16 days – meaningful campaign or just an annual hype?

I am often always amused by the hype around 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women each year, but this year takes the trophy for me. Possibly because I have pushed myself to actually personally participate in some of the activities centered on this campaign in one form or the other. For instance, I penned a paper on Gender Based Violence and the media that informed the discussion and cyber dialogues’ initiative by Genderlinks around that theme.  I also took part in some discussion forums, the most recent being the Gender Forum discussion on “Women defeating the odds of violence” held at the Book Café and organized by Pamberi Trust. For the first time in my life, I felt thoroughly embarrassed to be called a feminist.

The discussion topic was well intended and in principle, a good theme to analyze given that Zimbabwe experienced the most horrific human rights abuses and violence perpetrated against women in last year’s bloody ‘harmonized’ elections. You’d imagine that discussants would do a post mortem of that period, talk about how victims of violence have coped, what feminists and women’s organizations have done or are doing to obtain justice for women who have been and continue to be victimized. As expected, the moment the facilitator sprung her opening statement; I visibly saw the discussion go off topic. I say expected because from observations made over the past few years, such fora often degenerate disintegrate into circuses for mudslinging, emotional outbursts and hollow agitation.

Now I will not mention any names. Some of the sentiments evolving from the discussions made me think; no wonder we will never be taken seriously. Somehow the discussion got into why men feel the need to whistle at women on the streets, that women should be able to walk half naked in down town Albion without being whistled at let alone harassed by men. The main sentiment was that, there is no excuse whatsoever for any man to hit or harass a woman. Majority of the women somehow picked up the I-don’t-take-shit-from-any-man chant, and that formed the preamble for a lot of them who spoke.

I began to feel sorry for the few men in the café. They were literally cowering from the verbal blows of eccentric feminists who basically turned the forum into an anger ventilation pub. I must point out that the day the discussion took place was also International Men’s day, and one of the co-facilitators had boldly proclaimed, “I don’t do men except in the bedroom!” and I was sitting there thinking, if men are the problem, surely they are part of the solution too? Cannot their active participation raise awareness and probably bring about or at least influence much needed behavior change? How crass can one get?

One of the feminist sisters stood up and gave a controversial contribution that got her attacked left right and centre by the radical vultures, and could have seen her beaten up most likely, had she not disappeared soon enough. She stood there and decried the fact that we are not existing in an ideal world, and in the same fashion that we have thieves and other do-badders, we also have men who abuse women and that’s a fact of life that might not go away. We needs must find practical solutions to coexist, instead of sitting here complaining all the time. She pointed out that women sometimes have a choice to walk away from abuse, with this she was referring to women artists who had earlier given testimony that they are often fondled randomly and forced to dress scantily to promote their bands.

To say I was taken aback is an understatement. The situation had become one that made me scared to offer my own two cents, for fear of being attacked. This was no discussion, you were either with the radicals or one of the enemy. Hama yemurume (relative of the husband), as someone pointed out. My friend Fungai could not have said it better when she decried the fickleness of female friendships.

I believe strongly that gender is three dimensional, and includes both men and women, and gays and lesbians. Everyone is involved and should be included in processes that seek to end gender-based violence. Violence against women is just the most chronic whose solution has become a desperate human rights necessity. It continues to silently and slowly destroy families and society, judging not only by the alarming reports and cases recorded annually at our police stations, but also by the statistics of women who approach women help organizations like Musasa Project and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) citing ‘alternative’ abuses that manifest in the form of mental and emotional torture, harassment and spousal infidelity among numerous others.  This tells me that this is a matter that should be taken a bit more seriously.

The media and society in general get thoroughly incensed and passionate about fighting violence during occasional campaigns like 16 Days and have historically been criticized for it. I guess someone realized the futility and hypocrisy of this hence the 16-365 days (and a quarter?) of Activism Against Violence Against Women now being advocated for by women’s organizations. Noble idea and noble intentions too? Speaking of Activism Against Violence Against Women, my mouth cringes each time I have to say this mouthful. I am constantly reminded of my unsmiling Zambian English teacher in high school  Mr Chieke, who did not take kindly to what he termed redundancy. You just don’t use the same word twice in one sentence, Stash. I am beginning to see his point. I wonder who came up with that; …Against Violence Against Women… Other variations please, Activism To Violence…, Activism On Violence…, hmm

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2 thoughts on “16 days – meaningful campaign or just an annual hype?

  1. I so hear you Stash. 16 Days to me is a tokenistic event, a rush of activity and then back to our silence. I call that hypocrisy. And it has to be ended soon. This is how I liken the hype:

    It’s like when a person goes on diet. At first, they are really committed and then after a week or two, they are back to their old ways. 16 Days is like that window period – everything moves so fast and then … it stops!

    Let’s not do a diet – rather let’s change our way of eating. In other words, let’s not have sacred days on which violence becomes a taboo. IT IS TABOO ALWAYS. Let’s change the way that men and women relate. Let’s challenge societal norms and notions. Let’s communicate – men and women on normal platforms and not at gender workshops and meetings.

    Lets internalise this thing!

  2. Good points, Natasha!
    I sometimes wonder if some of the women (or people) that communicate like that are their own enemies because in such a climate it’s very difficult to have real dialogue and progress…
    Just a thought. No offense to anyone intended.

    Kamau

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