One day when I am rich and very important, and a younger woman seeks to inconvenience me, I will remember how this week minister Sithembiso Nyoni Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME)and Co-operative Development took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me, and this will encourage me to humour the younger woman.
The minister did this, not because I work for the fastest growing national daily newspaper in the country, but simply because I asked.
We talked about social justice, HIV, women’s empowerment, SMEs, youth mentorship and rural development.
Before I knew it, the sun was setting and the hotel started playing that go-home-to-your-children music that hotels play at a certain time of day, and so we left. I walked away richer for having spent a couple of hours tapping into another woman’s experiences.
As we commemorate 16 days of activism in the fight to curb violence against women and children, I wonder how much of women’s fight comes down to women simply refusing to be victims; victims of economics, victims of society, victims of patriarchy.
What if we just decided to take responsibility? For ourselves and for one another.
The women’s rights movement can lay blame at the feet of a dozen or more constituencies, thought schools, political systems and economic policies, and rightly so.
In Africa particularly the subservient role in which women find themselves is aided and abetted by a range of collaborators from patriarchal traditional beliefs, to Christianity and Islam, to colonialism, to gender stereotyping and economic mismanagement.
South African lawyer, writer and activist, Christine Qunta states that the enemies of African women are “colonialism and imperialism, white racism, class oppression and sexual oppression.” This we acknowledge and must work to correct.
But while we do so, could we pause for just a minute to wonder whether perhaps the greatest enemy of woman is in fact woman herself?
I don’t only mean women pulling each other down; I mean each woman pulling herself and the generation that follows her down. In the decisions we make and the directions we choose, are we really setting ourselves up for success as individuals (never mind as a movement)?
Often when a woman says “I had no choice”, what she really means is: “The choices available were too hard and I couldn’t face the price that needed to be paid” or “I couldn’t think of any other ideas, and didn’t want to ask someone for fear of looking silly”.
When I look back on some of the more foolish moves I’ve made in life, this is most often the case. The trouble is that in the long term, the road you choose tends to come full circle. The option that looked easier is revealed to be more difficult in consequence.
Years ago I employed a woman who was the wife of a farm labourer to help me around the house.
Mai Simba reported one day that her 10-year-old son was looking for “something to do”. Surprised, I asked “But what about school?” She told me Simba didn’t want to go to school, but instead wanted to join his father, working on the farm. “But you must make him go back to school” I insisted. Her response: “He doesn’t want to.”
I couldn’t make her see that what the child wanted was neither here nor there, and was outraged, not by Simba’s juvenile and ill-informed choices, but by his mother’s willingness to shrug off the responsibility for his future at the altar labelled “It’s just easier.”
I wonder whether she genuinely didn’t understand that by failing to take a tougher stance with her son, she was effectively helping him close the door on other, better options for his future and ensuring that the cycle of poverty and disempowerment would remain unbroken.
As new recruits to the working world a brother and sister I know talked about buying a car together. The girl thought all they could afford was a VW Beetle, but her brother insisted they had to do better, because a VW Beetle had been their father’s first car and therefore as the next generation, they had an obligation to do better.
His thinking made such a deep impression on his sister that even now, when making choices for her children she feels challenged to do the same or better than what her parents did for her.
What would happen if every woman in Africa adopted this as her personal philosophy: That each generation has an obligation to give their children equal or better than what was given them. Equal or better housing, equal or better education, equal or better opportunities, to present them with a range of choices that is equal or better than the previous generation had. Wouldn’t we see a quiet revolution taking place?
A revolution is never easy. And yes, sacrifices must be made. But for lasting change to take place, someone must be willing to face the discomforts, to make those tough decisions which hurt in the short term, but are believed to be the key to a better future in the long term.
African women need to stop abdicating responsibility in the name of love, social approval and patriarchy. We can start finding new ways to pay the price that emancipation costs, both emotionally and socially.
Someone sent me a story recently written by Prudence Phiri, where a young Harare hairdresser had lost her ear, and suffered other serious facial injuries at the hands of her violent boyfriend.
The most shocking thing about this story wasn’t the vivid photograph of Mercy’s stitched up face, or the graphic descriptions of the abusive nature of their relationship, (the man sliced her face up with a broken bottle!)
No, the most shocking thing here is Mercy’s response to the whole incident: “I don’t want him to go to jail; I love him. All I want is for him to assist me financially to acquire good medical attention,” she says.
I rest my case.
Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to email@example.com