I came here to write an article, but somehow I find myself writing a story, maybe it’s because the things that women have had to go through over the years seem so over the top to me that I almost wish I could dismiss them as being nothing more than a colourful children’s tale, or maybe because I’ve always been a bit of a talkative and I just couldn’t help myself.
I could tell you that Wikipedia equates women empowerment to gender equality, I could wrap everything up in beautiful shiny little packages and just walk away, but somehow I can’t help but take it personally.
Sometime ago I found myself faced with blatant sexism, in a gathering we were to buy food and the boy given the money to buy the food said a rebellious “I’m not a girl”, waltzed over to me, and plopped the money in my hand. I looked around at everyone’s faces (I was the only female there) and instead of the outrage, surprise or even mild shock I expected their reaction to be from his behaviour, I got a blank look. Every single one of those faces was giving me a blank look, we all know that look, the one you get when your mum tells you to bring “kini yen” (I.e that thing) from somewhere without telling you what it is and you have the nerve to ask her what the thing is.
On one of my accounts on social media, I had to put in my bio data page that I was sick of people assuming I lived in a mud hut, had constant bouts of cholera and was already married to a rich chief, because believe it or not, that was the general consensus on that website. Remembering it makes me think now though, were they racist or had they just somehow become attached to an idea of what African culture is about?
I would like to give you a number of strong words, the kind of words to rally the troops to battle. I’d like to tell you that although we are Africans and our culture is not very inclusive of women empowerment, we can rise above, we can change the status quo, and all we have to do is fight. However, this isn’t something we haven’t heard before, haven’t told ourselves several times, maybe sometimes even chanted as a sort of mantra before falling asleep. I know I did, but it didn’t stop me from caving into the pressure and buying that food that day.
However, the world is changing and as a result, we are changing, this is not a plea to discard our culture for women empowerment. Feminists already get enough people on their case because of this same matter. What I am saying is that there is room for improvement, once we can get our sons, our brothers, husbands, fathers, to see women as more than frail creatures who need to be protected, creatures who need to be passed from the protection of one man (her father) to another (her husband) and not released a moment before the transfer.
As someone who has seen the effects of this conditioning on young men, it’s time that women also open their eyes to the possibilities, for a lot of us, the idea seems too strange; being independent, an equal to any man.
Our dances, our traditional clothes, our songs, truly our culture is beautiful, colourful and rich although it seems like a huge thread pulled out of the weave, the idea of women empowerment in our culture is grand. That a woman could inherit land and not get it taken from her by any male relative that takes the case to the customary courts, is beyond wonderful.
Maybe then African women would be more proud of their culture, see it more than an elaborate jail cell, and show the rest of the world exactly who we are.