Until all women are free
The court ordered her to pay a fine of 500 Sudanese pounds ($209) or a one month jail term. She refused to pay the fine, indicating that she did not want to "give the verdict any legitimacy" hence opted for the jail. She was later freed after one day. Mohedinne Titawi, of the Sudanese Union of Journalists, said the union had paid the fine to secure her release. Hussein's case was seen as a test of the decency regulations, which many women activists say are vague and give individual police officers undue latitude to determine what is acceptable clothing for women[i] [i]. The refusal to pay a fine was in characteristic with her earlier actions where she opted to resign from the United Nation where she was entitled to immunity, but instead chose to face the Sudanese law. She says “I fight for Sudan’s future generation” in her article in The Star daily([ii])
Upon further flipping the pages of another newspaper, I came across another story of a young woman who is facing the wrath of her community in her bid to offer leadership. Amina Muhumed Sirat is the area chief of Meri Sub-Location in Wajir South in Kenya’s North Eastern Province[[iii]]. However the elders (read men) have driven her away as they wouldn’t have a woman as a leader! Amina was appointed to her position on 20th July 2009, as a Chief, a local administrative position, but she cannot even reside in her own home. She had to flee with her husband and son to the District Commissioner’s home. The fact that she has grown up in that area doesn’t help her in her Somali community where the elders have clearly rejected her. For her to have pursued her academics to a Diploma level in this stereotypical environment must have been quite a challenge for a girl, yet after all the efforts she is not able to make the difference she wishes in her community. She is qualified and hardworking, but that counts less, she is a woman, not a leader hence she cannot give orders in the community; that is the role of elderly men. Her gender and age stands in her way.
Men and boys also face discrimination, in different ways in different areas. However in Africa, most of the violations that women face are due to the patriarchal system which gives men domination over women. Culture is used to justify these actions and most of the times the cultural issues get mixed up with religious issues in some instances. However, it is worth to note is that most of the violations of women’s rights have similarities in different regions despite the socio-economic and cultural differences. While Lubna and other women face the violations associated with dressing, many women in Kenya have faced these violations with different justifications. Some unlawful groups in Kenya have violated women in the name of ‘reserving the culture’ whereby women are forced to undergo female genital mutilation and banned from wearing trousers. There have been cases of women being stripped naked in public for ‘dressing indecently’. In October 2008, a pastor for a Church in Nairobi declared that trouser wearing was banned in his Church. On the other hand the counterpart in Nigeria of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Pastor Enoch Adeboye, banned women from wearing trousers to church[[v]]. At around the same time, in (October 2008) South Sudan's president shut down a police investigation that had seen many of young women arrested for "disturbing the peace" by wearing tight trousers. The police officers had been rounding up young women in Juba for apparently disturbing peace by wearing tight trousers. "They were wearing trousers that were too tight, disturbing the peace," said Deputy Police Commissioner of Juba County Raiman Lege[vi].
The ripples went further in Uganda where in September 2008 there was uproar and long debate that permeated into Kenya when the Ethics and Integrity government Minister sought to have miniskirts banned “because women wearing them distract drivers and cause traffic accidents”. Nsaba Buturo told journalists in Kampala that wearing a miniskirt was like walking naked in the streets. "What's wrong with a miniskirt? You can cause an accident because some of our people are weak mentally," he said[[vii]]. The debate was live even in Kenya and more so the local FM radio stations with mostly male callers supporting this call.
In these cases the women and girls were seen as ‘leading men into temptation’ and men as the innocent victims, which in itself degrades men’s power of self control, while blaming women for any crimes committed against them. It has led to justifications of violence against women and especially sexual gender based violence where the women are blamed for the violations against them. Questions like “how were you dressed? Where were you going?” etc have deterred many women and girls from reporting cases of violation while the perpetrators feel justified.
Amina’s case is also not unique but women have faced this in different ways in different regions at various levels. While some communities in Kenya have allowed women to speak in public, this is also limited to some areas that are not seen as being powerful public spaces, hence women who aspire to be in top leadership face a myriad of problems more than the male counterparts. The stereotypes that assume leadership to be a male domain are still persistent hence women who break the odds are often given masculine names / connotations. The former ministry of Justice & constitutional affairs in Kenya, Martha Karua has been acknowledged as one of the great leaders in Kenya and was often referred to as ‘the only man in the government’. Those same words were used on a woman leader in the Kenyan history. Cierume was a woman from Mbeere who was very famous because of her perseverance and bravery. By the time the British came to Mbeere and Embu, Cierume had already established herself and become renowned as a leader of her community and a great warrior and was later made Chief by the colonial rulers. It is said that her name came from the name ‘mundu murume’ which implies ‘man/male’ since her great leadership and bravery could not be associated with femininity with women[[viii]].
The challenges that women in leadership faced and still face is associated with the beliefs that leadership is a male domain. In Kikuyu custom for example, there is a process for a man to be made an elder hence be welcomed into the ‘kiama’ by giving out a goat. Up to date it is believed that a man who has not given this is still a boy hence cannot chair or give judgments. This is one of the roles that Chiefs and Asst. Chiefs are expected to perform yet the ‘kiama’ is not for women. This therefore presents a quagmire for women who are appointed to such positions. A friend of mine, Mary who is a District Officer shared with me that her time working in a Division in Rift Valley province of Kenya was rough since they kept referring to her as ‘the girl’ hence she had to work extra hard and rely on the support of the male District Officer in order to fulfill her duties. These and other experiences bring to limelight the similarities in women’ issues across the globe. The spiral effects of abuse of women’s rights in one region to other regions cannot be over emphasized.
True no woman is free until all women are free, and the world will be a better place!