idea what is this so why bother? But she insisted and started showing us how the product is eaten. She hurriedly started cracking it open with her teeth and this caught our attention and we stopped. She continued ‘talking to us’ but really none of us knew the language so we could not hear her but we ‘listened’ understood! She wanted us so much to buy her product and realized we may not have prior knowledge of this item but language was not going to be a barrier. Soon a crowd of other women in the market gathered around as she went on to gesture, speak and act to show us what the product was like inside when she broke it and started eating it. We were really touched by this as other women in the market watched amused and there was quite a bit of chatter. I made up my mind; I was going to buy this item that was costing 1 South Sudanese pound regardless of what it was. My colleague Lizy had been in process of buying some green vegetables from the neighbor to Joy when she (Joy) stopped us. Lizy had selected what she wanted to buy and wanted green vegetables worth 2 SSP. The least denomination I had was only 2 SSP and 1SSP had go to Joy and the least that Lizy had was 10 SSP. Joy’s neighbor a much younger woman had no balance to give us neither did she have a paper bag to pack for us the greens, but she was at the market. She did not make any efforts of looking for lose money or paper bag but it was more of “if you have lose money and paper bag you can buy my products, otherwise too bad” attitude. At first we thought we would then buy greens worth 1SSP. But guess what! Joy had several paper bags and after packing for me the ‘Joy-Fruits’ (Oh up to now I am not sure if they are fruits, or roots or legumes or…) she had bigger papers. Lizy commented “this woman is so organized” and quickly came with an idea; she would give Joy the 10 SSP and ‘buy’ a paper bag and the ‘Joy-Fruits’ from her then she can give the neighbor the 2SSP later on. That meant she would have 7SSP (about 2USD) as ‘courtesy cash’ for one old paper bag. A certain lady rushed to ‘save the situation’ since she could speak English thinking we were taking advantage of Joy in taking her paper bag to buy products from the neighbor. But somehow Joy already understood this transaction and she was beaming and said ‘Asante…thank you’ but those were the only Kiswahili and English words she knew. We left the market awed and we are not likely to forget Joy any time soon. I know if I go to that location I will want to go to the market again and seek her out and see what she has to sell to me. Small acts matter a lot. The life skills that one has as they engage in business may make a difference between them getting profits or not. I will not excuse the other lady to culture etc. since they were obviously living in the same locality hence likelihood of similar socialization but Joy had discovered that business is about small acts that will enable a customer to come back. I hope that incidence gave the other women who gathered around some food for thought.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reflections on sisterhood and mentorship

“When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, 'Yes, someone like me can do this.” ― Sonia Sotomayor
Just what is mentorship? I once saw a quote that charity is one beggar telling another where s/he found bread”. In the women’s movement we have thrived on mentorship, on women who have carried us on their shoulders so that we don’t stumble on the same spot they tripped. It is my belief that we will have lived our worth if our younger sisters do not have to go through the same mistakes we made. This is not about older and younger women really; everyone has younger women and girls looking up to her and vice versa. This includes supporting younger ones who are starting out, not stifling their efforts. It includes correcting each other and taking the corrections in stride, in sisterhood. It includes holding each other accountable and challenging them to live up to what we know they are capable of. A young woman recently told me she has really asked several persons to mentor her as she is still in college but getting no response or “I am not available” has really disappointed her so she is still struggling to find her way. It didn’t help that she had nasty experiences from some older sister in the movement as she strived to try out and made some mistakes. Another one told me how excited she is after meeting a mentor I had linked her to. She feels that her life will never be the same again. (Since I don’t have permission will not put any names). The latter was on a trial basis that a friend of mine Rahma (for her I don’t need permission) started on and I picked up, linking younger girls and young women to our friends to mentor them. I linked several young women and one of them my cousin called to give me feedback. She was very impressed that another older-young woman was willing and ready to take time to speak with her and give her some guidance in line with her career path. She was excited after the first meeting, someone she has never met before but felt encouraged and sure her career life will be better because of this interaction that has started. It starts with our very own sisters, nieces, daughters. I believe I can make a difference in the gender agenda if we can hold my younger sisters and point to them once in a while what I know by virtue of lived experience. I can also gain from older sisters in the movement doing the same to me, which when we look up and wonder how did you ever get there? The older sisters can tell enable me to know if that was magic or if I am on the right path. I recall sharing with some younger women that I worked with during a young women’s mentorship forum and the female colleagues later on took me to task. Are you sure? You mean it was never that smooth? I could relate to them as a fresh graduate from college venturing into the NGO arena. Sometimes we feel that we are not made headway but it helps to know what others have gone through and realize it is human. It is especially harder for women since the societal expectations often put us on such a pedestal that leave us feeling we can’t afford to be that human! We look at others and imagine they have it all together and wonder when we will ever get it ‘all together’. We forget that everyone one has their story. It doesn’t take much; then again it takes a lot. Sometimes it is just listening and assuring the younger women (or older woman) that she is on the right path. Sometimes it is reminding them to be gentle with themselves. Other times it is giving a part on the back, affirming little efforts. Other times it will be sharing what did and what did not work. Sometimes it will be challenging and correcting. Everyone by virtue of being alive has lots of wisdom. More so it involves encouraging not stepping on younger sisters who are still fumbling around. It means a lot to hold another sister’s hand. That’s my challenge for you and me. Oh and mentorship is two way, you can also learn from the younger ones! I appreciate that there are many sisters I can call out to in different areas of my life. One of them is close to10 years younger than me! I still have gaps in some areas of my life that need mentors but I also have many older & younger sisters that have been my amazingly supportive sisters. Those who have reminded me that I am only human; offered a shoulder to lean on. We all need someone to lean on.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A sister’s keeper is one mouthful from the sea

“I can’t do this anymore!” Those were the words of my colleague and I looked up at her wondering “what now”? She repeated “I cannot do this work anymore”. And that was when it dawned on me what she was talking about. I was trying to block it out of my mind and I even made to her a gesture of ‘block it” but I knew I was lying to myself. We had just had a brief meeting with a lady who visited our office. I will call her Hope, since that’s all that can help her live on. Hope had made a decision earlier in her life as to how she want to live, but when I was called and met her she was not living that dream. She was holding her 2 month’s old second born baby boy who seemed more interested in watching the lights, shades, and other colors than breastfeed. He is happy, and ignorant of circumstances around him. Hope wanted to consecrate her life to God by living as a nun. People chose different vocations in life, and hope to find God in those vocations. It could be marriage, single life or religious life. She had chosen the religious life and she was living the best of what she could until it happened. One day, some man abducted and raped her, and took her to be his 9th wife! South Sudan has been at war for a while, until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The violence is not completely over, but to a large extent in most areas there is peace. But not for Hope! What does peace mean to this woman who was brutally raped, forced into marriage, ran away, was taken back and now has her second child from a man she hardly knows and fears. To make matters worse, the man tore all her certificates so now she can only say she has done some academic courses but nothing to prove. She has no resources to enable her travel to Uganda where she schooled to get some copies of certificates. She is now living with her mother and hardly able to fend for herself and her children. How does one continue encountering these and remain sane? That was the question my colleague was alluding to. Her passion for women’s emancipation and more on gender based violence against women is an issue we have in common, no wonder she called me to also meet this young woman. As I listened to Hope amid tears that she struggled to control, the thoughts that crossed my mind were nothing hopeful. I was wondering how many more ‘HOPES’ are barely existing due to low self-esteem caused by such violations. Women’s violations during war are so common that one shudders thinking about these. Where will our sisters, mothers, be safe? This is not only in countries in conflict but common even in the so called ‘peaceful’ countries. Last week I saw a clip aired on a Kenyan media house about gang rapes happening in some part of Nairobi. It is insane!! Why do human beings subject other human beings to such? When will women be safe? The helplessness that one feels encountering such women makes one feel like closing eyes very tight and assume it is not happening. It can get overwhelming, very sad, very draining. The saddest part for every woman knows it can happen to you, me, my sister, my mother…to any woman or girl. The ‘sadddestestest’ knowing that such perpetrators usually go scot free and continue causing harm all over. When will it ever stop? Sometimes it feels like trying to scoop water from the sea. I am encouraged by the words of the Late Wangari Maathai, that like a humming bird I can do the little I can, everyone passionate about the cause can do something little. Get one mouthful of water from the sea. Sometimes it’s the least we can do, touch one woman’s life and be a sister’s keeper. Sometimes it is what one sister just needs.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Strong woman’s right to be ‘weak’

Strong woman’s right to be ‘weak’ This weekend my friend *Cate (not her real name) shared what she was going through and what struck me was her words “I don’t want anybody to tell me I am strong and can handle this”. That resonated with me so well. *Cate has been going through some very difficult moments in the last three or so months. This has seen her go undergo surgical procedure that has altered her life. Sometimes she shares her thoughts and lonely challenging moments, other times her high moments. I think she has been very powerful in the way she has been handling the issue, she has walked high in the experience and even in denial moments, moments that she has wondered if many things in her life will matter anymore. When she shared with me her thoughts that she could only put on paper and I read those words, all I could think of was “gal I know that only too well”. I am not sure how many times people have told me that since it is countless. However I know there are times when that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I remember a time I was undergoing quite some challenging stuff and I thought “if one more person tells me I am strong enough for this, I will scream on top of my voice, and I might injure somebody”. Sometimes people mean well, but even well-meant sincere actions or words do not make it right. I have come across the term ‘sincerity is not enough’ and it speaks to me often. One way I can think of explaining this sometimes last year when a very enthusiastic petrol station attendant put diesel in my car! He was the most welcoming attendant I had met, and looking away few seconds and voila! My car had diesel and to make the long story short, instead of proceeding for an important meeting I spent the rest of the day in the garage coaxing the car into action. His sincere actions were wrong. Some well-meant but not thought out actions or words can really hurt. Sometimes they are not well meant, just careless and not thought out. We are perpetrators of this all too often. Sometimes friends do some insensitive actions and we do the same to others and really hurt them. I still vividly recall when I was 18 years of age, and my older sister passed away. It was the most painful experience I had gone through and somehow adults did not seem to realize an 18yr old hurts deeply. Somehow I recall a lot of insensitivity by some well-meaning adults in my life at that time. I still remember how painful it was and how looking at my then very young nephews would send me back to bed crying and trying to keep a strong face for them. It was in that mood that on the burial day, still in denial my auntie admonished me “Sophie, do not cry, be strong, there are no tears today”. I was so hurt and found that to be the most insensitive comment anyone had ever told me in my young life. I hated that auntie for a while, I am sure she never knew but I could not face her happily, until some years later when I realized she meant no harm. I recall while in campus and a friend lost her mother, and how her relatives acted and talked! One commented that when one is a believer in Christ she should be strong and belief! What the heck?? My friend was in her early 20s, first born left in charge of her mother’s family as her dad had passed on earlier on in their lives. If we are to go all Biblical, even Jesus wept over Lazarus death. Some experiences may not be death experiences, but affect and touch our lives in very deep ways. The experience that Cate is going through is quite painful for a young woman. I am certain that in her circle of friends nobody has had to go through a similar experience. We can therefore say sincerely, we do not understand what she is going through. The least we can do is empathize, allow her to be sad and be with her in her sadness, support her to be happy and be with her in her happiness, and more so be with her in the little ways we can. This concept of ‘strength of a woman’ has been taken too far, and often denies women of strength the chance to be vulnerable and weak when they need to. Who determines the duration of time that one should mourn a loss? Cry? Who sets the limits? Who set the limits of which woman is allowed to break down and one who is meant to hold her head high and ‘move on’? I wonder. I believe a woman need to connect with her true self and even feel her own weakness without having the whole world telling her how she is their source of strength hence she is not allowed to be ‘weak’. For the records I don’t think crying is weak but we know if you burst crying in the board room it won’t be ‘wooh what a strong woman’…unless of course you are Obama and they say “ he was so moved”. Sometimes I need to just let out and not be told about strength coz I feel no strength until am ready to wake up and wipe my tears. This must be what moved Dolly Parton to write the song where part of the words are “It's my time gather round girls, you I grew up with. My old friends that I used to scuff with, need you round me at this time, you've all had your turn to cry. And old friend stood closely by, friends of mine, Stand by me, cause it's my time, It's my time, it's my time, It's my time to cry, Mm mmm, it's my time to cry, Oh oh oh oh” It’s my turn to cry The truth had dawned on *Cate with severity, she had no right to be weak! Or does she? Of course she does, she has a right to be, or else she will feel that she is dead, as expressed in the poem Black Woman is Dead that says in part“...on August 15, 1999 at 11:15 p.m. while struggling with the reality of being a human instead of a myth, the strong black woman passed away. Medical sources say she died of natural causes, but those who knew her know she died from being silent when she should have been screaming, smiling when she should have been raging, from being sick and not wanting anyone to know because her pain might inconvenience them.” Let the woman of strength grab back the right to be weak!