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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The silent 'shame'

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  Elie Wiesel

Silence and fear have been used against survivors of gender based violence. Women keep quiet because they dare not speak out and embarrass the abuser. She may be blamed for what happened. They are likely to be blamed for what happened if not suffer more violence in the process. Men on the other hand though in minority will not speak out since it is unexpected, unmanly to experience gender based violence.  

Sometimes the silence is forced by the perpetrator while other times, one just feels they have to keep silence.

I recall an experience I had in my childhood that has remained edged in my mind. I still recall that beautiful Monday morning when I was excited to start a new phase in life. I was 7 years old, and voila, I was getting to the ‘big school’ as we referred to the primary school. I was wearing my pink dress that my auntie had bought me and it was yes a big day, rarely did I get to wear ‘Sunday on a week day. The school is few miles away so I comfortably started my walk to school. In those days it was not an issue for children to walk around the village freely. Since the beginners were not expected to be in school early, my older siblings had already gone to school.

A certain man who was from the neighborhood was walking along the road and at a young age it was always a pleasure to see an adult for company. He started some chit-chat and I responded. In my young mind he must have been ‘a friend’ after all I had seen him say greet my mother! When we reached a junction he suggested a path that when now I think of it had less people passing through. A few meters later he started looking side by side and somehow I became alert. He entered a certain farm and asked me to follow him.

I don’t know how but my 6th sense knew I was in trouble and I ran faster than I had ever run in my life. I don’t remember making a stop until I reached school, panting but not in tears. I was quite shocked. Even at that age I knew I had escaped something disastrous. To date, I don’t remember crying (which is unlike me). When the shock started wearing off, fear set in. I was very scared.

I had a lot of ‘what if”, what if I had not run fast enough, what if he had grabbed me…what if. 

For some reason I never told anybody. I knew it was something ‘embarrassing’ and more so I was not sure if anyone would believe. I feared that if I mentioned then the ‘adults’ would have thought that maybe I had actually been sexually violated and I could not imagine such kind of attention. (I would not be surprised if anyone reading this believes I am being economical with the truth! Such is the quagmire with gender based violence; you are dammed if you do, damned if you don’t). My fears were confirmed when about a week later; a girl from my neighborhood was defiled by a different person. There were a lot of hushed discussions about her, and it was traumatizing for her, having to face the public curiosity. I later learnt this man was a serial rapist and he defiled a child who was a few months old. This never became a public advocacy around these but hushed discussions as he sent to jail and came out; defiled other children and the cycle continued. 

The experience was traumatizing at that age and for some strange reasons silence seemed the best option, after all ‘nothing happened’. I never spoke about it till my adulthood and this is the first time I have put down a word about it. 

Why?

 In gender based violence silence is the language spoken. Many women and girls, and even men and boys have faced gender based violence but chosen not to speak about it. But what are the consequences of speaking out? The blame often put on the survivor makes it not worth the effort. Questions are often raised about the survivor character where the issue turns to be more about the survivor than the perpetrator. The one assurance that a victim of silence needs before speaking out is to know that, we the society will believe her; to know that we will not look at the so ‘straight CV’ of the perpetrator to judge if she is telling the truth or not. In addition, it is good to realize that children hide when violated due to threats. They are made to keep silence and only a high level of trust will make them speak out. There are other forms of abuse like exposure and attempted sexual abuse that affect children, but it is rarely acknowledged. A child knows/ feels when they have been violated, even when they cannot explain what happened. 

As we commemorate the 16 days of activism on violence against women, I know one thing must happen; breaking the silence. As a society we can play a role in addressing this. We can make it a point to listen without judging, and support where we can

The shame is on the perpetrator, not the victim of the actions. 

Tuesday, November 25, 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.  (http://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/ )

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.