Three coun­tries. Three heart­breaks. One week

Mail & Guardian - - Lifestyle - Zuk­iswa Wan­ner

More than once, I have had this feel­ing that I live on a con­ti­nent that har­bours a deep ha­tred for those of my gen­der. And if I was lulled for a minute to think oth­er­wise, three in­ci­dences last week in three coun­tries I con­sider home in one way or another re­in­forced this view.

In Kenya, I was re­minded that it does not mat­ter how high up you are, there will al­ways be a man who will de­cide to put you in your place with threats of vi­o­lence. Char­ity Ngilu, vet­eran politi­cian, for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, for­mer Cabi­net sec­re­tary and one of the first three women to be elected to the of­fice of gov­er­nor in last month’s elec­tions, is at the re­ceiv­ing end of threats.

A first-term MP for the gov­ern­ing Ju­bilee Party in the county she now gov­erns, Nim­rod Mbai, the MP for Ki­tui East, threat­ened: “Char­ity Ngilu should be raped in her of­fice if she doesn’t drop her hard po­lit­i­cal stance against Uhuru Keny­atta.”

Any­where else, this would be con­sid­ered the sort of of­fence that would force some­one to re­sign and be pros­e­cuted. Not so in to­day’s Kenya. The statu­tory body tasked with the pros­e­cu­tion of hate speech, the Na­tional Co­he­sion and In­te­gra­tion Com­mis­sion, has, at the time of writ­ing, nei­ther pushed for his pros­e­cu­tion nor ut­tered a word of crit­i­cism. For the next five years then, this despicable man is one of the peo­ple who will be re­spon­si­ble for vot­ing on Bills that are sup­posed to pro­tect and safe­guard all peo­ple in the Kenya.

Back in my fa­ther’s land, a mother stabs three men, one of them fa­tally, for rap­ing her 27-year-old daugh­ter. She gets ar­rested and is given bail of R500. The fact that this poor woman has had to re­sort to vi­o­lence to counter the vi­o­lence be­ing meted against her daugh­ter is heart­break­ing. More so, as re­ports sug­gest, these three men are re­peat of­fend­ers but have pre­vi­ously got away with a “talk­ing to”.

My fear is that, given the way this con­ti­nent, in­clud­ing the ju­di­ciary, seems to har­bour such a deep ha­tred for women, the mother is more likely to get a prison term than the young men who com­mit­ted the crime of rape. I hope that will not hap­pen but, ei­ther way, both the mother and the daugh­ter will need some se­ri­ous coun­selling.

And, as South Africans con­tinue to ask hard ques­tions, we se­ri­ously have to go be­yond ques­tions and find some con­crete so­lu­tions.

From my mother’s coun­try, Zim­babwe, there is a record­ing of chil­dren as young as nine who are vic­tims of sex­ual abuse.

The me­dia dis­turbingly calls them “child pros­ti­tutes”. Paid 25c for a sin­gle round of sex­ual abuse and two dol­lars at most for the whole night, the chil­dren re­count har­row­ing tales in voices de­void of emo­tion.

Nine-year-old Lady B speaks of drink­ing cough mix­ture so that she can be drunk enough to have courage. She talks of drink­ing al­co­holic bev­er­ages in bars where some of these men meet her and other young girls. Some of the chil­dren, who are or­phaned and head­ing house­holds, talk also of look­ing af­ter their pimps or “per­ma­nent boyfriends” — abusers to whom they give all the money in ex­change for some form of pro­tec­tion.

Among the abusers are al­legedly some coun­cil­lors of the gov­ern­ing party. When two em­ploy­ees of a non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion who help and coun­sel some of these young women, the Katswe Sis­ter­hood, said on so­cial me­dia that they would be nam­ing and sham­ing some of these politi­cians, they were taken in for “ques­tion­ing” and then re­leased af­ter sev­eral hours. Zim­babwe’s po­lice seem to pre­fer pro­tect­ing politi­cians in­stead of their most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

At nine, grow­ing up in a dif­fer­ent Zim­babwe, I used to think the word “bum” was a bad word. I had no idea what sex was. And I can­not even imag­ine the num­ber of neigh­bours who would have cen­sured me be­fore re­port­ing me to my par­ents if I so much as passed near a bar. And yet, in the cur­rent Zim­babwe, there are bar own­ers serv­ing mi­nors, and adults turn­ing a blind eye when they see grown men en­ter the neigh­bour­ing home with a child.

Af­ter Zim­bab­weans made a lot of noise on so­cial me­dia about the record­ing, the MP went and “res­cued” some of the chil­dren and placed them in shel­ters. But the Zim­bab­wean min­istry of so­cial ser­vice lacks re­sources to en­sure that these chil­dren will be re­ha­bil­i­tated suf­fi­ciently not to be thrown back into the sys­tem. At most, they will be kept away for six months, con­sid­ered re­ha­bil­i­tated and end up back in the same places where they were abused.

Mean­while, this same Zim­babwe has enough funds to en­sure the chil­dren of the First Fam­ily stay in ex­pen­sive ac­com­mo­da­tion and par­ty­ing in places in Jo­han­nes­burg that even mid­dle-class South Africans can only dream of.

These are just three in­ci­dences that the me­dia in these three coun­tries re­ported on in the past week but we know there are many more. To be a woman in Kenya, South Africa or Zim­babwe means to be in per­pet­ual fear of some form of abuse at the hands of men. There is out­rage for a short while un­til we are lulled into a false sense of safety. Then we will be re­minded again when we, some­one we know or the me­dia re­port about some other form of vi­o­lence against women.

To make it into the me­dia, though, it will need to be worse than what has al­ready been re­ported be­fore. And we will be out­raged briefly be­fore we forget again. And so the cy­cle con­tin­ues.

For Kenya, where elec­tions have just ended, it may be too lit­tle too late to hold any­one ac­count­able for gen­der poli­cies. Politi­cians, as many of us know, only seem to work for us when they want our votes.

But with Zim­bab­wean elec­tions com­ing in 2018 and South African elec­tions the year af­ter, per­haps those of us who are cit­i­zens of these two coun­tries should en­sure that poli­cies and ac­tions on gen­der-based vi­o­lence by in­di­vid­u­als and par­ties are a key is­sue in get­ting into or be­ing re­turned to power.

Women do, af­ter all, make up more than half the elec­torate in both Zim­babwe and South Africa. It is time we and those who claim to love us ex­er­cise some power and de­mand ac­tion on what is hurt­ing us and our so­ci­eties the most.

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