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Category: violence against women

God Dies By the Nile

Nawal El Saadawi showed me how what was once a beautiful cup can suddenly become shattered fragments of porcelain. Her novel God Dies by a Nile opens with Zakeya learning that her niece Nefissa the daughter of her brother Kafrawi had vanished. She was only 12yrs old when she was forced to go work in the Mayor of  Kafr El Teen’s house. Poor Elau is accused of assaulting her and innocent Kafrawi is framed for killing Elau. But for Kafrawi, Elau was a good man, he could never kill him even though he was found near his body.


                                                  Nawal El Saadawi http://tiny.cc/a0dusy                                                                                                   

After Nefissa goes missing, in Kafr El Teen an unknown girl gives birth to her child and abandons it in front of the home of the childless village Sheik Hamzawi and his young wife Fatheya. Being married the fourth time to young Fatheya whom he takes forcefully against her will in spite of his virility which he patches up with potion, Shiek Hamzawi saw the abandoned baby boy as an angel from God, but for the Chief of the village guard, why could it not be the son of the devil?

The revered Mayor of Kafr El Teen, Sheik Hamzawi, Haj Ismail, Sheik Zahran and their likes were the men who preserved the holy mosques, they were the men who watched over the morals and ensured the piety of the village of Kafr El Teen was intact. But to them, forcing innocent girls like Nefissa, her sister Zeinab and Fatheya out of her cradle into marriage or raping them was not immoral.

‘How exciting these simple girls are, how pleasant it is to take their virgin bodies into one’s arms, like plucking a newly opened rose flower. How I hate the false sophistication of Cairo women, like my wife with her brazen eyes. Nothing any longer intimidates or thrills her. Her frigid body no longer quivers when I caress her, or hold her tight, or even bite her’.

Voices of young beautiful women silenced by their Guardians; fathers and brothers, fill this book. Men who needed potions and amulets to patch their virility take glimpses at the supple bodies of young girls and gleam with unsatisfied lust, not even the God in the Misbahah prayer bead running uninterruptedly through their fingers could stop them. They all fed on the body of young girls like a group of starved men gathered around a lamb roasting on fire.


For the married Mayor who had the whole village enslaved, he was beyond suspicion and nothing could stop his lust for any woman. Unfortunately, he’s got a taste for women, he hunted the most vulnerable of them. After Nefissa vanished from working in his house, his eyes were now set on her sister.

 ‘And if he likes a woman, he can’t forget her. You know he is pretty obstinate himself. Once he sets his eyes on a woman, he must have her, come what may… he burned for such a desire for Zeinab that only death could put an end to it. Sooner or later, he was going to lay his hands on her, for like all Gods he believed that the impossible did not exist.’
‘Do you know he does not sleep because of Zeinab? I have done my best to convince her but she still refuses.’

Fatheya’s will may have been broken on marriage but not on motherhood. She quickly took in the abandoned child born in sin into the home she shared with Sheik Hamzawi. Though the presence of this sinful son of fornication ruffled the village and threatened the position of Hamzawi as Sheik in the village mosque, it did not stop Fatheya from holding on tightly to the child clamped to her breast even when she could see the danger hovering around them.

‘The Mayor has removed Sheik Hamzawi from his job and has appointed another Sheik in the mosque…The worm has eaten our cotton, and we’ve had nothing but trouble since Sheik Hamzawi gave shelter to that child of sin in his house. How can we allow a man who adopts the children of sin and fornication in his house to lead us in prayer?’

In the days to follow, when the wind started to blow, and carried a spark from an oven unto one of the roofs, igniting flames that spread through the village. Fatheya’s child was the accused. Every effort by the wrathful voices and the big rough hands to wrench the child away from Fatheya was in vain even to death.

‘In a few moment, Fatheya’s body had become a mass of torn flesh and the ground was stained red with her blood… His (Hamzawi) eyes were fastened on the naked body of his wife lying on the ground high up on the bank of the river… they carried her as her as the house, and on the following morning buried her with the child held tightly in her arms.’

When Fatheya died, God also died by the Nile. Then the impossible began to happen as the long lost Galal returns from Sinai to seek out his beloved Zeinab who was betrothed to him and ask after his cousin Neffisa and his Uncle Kafrawi whom had all fallen victim to the greed and lust of the revered Mayor, a man who walked the earth like God. Since the day Galal defied the Mayor and married Zeinab, the threatened Mayor unleashed his evil, sending Galal to goal prison, just like he did to Zeinab and Neffisa’s father Kafrawi.

For Zakeya who had lived to see the Mayor take her Brother Kafrawi to goal, and forcefully take his two beautiful daughters Zeinab and Neffisa, sending her long lost son Galal to Goal was the last straw.

‘She opened her mouth wide and started to scream and to wail in a continuous high-pitched lament, as though mourning the suffering of a whole lifetime suppressed in her body from the very first moment of her life when her father struck her mother in the head because she had not borne him the son he expected. It was a wail that went back, far back to many a moment of pain in her life… To the time when Om Saber forced her thighs apart and with her razor cut off a piece of her flesh. To the time when she developed two breasts which the menfolk would pinch when there was nobody around to prevent them. To the time when her spouse Abdel Moneim would beat her with his stick, then climb on her and bear down on her chest with all the weight. To the time when she bore him children and bled, then buried them one after the other with the dead. To the time when Galal put on his army uniform and never came back, and the time when Neffissa ran away… to the time when the car came to the village carrying the gentlemen from the town and the dog, then took Kafrawi with them and left. Her wail went back and back to such times and others she could not forget like the lament which has no end, and sees no end to all the pain in life. It seemed to be as long as the length of her life, as long as the long hours of her days and nights.’

Vengeance was her’s when she crossed the huge iron gate of the Mayor’s house that night with a hoe that ended the Mayor’s life. With a blow from the hoe crushing his head,  Zakeya’s act of murder became Allah’s choice. And from that moment he was destined never to see, or feel, or know anything anymore.

Published in 1985, I got to read this book in the wake of Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein’s scandal. Through each page of this commendable novel, set in an Egyptian Islamic village, I thought about how it unraveled the abuse of women in Muslim communities. I could imagine that Zakeya’s wailing could be relatable and yet muffled for many women. As the global effect of the #Metoo anti-sexual harassment campaign was felt, I wondered if the echoes of #MeToo could someday pierce through walls of muds Fatheya knelt within praying the words of Allah as the hands of Sheik Hamzawi crept between her thighs. Could it penetrate the dark rooms, pound at the high brick walls and iron gates of the Mayor’s house and break out in the Mosque? Could the voices of women resound the #MeToo like the call for prayers? If and when that happens, will they get people stand behind them like they stand behind the Sheik?

In the months gone by, few discourses on whether the  #MeToo movement is a West Only movement has got responses in the call to talk about sexual misconduct among Islamic preachers, and to call out the Harvey Weinstein of Islam. But I still wonder if #MeToo will eventually be a word that vulnerable people world over can use; like Fatheya, can women in marriages also say #MeToo?

~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Musing on The Brontë Sisters

We cannot talk of Victorian literature without mentioning the Brontë Dynasty; Sisters The Bronte SistersCharlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. In my moments of wool-gathering recently, I reminisced on their contributions to literature, I thought about how these clergyman’s daughters expressed outstanding understanding of society, the passion and insight they give about the realities of their time. Then in my usual frame of reference, I also considered choosing who among them wrote best for social change.
The themes of the Victorian Era novels which to me focused often on romantic love, makes it easy to dismiss some of them as being irrelevant to the present day development discourse, but I think that perspective is not totally right. The Brontë sisters did write about romantic love, but they also wrote about other things. The eldest of the Brontë’s Charlotte did impress me with her Novel Jane Eyre which I have read with pleasure over and over again, offering time to watch and critique the different movies it inspired. More so, Emily Brontë with her only novel Wuthering Heights made my jaws drop; the multi-layered novel that revolves around the wounded soul Heathcliff who is for some a Byronic hero thrilled me with the circles of life and how sometimes it takes a generation dying off before healing happens.

The Brontë sisters wrote about marriage in very romantic ways that continues to appeal to many, we saw male characters of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and Heathcliff in Wuthering Height express their love through arrogance, dominance and manipulation, seducing their women and even most of us readers. But all the love in the writing of the two elder sisters did not seduce me; it was Anne Brontë; the less known one, that seduced me.
These sisters who wrote these classics under male Pseudonyms (a reflection of the existing Patriarchal system of their time where women were not encouraged to write), may have tried to keep their feminism off the page, but Audacious Anne couldn’t conform.

anne brontePublished in 1847 Anne’s novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, dared to present a story of an empowered woman Helen Graham who risked it all and walks out of an abusive marriage with her son. Her rebellion against the social norms of that era was revolutionary. Domestic Violence though existing over different era, must have been romanticised at the time, with women not having property rights, income and being complete dependants of their fathers and husbands, it would have taken a lot of guts for a young single mother of a son to pull it off, and Anne Brontë’s character did it confidently to save her son from the corruption of his father.

With the character of Gilbert Markham the hero in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall who will help a victim of violence escape and take no advantage of her vulnerability, Anne shows aversion for violent men. She does not romanticise violence or view badly behaved men with rose tinted glasses as was the practice of writers in her time. Through Gilbert, she projects the model man who will bear no animosity with a woman who says NO even when he is her benefactor. Through Frederick Lawrence she modelled that men who love and care for their immediate and extended families where no lesser men.

It’s not that the act of a woman leaving her husband was new in the novel of that era, in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s wife Isabella also ran away from her husband and this would have me think of Emily Brontë trying to throw a feminist punch, but being that it was not the central conflict in her book, Isabella‘s act held little water. With a matchless audacity, Anne Bronte centralised this in the character of Helen Graham. Not bowing to the prevailing sentiment of her time, she brings to the fore details of how a husband’s alcoholism destroys a home and how the only way to fight and survive his addictions might be to leave.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
For ages, we have asked the question, why do women stay with abusive partners? In projecting issues of powerlessness and the importance of agency and space for any woman, Anne helps us understand why women stay; she exposes the stigma and discrimination suffered by divorcees and single mothers and their lack of social protection. Addressing this relative poverty and lack of financial freedom women suffered, Virginia Woolf a modernist feminist writer would proudly wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.

I am thrilled for Anne Brontë because her medieval novel is still relevant in modern times. The challenges of single mothers; their shaming, their discomfited lives of raising a child without a father, the constant judgement of their parental abilities and disdain for maternal authority is still very much alive in our time. This concept of a child being tied to a mother’s apron was introduced by her with an equally matching interpretation:

‘Mrs. Graham had brought her child with her, and on my mother’s expressing surprise that he could walk so far, she replied — ’It is a long walk for him; but I must have either taken him with me, or relinquished the visit altogether; for I never leave him alone; and I think, Mrs. Markham, I must beg you to make my excuses to the Millwards and Mrs. Wilson, when you see them, as I fear I cannot do myself the pleasure of calling upon them till my little Arthur is able to accompany me.’
‘But you have a servant,’ said Rose; ‘could you not leave him with her?’
‘She has her own occupations to attend to; and besides, she is too old to run after a child, and he is too mercurial to be tied to an elderly woman.’
‘But you left him to come to church.’
‘Yes, once; but I would not have left him for any other purpose; and I think, in future, I must contrive to bring him with me, or stay at home.’
‘Is he so mischievous?’ asked my mother, considerably shocked.
‘No,’ replied the lady, sadly smiling, as she stroked the wavy locks of her son, who was seated on a low stool at her feet; ‘but he is my only treasure, and I am his only friend: so we don’t like to be separated.’
‘But, my dear, I call that doting,’ said my plain-spoken parent. ‘You should try to suppress such foolish fondness, as well to save your son from ruin as yourself from ridicule.’
‘Ruin! Mrs. Markham!’
‘Yes; it is spoiling the child. Even at his age, he ought not to be always tied to his mother’s apron-string; he should learn to be ashamed of it.’
‘Mrs. Markham, I beg you will not say such things, in his presence, at least. I trust my son will never be ashamed to love his mother!’ said Mrs. Graham, with a serious energy that startled the company.

In a quiet way, Anne Brontë slipped in an unruly novel to harass the social conventions of the English Upper class society of her time. By challenging the laws of marriage, child custody, and the right of a divorced woman to love again, I think her work contributed instrumentally to making a case and preparing the path for present day consideration of women’s experience in global laws such as The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other complimentary legal framework at national and state levels.
Being the lesser known of the one, Anne Brontë’s novel written with radical vigor may have been suppressed but not silenced; it will always be on my shelf.

Written By~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye



The author Ayaan Hirsi Ali

When you lose the terror of hell, you become free. But to lose that fear isn’t an easy matter. The book Infidel is about how a young girl grew into a freedom fighter, nurturing herself from a world of faith to a world of reason, leaving god, satan, angels, heaven and hell behind, finding a moral compass within herself and no longer within the pages of any sacred book.
Born in a once peaceful Somalia, conflict in Somalia sent her family fleeing as refugees. Ayaan then lived her childhood across Saudi-Arabia, Ethiopia and Nairobi. Between these spaces, she narrates her different experience of the Islamic religion as it is diluted and mixed with culture. It was for her a world cut between honour and shame, where women were pious slaves struggling and working under a long veil, constantly reminded of the necessity of covering female limbs and face to avoid chaos for men sighting the female flesh. Girls were shamed for being kinterley; she with the clitoris, thus ending with hacked vaginas. It was a world where a Virgin’s only response to a marriage proposal was dignified silence; it is honourable. For many women, a lost honour would mean death in the hand of their father, brother or husband.
Soon Ayaan became familiar with the concept of Difference and silently questioned it as shared in the interesting scene involving her father Abeh below.

‘Abeh would always protest and quote the Quran: “Paradise is at the feet of your mother!” But when we looked down at them, our mother’s bare feet were cracked from washing the floor every day, and Abeh’s were clad in expensive Italian Leather shoes.’

Beyond gender inequalities, sharp fragmentation of class, clan, tribes and castes existed in the different societies she grew in. But travelling secretly through the pages of fiction novels, she and her sister Haweya could conceptualize an egalitarian society where difference didn’t necessarily inform exclusion.

‘We read in 1984, Huckleberry Finn, The Thirty-Nine Steps. Later, we read English Translations of Russian Novels…we imagined the British moors in Wuthering Heights and the fight for racial equality in South Africa in Cry, the Beloved Country. An entire world of Western ideas began to take shape… later on there were sexy books: Valley of Dolls, Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steele. All these books, even the trashy ones, carried with them ideas – races were equal, women were equal to men.’

In such a world where there is no ‘self’ for a woman, any search for a self will remain a struggle. Life was harsh but Ayaan was lucky in a very rare manner. Her kind of luck is outstanding, marked by enormous good fortune. She captures the perils and triumphs of her life below.

‘How many girls born in Digfer Hospital in Mogadishu in November 1969 are even alive today? And how many have a real voice? … When I was born, my mother initially thought death had taken me away. But it didn’t. When I got Malaria and pneumonia, I recovered. When my genitals were cut, the wound healed. When bandit held a knife to my throat, he decided not to slit it. When my Quran teacher fractured my skull, the doctor who treated me kept death at bay.’

IMG_0146Taking a train to Amsterdam as a runaway bride, Ayaan took a chance at freedom; free from bondage to a husband chosen by her father. That act of courage changed her life completely. Ayaan will later obtain a political asylum in the Netherlands and grow to be elected a member of the House of Representatives of the Dutch Parliament.
In Holland, she found the freedom of expression; the freedom to think and choose her fight. On her political platform, Ayaan advanced her criticism for Women’s right, female genital mutilation, Religion and Islam. Her passion for what she believed in will later lead to her production of a controversial short-film ‘Submission’; a film that  triggered the gruesome killing of her producer friend Theo Van Gogh and more so her having to live an endangered life with death threats.
As with this book Infidel, Ayaan’s message in the 10mins film ‘Submissionchallenges convention. Submission presents a young woman in direct dialogue with her deity; Allah. The message was strong; men and even women may look up and speak to Allah … it is possible to free oneself-to adapt one’s faith, to examine critically, and to think about the degree to which that faith is itself at the root of oppression.
I found it challenging to review a book whose author is not only accused of racial inferiority but also known for being Islamophobic by many of my friends. The foreword written by the Late Christopher Hitchens didn’t make it less controversial either. I have chosen to appreciate her bravery in exposing her private memories in a way I could relate with. I choose to critic Ayaan based on the validity of her arguments only. Her enquiries inarguably holds water; Is freedom then only for white people? Is it self-love to adhere to my ancestors’ traditions and mutilate my daughter? To agree to be humiliated and powerless? To watch passively as my countrymen abuse women and slaughter each other in pointless disputes?

27yrs old Farkunda is a Afghan, student of Islamic law who was murdered for allegedly burning a Koran by a mob of men in Kabul Afghanistan, March,2015.

27yrs old Farkunda is a Afghan, student of Islamic law who was murdered for allegedly burning a Koran by a mob of men in Kabul Afghanistan, March,2015.

I think it is for women like the late Farkhunda Malikzada that Ayaan writes. Despite Farkunda’s devotion to her faith, she is falsely accused of burning the Quran and being an American, hence lynched to a horrific death in the name of Islam by men who should have been fathers and brothers. Such are the paradoxes that challenge our faith. Indeed such women require a vocabulary for resistance, a new lens to conceptualize the gaps between the holy book and their reality. A deconstruction of the death and abuse of many women and men alike in the name of religion can only explain why development is hindered beneath some piece of sky. The mistreatment of women and girls remains the most critical human right issue globally.
From Islam to Christianity and others, there is a growing need to unlearn and reconstruct our understanding and interpretation of faith. This book by Ayaan presents a moving narrative, contributing to the wider understanding of the growing linkages between religion, culture and development or under-development.
While criticisms abound on her work, I hope we remember we have no right to question her narratives on how she has experienced life. In this book is a story about Ayaan, the daughter of Hirsi; the son of Magan-the son of Isse-the son of Guleid-the son of Ali. It’s the story of her life. In writing her story bravely, Ayaan inspires me to stop tiptoeing around the pretence of my faith and speak the truth even if my voice shakes.
Written by~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field and you don’t notice it. By reading this book, I made God happy. The color purple written by Alice Walker was set in the time when Horses and their wagons gave horspitality. Then lived Celie and her sister Nettie, there were many Mr._____; Albert, Alphonso. There was Harpo, Sofia, Shug Avery and others. In those days, the enemy was not the horse thieves; it was Mr._____ .
Celie wrote many letters to God about the days of her life. Whether God will read her letter or No, Celie went on IMG_7683writing. She told God about Celie the orphan and Celie the mother of two children conceived with her father and later given out for others to raise. She told God about other people’s children she nursed; the good  and the bad ones, their good and their bad days. With hints of humor, she describes the children’s prevailing illness in winter, ‘they have flue , they have direar, they have newmonya,… twoberkulosis.
Celie shared her life as a victim of two Mr._____s . The parts of the story that constructs the character of Mr.____  stinks with all sorts of domestic violence; rape, battery, emotional abuse… She expresses this strand of theme as captured below.

‘Harpo ask his daddy why he beat me. Mr._____ say, cause she my wife. Plus she stubborn. He beats me like he beat children. He say, Celie, git the belt. The children be outside the room peeking through the cracks. It all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you are a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man.

Scenes from the Movie The color purple

A scene from the movie ‘The Color purple’.

Using the Mr._____ without a name for a better part of the book can be further understood in her words ‘Most times, mens look pretty much alike to me’. This generalization raises the question on whether the male gender had a monopoly to the kind of violence Celie  experienced. I asked myself if violence was innate or socialized. Could men also be a victim of domestic violence? Could women like Celie who played victim also become enablers, reinforcing what they have been given trans-generationally?
My questions found answers in the arrival of Harpo’s wife Sofia who represents the defiant new generation of amazon sisters that are not shy or afraid to backtalk. Mr._____ advices Harpo to hit Sofia to show who got the upper hand. Celie surprisingly concurs to the idea that ‘Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating’. Sadly, the next day, Harpo returns back to them with a black eye and a silence which in a way highlights the silent crime of male abuse present in our society. After some confrontations, Celie confesses that indeed, ‘some women can’t be beat, Sofia one of them’.
Harpo feeling his body size made him weak to Sofia, is triggered to gluttony with the expectation he will get as fat as Sofia; but only his belly gets fat. Harpo and Sofia show that gender roles are indeed fluid. Though Harpo desires Sofia to be just a ‘wife’, she was instead the ladder carrying, roof nailing girl who hunts with bow and arrows and batters her husband deservingly.

The character of Celie in the movie ‘The Color Purple’.

Harpo’s character breaks the bleak boundary of traditional gender roles. He questions the normative division of labour in an age where women were caught in the field cotton chopping, labouring all day tending their crops and praying.
Describing the impact of this intense work, Celie says ‘I’m roasted coffee bean colour now.’ This clearly makes a case time poverty, a concept that is not fully explored among women in developing countries. Celie could not even get time to see her fantasy superstar queen-honey-bee; Shug Avery, no matter how intensely she desired to.
In an ironic way, super star Shug Avery who also is the love of Mr._____ life, walks into Celie’s life sick with twoberculosis. Shugs presence created a paradigm shifts, an epiphany! Though a superstar, Shug is yet another human with life’s ravages. Unlike she appeared in the picture, she was only kinky haired, black as tar woman with legs like baseball bat. Thanks to her, the identity of  Mr._____ who Celie married is revealed as Albert. He is de-constructed with a display of all his weaknesses.
Celie nurses Shug to health and in return Shug protects her away from Mr._____ Albert’s violence. She gives her access to piles of letters from her only sister Nettie which Mr._____ Albert has hidden from her. Shug teaches Celie sexuality, empowering her with sexual and spiritual freedom. Through Shug’s character, the author re-constructs the identity of Celie‘s God sharing why sinners have more good time with less consciousness of the injected fear of God.

‘Shug say, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found Godin church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.’

With Shug’s impact and influence, Celie finds the courage to question her relationship with a silent God she has written letters to all these while.

What God do for me?…Yeah ,I say and he give me a lynched daddy, a crazy Mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I say, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all other mens I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown.

Finally Celie’s life just began. In one sentence, she expressed the new dynamics. ‘Dear Nettie, I don’t write God no more. I write to you.’  Writing and reading and from Nettie her sister who is now a missionary in Africa served a window for Celie to learn about Africa and coincidentally how the children she assumably conceived through incest with her dad were doing now under Nettie’s care. She learnt about trains, ships, and slave trade which she could liken to the experience of Sofia eventually losing her freedom for five years in jail after fighting the white mayor; Sofia became a slave to Mrs Millie the Mayor’s wife.
Alice Walker showed a mastery of the language art with a seamless swing from uneducated Celie’s broken English to learned Nettie’s standard English. The stories are woven perfectly allowing most characters second chances in life. For many of them, life took them on full circles, sometimes returning them to relationships with the devils they left behind. In a moving reunion, the author brings to an end a life of absence between two sisters.

A scene from the movie ‘the color purple’.

I am not at all surprised ‘The Colour Purple’ bagged the Pulitzer Prize of 1983 and also won the National book Award. Doing a summary of this book is pure injustice to it, this evergreen book is wholesome. It addresses racism, sexism, and the social constructions of gender roles. It ruffles the normatives of organised  religion. It makes a perfect complement for discourses around gender based violence which CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) addresses. It recognizes violence as constituting a violation of women’s human rights; that is disproportionately directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. Alice Walker’s narratives resonates deeply with the understanding of violence as an act that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.
The Color purple  explores issues of identities, questioning all colour-based definitions of the African identity in the dichotomy between the descendant of African slaves seeking to lay claims on Africa like the Missionary Nettie and Samuel, and the people of Olinka who don’t accept them as Africans.
While examining rural development issues and the conflicts of imposed civilization, it also highlights the issues of unpaid work and time poverty; a concept least explored for women in developing countries.
Author Alice Walker. Photo by the South Bank Centre. http://tiny.cc/dnx6sx

Author Alice Walker. Photo by the South Bank Centre. http://tiny.cc/dnx6sx

This epistolary novel published in 1982 made an indelible impact. It’s letter written format served as a great tool for communication and  reflective practices. Deservingly, the novel has been adapted into a movie which equally expresses the power to communicate the issues raised by the author.
To Alice Walker, I would have titled this book ‘A letter to God’ as your deconstruction of God remains the best gift I received from it; I learnt that God is inside me as me. I admire the spiritual awareness you have shared here. May you remain the Big Purple Flower in my hair.
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Who are we Fighting?

fbprofile-gray-dateIt’s Tuesday night, I am still relieving memories of my engagements for the 14th of February. These days, my personal life and my work life seem thick as thieves. I am reading Suey Park’s post sent to me by a friend. Suey says dating can be hard for activists because for people like her “love is not about sacrifice and scarcity but about equality, justice and community.” Hence activist are better dating them self; it is easier for activists to date one another because others would not understand when “you have to attend a street protest at night.” This is arguable but also interesting.
Like her, I spent the day rising with billions of people all over the world for ‘One Billion Rising Campaign’. While women, girls, men and boys can be victims of violence, this campaign focused on women and girls only. With my personal quote ‘Rise up, let’s Silence Violence, not Women’, I talked to friends, using all social media links available to mobilize support for the cause. Rather than ending my day on an ideal candle light dinner table with litters of red roses and wine, I landed in12729_514796935299573_2141952551_n (1) bed tired from the appreciation of my fellow justice seekers and the mockery of my anti-feminist family and friends, one of whom is my brother Godson.  Everything about our action seemed to rob off wrongly for my anti-feminist brother who feels as if I am fighting him and other men. Though I realize that the cause I stood for is far beyond me and him, his perspective provoked a food for thought; what are we fighting? who are we really fighting against? Is it the men, the system or is it those who perpetrate violence against women?
It’s a night after the Valentine’s eve and am getting more clarity to my mind’s questions. Am chatting with my Italian friend Maurizio,
‘I hate the Maman,’  he said to me.
‘Who is the Maman,’ I asked.
‘They are African women exploiting and blackmailing other African women to prostitution… they blackmail these women, with voodoo rites, threatening to kill their relatives in Africa if they do not prostitute’ he explained. ‘In Italy, women are migrated in ships for prostitution…Write an article on this please’ he requested.

Photo by Grain Media

Photo by Grain Media

I have for the past few days pondered and researched on the character of the Maman. Woven around the Maman are stories of young African girls whose minds have been raped by stories of paradise Europe and easily shipped away from family and friends and the  otherwise better life they had. Like mannequins in motion, they stand in stiletto heels, their breasts cupped in painful brassière that remind them that their flesh knows no freedom anymore. The Maman’s are their pimps who smear the windshield of the lives of enslaved prostitutes with fear and illusion buried in an oath with a promise to destroy the lives they left back at home.
Jagua Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi, is one literary book that presents us with a psycho-social case in point for prostitution. It links its characters and narratives to the realities of prostitution in our world. Reviewing it here, we had explored the dynamic sentiments around the flesh for cash business, from the legal, health and the economic angle. Bertolt Bretchs work,images (1) Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (literally translated the good woman of Setzuan) which we also reviewed here, unveiled the Johns behind the mask of prostitution. I am not going back to these lines of thinking.
What provoked me to write this is that unlike most of us will expect, the Mamans are women, not men. Yes, the Italian Mamans (or Madams as they are also called) are African women exploiting the body of other African women. Mamans blackmail their fellow women, throwing them on the sidewalks of prostitution and sometimes get them killed.
Defining Violence as a violation of human right is not new. Subsequent developments in international law and in interpreting CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) have recognized violence as constituting a violation of women’s human rights; that is disproportionately directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.
Chatting with Maurizio, I came out thinking that the fight for gender equality and against gender based violence may as well entail women fighting their fellow women for their freedom and well-being. I am trying to be judgmental of the Maman, but again I one-bilion-rising-2ask myself, perhaps there is a vicious circle here? Are Maman’s not also one time victim of the oppressive system of violence they uphold?
Whether victim or not, the reality of this story is that women too are emerging as perpetrators of gender based violence. Women and not just men are in different ways supporting the structure and culture of violence.
A profound truth with implication for feminist interventions like ‘one billion rising’ is the realization that sometimes we must fight our self and not another person. We must dance our self off suckling and keeping faith in any system that rapes our mind and violates our well-being.
I believe in the sacredness of every human soul, in the truth that we can all live an inviolate life. This faith drives my support for social causes like the ‘one billion rising’, standing for justice and equality https://worldpulse.com/pulsewire/exchange/events/61549. Rising against violence for me means standing against the systemic structure that promotes violence and persons that support it, it is not about prejudicing and fighting men specifically. As we rise, we must keep our focus on separating the issue from the people.
Am sparing a thought today for that battered woman who lost her soul to violence, remembering she will never come home again. To her Sons and Daughters, to the women and girls who have sustained scars in their heart, souls and flesh, whose bodies have been weakened and mutilated, I hope you dance. Rise, Release and dance to the non-violent rhythm of freedom.
Come February 14th 2015 and every day of my life, I will continue to rise and dance against systems and actions that promote violence and impunity for persons that perpetrate violence, be they men or women.



“He was no longer the dignified commander of a company of slave hunters. His instincts had taken control of him. He was a two legged animal bent on copulation…Deeper and harder he drove. Nandzi could not control her sobs. Suddenly, as he plumbed her depths, she felt a surge of pain unlike anything she had ever before experienced. It was as if he had mounted the sharp iron head of his assegai onto the end of his penis. Each time he plunged into her, the pain rose to a crescendo. She screamed in agony but he paid no heed. Once, twice, three times. She summoned up all her strength in a superhuman effort to throw him off, but he was too strong and too heavy. Then she lost consciousness”.

Contemplating on how to conceptualize ‘rape’ as a weapon of warfare in the context of our weekly column, I hit a wall severally as I Manu Herbesteinrealised that there is a dearth in the use of rape in literature, most especially African literature. Maybe the constructions and criminalization of it, is something Africans are yet to come to terms with. In a patriarchal society where women are expected to just be ready to provide sexual pleasure always, criminalizing rape presents a huge conflict. I had consulted an able friend Mary Okeke for suggestions, and thanks to her, Manu Herbestein’s book ‘Ama’ made for a superb reference, as it evokes the exact mortification inherent in rape.
From the excerpt above, I would conclude that the character of ‘Nandzi’ was transformed into ‘Ama’ through an initiating process of rape by Commander ‘Abdulai’. Thereafter a journey that thrust her in a foreign land began; she was passed from owner to owner and eternally stripped of her identity. The remainder of the story captures a life of struggle and resignation of a slave girl.
Symbolically, ‘Ama’s journey represents the reality of many victims of rape, men and women alike. We Picadorcoverare thought of the sacred ownership of certain parts of our body, enshrined in our deepest recess is the knowledge that our sexual purity is definitive. When those sacred places are attacked, the feeling of that violation is etched into one’s judgement of self. If you are unlike Linor Abargil, the brave miss world who found justice, the shame injected into you by that penetrating forceful push will hover for long. It’s like a knife goes through your dignity and self-esteem and slices them apart. Even when you stitch it together, the scars are forever.
Rape scenarios may be different, but the discreet act that transforms the lives of its victims remains the same. What they share in common is the use of force, the violation of the will, the body and a person’s right to choice.  The leftover haunting memories and mental mutilation like Diamonds, will last forever.
You may be asking, why talk about this and where do I situate it in global development? Rape is an rape statsugly word but a common phenomenon, more common than we can comprehend. It screams out there but our silence muffles it. In recent times, many stories of violence are happening between the lovely bones all over the world. In England, we meet Jimmy Saville, and then we travel to the rape land of Congo in Africa. There, guns are not needed for war, rape is.  We can choose to navigate to India for the Rape Fiestas; next destination might be the Japanese rape club. Then we halt at the landmarks in lived experiences of serial rapists and chauvinist killers of America. All of them tell the story of momentary defeats of people’s will that has placed them in a lasting category; ‘RAPED’!
Incidence of war rape in the African continent created frenzy in the media this year, with the rising number of men, women and children reported as victims in Congo. Heavy criticisms from Navi Pillay the UN High commissioner for human right, amongst other institutions decried this act. Hence, Congo towns Gome and Sake became synonymousnavi_pillay with the land of sexual warfare. South Africa and India also took to the stage for the monstrous rape of innocent individuals which in some cases led to death.
Rape is no longer about sex, like guns, it has become a weapon of warfare, It’s more about violence; used to reinforce instability and dominance. It’s about individuals abnormally gaining mental balance through inflicting violence on others. It’s about Power; massaging an ego at the expense of robbing another person of their sexual integrity. The assumption that only evil persons with knives in the dark are rapists has long shifted too. Powerful, rich, upward moral promoters like politicians and imagesreligious leaders have long joined the list.
Many explanations have been given to the rising culture of rape, some blame the promotion of violence by media through movies, pictures, books and cartoon. As in all cases, fiction has a role to play. Cartoons like ‘Rape man’ cannot be excused from the guilt of promoting the rape culture.
11486More so, incidence of rape has been viewed along the gender lines even in literature. In ‘The Colour Purple’ by images (3)Alice Walker, we meet ‘Celie’, the poor black woman whose letters tell the story of abuse and rape by her father. ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold adds to the shape of rape in contemporary literature, presenting ‘Susie Salmon’ who posthumously describes how she was raped and killed on her way from school. Symbolically, what we know about Susie, her family does not, as rape remains an isolated event. The list of literature can go on including our case study ‘Ama’ by Manu Herbestein.
Critics complain that rape and violence against women are being misrepresentedp in fiction. The above literatures suggest that men are rapists as women are often cast as victims. Like in the cartoon ‘Rape man’, rape in works of fiction is often perceived as punishment to stubborn heroines. This raises question on whether fiction is purely an imaginative work or is inspired by reality? Certainly authors may hand pick realities they want to represent and the pattern arguably shows that their choices seem to favour realities that reinforce women as victims. But in reality, it’s important to note that rape cuts across gender as men are raped too. The fact that a man responds to a stimulation with  an erection does not mean he wants to have sex.
Writing this, am wondering if fiction writing can provoke the desired change, can the mental structures of a writer shift to entertainimages and present realities that will stimulate change for all? Can our mental structure as readers also adjust on this issue by reading literary fiction?
In conclusion, the comparisons above can never contend with Susan Brownmiller’s  persuasive prose ‘Against our Will’, but I assume like her, that it’s important to explore this issue in every way we can until the mental structure of our society begins to shift organically. Hopefully, through fresh wisdom, we can abandon silence to speak and fight against this violence. The truth is that every victim of rape goes through rape twice, the first is by the rapist, and the second is the rape by the law and the society which shuts them up.
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

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