Monday, November 24, 2014

Because they are human beings

Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.” Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General.
Today is the international day on elimination of all forms of violence against women. It also marks the beginning of the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence in the world. The campaigns goes for 16 days and ends on 10th December which is the international Human Rights day. This campaign aims to put a focus on violence perpetrated against women and girls. There are other days in between that are marked as well including the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day,(29th Nov,) World AIDS day (Dec 1)  international Day of disabled persons (Dec 3) Montreal Massacre (Dec 6), when 14 female engineering
students were massacred. 

When discussing issues of violence against women, there is often a justification given usually from a relationship perspective. “Our mothers, sisters...” etc are used to put the point across. This is good as it reminds many that women are not an abstract idea but persons we relate with, in our daily lives. However this narrative often misses the most key point, that women are human beings! It is a basic as that. The discussion on “are women rights human rights” has gone on for long. Why even speak about women’s rights yet they are human? Essentially yes, there is no need to separate women rights from human rights. However in practice, women’s issues are often forgotten in the overall picture. The rights of women are often curtailed due to the social and cultural beliefs and practices which limit how much freedom women should have. 

In my view, the tragedy of gender based violence against women has not fully been appreciated. When we get some tragedy like a bombing or accident there is a lot of focus, yet so many women are violated and others die each day yet this is not treated as a global crisis.

Some figures from the United Nations website illustrate this: 
35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries.
It is estimated that up to 30 million girls under the age of 15 remain at risk from FGM/C, and more than 130 million girls and women have undergone the procedure worldwide.
Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth.
The costs and consequence of violence against women last for generations.  ( )

This is a global tragedy. The violence is perpetrated due to the power differences where most of the societies are patriarchal with male dominance. In majority of the cases, the perpetrators are men while women form over 80% of survivors of gender based violence. 

Recently in Kenya we experienced yet again the public stripping of women in the streets. The discussions that went around that as women and a good number of supportive men mobilized against this were disheartening. The campaign “My Dress My Choice” was started since the excuse for the violence was said to be that women were wearing ‘indecent’ clothes. The discussion went from the violation to justifications with the “nudity” tag put on this.  While even the constitution of Kenya recognizes the right to dress, some few men felt that this was within their mandate to regulate. That was the public debate. In none of the cases were the women walking around nude, but the perpetrators undressed them and left them nude while violating and stealing from them. However, the reality is that this was never about dressing but control, power and violence. Some of the survivors of these atrocities were interviewed. It emerged that in all cases it was ‘non-cooperation’ to other forms of violence that led to this. In one case the lady was asking for her rightful payment after selling some eggs and the man who had eaten the eggs started hurling verbal assaults. She was accosted as she tried to leave the venue. In another case the lady had refused to respond to verbal taunting and the perpetrator could not take this and it became a mob justice. 

Some of the debates left one speechless wondering if women are real human beings, citizens of this country. The bottom line is that women have a right to live free of violence because they are human beings. 

Violence free environment, is everyone's right.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Who caused the fire? I cry for Kenya

Today I attended Mass service at Christ the King cathedral in Yei, South Sudan. During the prayers, there was a special prayer for peace, and in South Sudan this is very close to the heart of the congregants. I listened to the congregant who was leading in the prayers as he mentioned countries in the Middle East and also in East and Horn of Africa which are fragile. Kenya was one of them. The truth is I expected him to mention Kenya and if he did not I would have thought ‘bad neighbor’ yet again I was still shocked…. I have been doing a course on peace building and fragile states in the last two weeks that kept making me wonder “are we officially conflict/post conflict country? Every time I read a reference to Kenya I want to scream no! 

A few years ago Kenya was referred to as the “oasis of peace” in East Africa. Little did we realize the pot had been boiling and tipped over in 2007 and our nakedness was exposed!
Sometimes I read posts by fellow Kenyans and feel we are really doomed. I cannot even try to talk about conflict in Africa, or in Kenya.  I recall a story in primary school books “who caused the fire”. It has been many years but I can really bits by pieces. Someone was annoyed by someone who was annoyed by someone…and eventually one of the annoyed someones’ hit the cat that ran and hit the candle that caused the fire. After the house got burned down they were able to admit that “we all caused the fire”.

We can start looking back and we will realize we all caused the fire. We continue causing the fire as we fuel our differences as hatred instead of appreciating diversity. We fuel the fire as we think democracy is less important than who is in power. We spread lies and hatred in words and deeds. We hide criminals in our midst and allow violence to continue as we protect “our own”. We stop thinking as one country and think as regions, tribes or individuals. 

Kenya is such a small country that I do not see any chance that we will ever divide into different (viable) states hence we are together forever hence we must learn to live together. Sometimes our ego is too huge to coexist. When we fight each other and kill one another who will come to our rescue? Have we not learnt from (more violent) countries the effects of violence? Doesn’t it sound ironical that the land where several peace talks for neighboring countries have happened is now a fragile suspicious place to be?

The government has a great role to play, but I can bet that the worse violence that can befall Kenya will be when we are fighting among ourselves.
I cry for Kenya, the fire is real. Do we care? Do we have what it takes to stop thinking any one person or persons or group or tribe or region are more equal than others and choose to building Kenya.
Do we have the will to stop the fire?

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.