Hear us. See us. I am an African Woman

By: Nomkhuma

Woman’s Month notable national commemorations towards woman subsided with the month of August. Sadly so have the loud cries of women that seem to fall on deaf ears. Maybe 16 Days of activism is a start in bringing awareness to the tears that are seldom noted. Women are still crying. Woman are seen and not being heard in system that still favours the pillars of patriarchy even, though institutions such as the Woman in Presidency are supposed to be for woman. For the African woman her struggle stems beyond the cries of social norms to social injustice from colonialism, racial oppression and feminism.

Patriarchy loosely defined is ‘rule by the father’ thus in the context of patriarchal system is the rule of men. There would not be much of an issue if woman were noted in value and prestige in this system but with issues of rape, dominance and abuse amongst other prevalent issues subjugating women to be inferior, a revolt will arise, hence movements such as feminism. Feminism as a revolt against patriarchy, does hold virtue in trying to bring balance in highlighting that woman should be considered to be equal to men. Equality in the context of social rights and treatment, being respected and economic opportunities. As with every movement extremities do exist and not everyone will identify with the cause. In the different waves of feminism from radical, social and cultural let us acknowledge the difference it has made. Woman now can vote, be employed in professions which used to be noted as for men and still get to enjoy maternity leaves. Shooting to the 21st century woman, now hold places in government and become presidents of nations.

Is the struggle over for women? NO. Patriarchy still exists and feminism did not fix all the problems that woman are faced with in society. The sentence handed to ‘Olympian Oscar’ was a mere joke, for the murder of girlfriend of Reeva Steenkamp. Will we ever know the full truth about the day maybe not, but 5 years for homicide does not justify the murder of a woman let alone a human. Now Tumi Malekane’s line in the song Powa – ‘not one man should have that power’ makes a good point when it comes to our infamous JZ. #Kwezi has been the loudest of all silent protest against the president, although acquitted of the charges amongst the pool he swims in. This one could not be showered away with past discrepancies that arise in every corner. With the second ruling of #Paybackthemoney the nation doubts that a cent will ever be seen with more scandals merging from JZ. How can one man have so much power to ignore plights of the Public Protector who was heralded for being a woman who stood her ground and thus casting doubt in her abilities when a re-investigation into the case was ordered. Shifting gaze from the culturally proud JZ, in his practice of polygamy and rumoured infidelities can the light be shone in the ill practice of ‘ukuthwala’. Can it be seen for what it is: abduction hiding behind the veil of our culture?

Ukuthwala is the custom of abducting a girl to force the girl’s family in her hand in marriage. This act is accustomed to African woman, in particular that of isiXhosa heritage. Traditionally the custom was held without any harm coming to the victim. Whereby lovers would consent to the act of being taken by the lover’s family and a letter be written to the woman’s family informing of the situation. This was primarily done if the man did not have enough money for lobola negotiations, the girl came from a very strict household that does not condone the relationship. In current terms the name ‘ukuthwala’ renounces the negative attributes that have become of the custom. It is now, nothing short of abduction and human trafficking of underage girls and women whom are unwillingly forced into marriage with an unknown individual. Often forced into marriage, raped and abused to submission of her newfound circumstance. Such circumstances highlight the vast array of difficulties in the face of African Woman. In the worst of scenarios such as ukuthuwala she is subjected to an object. No less than the treatment of Sarah Baartman under the colonial and slave era of South Africa, being ‘coerced‘ into a contracted that saw her being paraded around Europe for show in the fascination of her African body.


Pic: Sarah Baartman sourced: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35240987

The fascination with ‘Saartjies’ body was due to the rage in large buttocks and clothing being produced to give woman curves, which she naturally had. In our eyes this must have been a humiliating experience to be objectified by people who thought less of you. Whether or not her body was celebrated and clothes produced in a likeness that celebrated the African woman form it is a shame that now her (African Woman) is not celebrated or is subject to conform to current western standard of being slim, fair (rise of the yellow bone and historical abuse of skin bleaching) and straight hair. One could argue where is the African woman’s body not celebrated when the Kardashians have popularised the trend of an extended rear or the rise in enlargement or rear end plastic surgery? The argument should not be the rise to fame of vain impudence on the African woman or girls who are just discovering themselves and the society they live in. It is the little things that media perpetuates what the African Woman should be, a downgraded European version of herself. If I am wrong excluding local magazines, how often have a curvy or plus size woman with their hair in natural curly state have grace international issues that have graced our shores?


Pic: Styled African Hair Source: http://foxyj26.tumblr.com/post/148380865527/lizlegunsen-love-this-updo-with-twists-very

Let me not single out the media alone. A few months back, the buzz of high school girls from Petoria High have made history and highlighted how African girls are conditions from school to comply with the code of conduct enforcing rules about hair that would denounce attribute of natural African hair. I admit African hair needs special attention but it is not unruly and to see beauty in the form of European standards dehumanises the value an African girl should see in herself. In reading and following the news about the #PGHH debate there is an important fact that is being side-lined, it is not about the hair. It is about the ability for a young girl to practice her freedom of speech and for her to be empowered to see that it is more than about her hair. We truly live in interesting times when woman can take a stand and demand to be heard about hair or the injustice of varsity fees resulting in the #feesmustfall campaign in the previous year. Should we be thankful that media has become instrumental in girls demanding to be heard or that as woman we have discovered our worth and that we can no longer be silenced?

Pic: The Message Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/49/e0/d7/49e0d7eced5a97eab9312d28cef661e1.jpg

Media is a tool that is as effective as the user behind the medium. What about the women who still have trouble in speaking? Those who fear that their voices will fall on deaf ears? How can we help them when what they have to say has not been addressed in the few if not various public occurrences? Here is a concern of a woman who just resorted to ascribing on an old medium…old or not what she writes still needs to be heard:

‘Dear diary
It’s been years since I communicated through you and I’ve been through good and bad times, very trying times since our last encounter. I don’t know where I stand, I just know that I’m exhausted in every way possible and I have been strong, especially this year but in the strength that has been bestowed upon me I realized one thing and that thing is: my life will never be the same again, no matter how happy, inspirational and all the good things combined it doesn’t feel like I’ll be normal anytime soon.
I know you thinking I’ve been through worse and I’ve survived it but reality is this time around the pain is just too much to bare, it is not the deed itself that hurts but the reasoning behind it all. I have been told that I’m free but I know nothing about this freedom they are on about, I am bound by fear. I fear to be my own person, I fear to love and trust a man and I fear to be comfortable in my own skin because when I’m in skimpy clothes I am labelled as a whore, who wants a dick. What is this freedom when I cannot be a young woman who dresses as she feels comfortable? Who cannot have a flat tummy and ass because men are watching and I’m tempting them to unzip their pants and force themselves on me because “I’m sexy and I’m doing it for them.” 
Society is messed up and it hurts to know that you can never embrace your beauty as a woman or be able to say no to a man when asks you out because you’ll be deemed a proud girl ‘odinga ukukhishwa lento anayo’ by being sexually harassed. I have been quiet for too long and we need to remove the duct tape on the mouth of women being harassed daily.
That’s it for today’
Written by Zinhle Zulu a young gender activist.

I agree. A duct tape against the violence of women need to be removed and replace with more justice and emergent attention to the matter. It cannot be that women and children should suffer in silence of the sexually abuse from the hands of a brother, uncle or father let alone the community she resides in. When it is reported it is labelled a family matter or the the blame is shifted to the actions or behaviour of the victim. We celebrate women  during the month of August and November reminds us of the sad reality women live in.  Including the issues that plague the African Woman in her community as written above by Zinhle Zulu. The launching of 16 Days of activism against abuse has highlighted the plight of woman. Listening to the African language radio stations such as uKhozi Fm during this campaign and the likes, it becomes apparent the African Woman although liberated by law, she is still confined to the dire circumstances of the community she finds herself in. The silence needs to be broken and much action needs to be taken. It has to start with each one of us.

In closing, we are woman, we are seen it is just that our presences and significance is always measured in the in the frame of the observers mind. This can be very limiting to the growth of woman in general and to the essence of the African Woman. Although, feminist construct have made it possible to stretch the boundaries that patriarchy has held over centuries on woman. The extremities of the construct does not and has not solved all the issues woman face in a very patriarchal system and society. African woman has to endure more difficulties that are reminiscent of colonial rule. The psychological scars have treacled down generations and are still enforced in code of conducted to school girls. As if the code of conduct does not do enough to herald the conditioning the state of African girls to notions of beauty that are unfamiliar with who they are, media does not seem to be propelling the concept of beauty is diverse as the races of the world. So has media given woman a voice to be heard, seen and acknowledged of their womanhood? To a certain extent yes, but much still needs to change. Campaigns such as 16 Days of activism against abuse and Woman’s month celebration is just not enough as they run periodically instead of all year round. It is not only the duty of the media to educate and bring awareness to people it is our responsibilities as mothers, sisters and daughters and for our fathers, brothers and uncles to help us honour ourselves and elevate the African Woman to the throne she deserves.

NomKhuma is a student of life, mesmerised by the mundane things that make a day and the experiences that shape people. A design and communication graduate with a desire to teach and be taught in all things that are African,  as she often states ‘ngiyazi qhenya ngesintu sami.’

We are Pan African writers. We write about the livelihood of “Black bodies” in an anti-black society. We use Pan Africanism & Black Consciousness as tools of analysis to diagnose many of the conditions that plague us as a people and come up with solutions that can progress the African Nation towards Total & Universal Black Liberation, Now!

Posted in BlackEducation, empowerment, women

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