Month: September 2016

Do African Women Really Need Husbands To Keep Them In Check?

What happens when an African woman gets married?

  • People in society take her seriously.
  • She is no longer considered a threat to her married friend’s husbands.
  • She gets to sleep with one man.
  • She now has somebody to keep her in check in terms of taming her once ill habits while still unmarried.
  • She can now be accorded the status of a respected mother once children are in the picture.
  • She has a title while being identified as Mrs. So and So.

What happens when an African woman fails to get married and especially if she has children or a child from a previously failed relationship?

  • Every perverted man now feels he has the warrant to hit on her.
  • Her married friends can be excused for secretly considering her a threat to their marriages.
  • She is untamed because she has no figure of authority in the house.
  • She must be slutty for choosing to remain unmarried and especially if there is evidence of children.
  • Who beds her?!
  • She probably set unrealistic standards that ended up in her being single.
  • She is damaged goods.

And what happens when an African woman fails to get married, has a child/children or no child and is highly successful in her career?

  • Well, some influential man contributed significantly in her climb on the career ladder.
  • She’s free to use her body in whichever way to get ahead. No inhibitions. I mean, she has no husband…

About two weeks back, I attended a Girlfriend’s Confidential Talk in Nairobi and when the floor was opened for women to share their views, literally every unmarried woman mentioned something concerning the pressure to get married that some were already facing. The theme behind the talk was totally different but it was not long before the conversation veered off toward marriage and the expectations that the African society places on women concerning it.

A Ghanaian traditional marriage. Photo courtesy of www.pinterest.com

A Ghanaian traditional marriage. Photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

There’s a notion in Africa that a woman needs to have a husband in order to be kept in check. Single women in top positions in our country have often been criticized bitterly concerning their marital status. It almost seems like nobody in Africa wants to believe that someone can remain unmarried at a certain age and be totally normal. There has to be something wrong with that person according to many. And it sometimes goes both ways with unmarried African men in their 40s and 50s being considered selfish and irresponsible to choose to avoid starting families.

African women approaching marriageable age with no fiance in sight have been known to go to crazy lengths just to speed up the marriage process. I was a child or pre-teen then, I can’t remember, when some preacher decided to show up in Nairobi with a promise that after his crusade, all the women present will be contacted by their future husbands. As ridiculous as it sounded, Kenyan women turned up in droves all jostling to get space in the already crowded stadium where the crusade was being held.

The pressure for an African woman to get a husband is pretty much intense. As you approach your late twenties and seem not to have an eligible character in sight, your elder sisters, mum and aunts will begin questioning frequently when your boyfriend will be visiting. I think the most appalling thing I heard from a close relative was to hurry up and get married before my arms got flabby. Apparently, according to some, women age faster than men. And in Africa, we do not quite want to believe that an older woman can indeed get a husband.

We associate marriage with a woman having a husband who ensures she tows the line. No wonder all the tag names that single women and mothers have to endure being branded. Marriage is a wonderful thing but many times the “Wives submit to your husbands” Biblical phrase is usually taken out of context. Marriage is then made to seem like only the woman has an obligation to the husband to be obedient and to follow his direction.

We forget the Biblical phrase “Husbands love your wives just like Christ loved the church”. So it is not only women who are obligated to obey the husband and to submit to him and to allow themselves to be kept in check. Husbands have an obligation too to love their wives unconditionally. How will it be possible for a woman to submit to a man who does not show any slightest signs of love for her?

Love does not only encompass romance and sex. There are many aspects of love that ensure that the act of submission of a wife to a husband is easily and willingly, effected. Love includes care, support, understanding, encouragement, wise counsel, guidance, tolerance. It is only when both African men and women understand this that the stereotype of African women needing husbands to be kept in check will go.

As a matter of fact, you do not need a man to keep you in check. Your own individual principles are enough to keep you in check. Every person has different principles. Principles are varied and choosing to be and act in a certain way depends on an individual’s perspectives. So even if an African woman who has always been a rebel got married, a husband will not successfully change that. It may even be a cause for their separation or divorce. And that is the main reason why compatibility in a partner is particularly important when choosing someone to date possibly leading to marriage.

I feel like many African women fail to reach their full potential while single because their minds are preoccupied with the pressure to get married and the fear of their success while single being associated with sleeping around. Marriage is a personal choice and there is absolutely no wrong in a woman choosing to concentrate on career and fulfilling her dreams first before settling down in marriage. We all seek self fulfillment at some point in life.

It would indeed be a tragedy if a woman rushed into marriage to beat the biological clock and got kept in check by a husband so much that all she ever wanted to achieve got buried 6 feet under. We need to understand the concept of marriage rather than confusing it with a husband’s right to domination of a wife. Because this whole keeping in check argument is in essence a form of patriarchal, chauvinistic thinking needing to be done away with.

Thoughts?

 

I recently got the opportunity to join the contribution team of Conor Boyle’s amazing blog The Conversation Room. You can keep up with some of my posts and Conor’s work on http://www.theconversationroomblog.wordpress.com

 

 

Why Being A Minority Can In Fact Be Beneficial

My niece attends a predominantly Asian school. It may sound baffling to some seeing that we come from an African nation. However, as a result of the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway line over a century ago, Kenya has quite a significant number of Asians of Indian origin. Some, 4th generation Indians born and raised in Kenya. So being a community that values giving back to society, we have a number of schools that are predominantly Asian.

For many Kenyans, the idea of enrolling your child in a school where he/she will be a minority is quite scary. We all love to feel safe and as a result of that, we prefer to stick to the familiar. My niece’s mum values exposure and good education. So when her little one got admission to this school, she was elated. She saw this as a wonderful opportunity for her child to be exposed to so many things beneficial for her growth and development. She did not look at her child being the only black face or part of the very few black faces in a class of 30 or so Indian kids.

While in high school, we had only one girl of Asian origin enrolled in our school. It was a boarding school with an estimated 300 girls and 700 boys. In our 4 years in that school, she was the only Indian. It is a known fact that many Kenyans of Asian origin lack a strong preference for boarding schools. I can only guess that the fear of having their children as minorities and away from home is what deters them from considering boarding schools in Kenya.

Photo Credit: Google

Photo Credit: Google

For this girl, it was actually a marvel to us for sometime. Mind you, two of her brothers had been in the school before her and had performed exemplary in their finals. I remember us waiting with bated breath just to see how this girl would handle being assigned dorm duties. We all had our own individual dorm duties but the fact that we were not used to seeing Indians in boarding schools which were predominantly African, we were curious to know if she could equally bend and mop like the rest of us.

I tend to feel that sometimes being a minority goes a long way in changing your views about others. For this Indian girl, I’m sure she would not hesitate in sending her own children to a good Kenyan boarding school in future. By experiencing being a minority in one, she is better placed to understand how things work and the fear of her children being in danger while there is significantly minimized.

If my niece were to attend college in a town overseas where black faces are countable, she will be better placed to deal with culture shock, I presume. She may even be in a stronger position to explain to ignorant people what race is all about if by any chance she experienced some form of racial profiling.

The reason why racism exists is because we have not been exposed to other cultures in a minority position. I have a friend of mine who relocated to China quite recently and judging from the WhatsApp messages I frequently get from him, he is having the time of his life experiencing a different culture and food. I recently suggested to him that he starts a blog just from getting that feeling of enthusiasm from him.

Looking at myself as an individual, I have been in safe situations all through my life and sometimes, I get the jitters just thinking about how I can adapt to an unfamiliar environment. I do not consider myself a racist per se, but I’m ill equipped to handle a situation where I feel like I’m the only one who looks like me. Get the drift? However, it does not mean that I would not jump at an opportunity to experience other cultures.

Through mingling with other individuals who do not look like us or think like us, we in the process expand our world view. Most of these racism incidents are perpetrated by individuals who have grown up safe. Deep down, these individuals equally fear being in a position where they are minorities. However, they cover up for this by acting superior.

When I see some Kenyans grinning dumbly at foreigners, I know that we have a long way to go. We need to interact more with people of other races to understand that they are just like us. Humans who eat, sleep, walk, talk and work. The only difference lies in our respective cultures. Africans and people of African descent overseas complain a lot about White privilege and the likes. Yet in my own country, we are guilty many times of treating people of fairer skin like little gods. Aren’t we also contributing to White privilege in a way?

It would be better if we took time out just to fully understand how other races functioned. Not that I’m on a mission to praise my friends and relatives. They are just but few examples who decided to take the plunge of being in minority positions no matter how scary it felt at first. In truth, those examples challenge me to want to try the same.

Any thoughts?

 

 

The African Pressure For Grandchildren

Slightly over a month back, 27 year old Kenyan woman Jackline Mwende suffered the brutality of domestic violence when her husband of 7 years, Stephen Ngila chopped off her hands after a gruesome machete attack in their home. Reason behind the attack; In their marriage period, Mwende had not borne him any children.

However, the story takes a turn for the worse when it came to light that the root cause behind the couple not having any children was in fact due to Ngila’s infertility. This had been previously proven at a clinical facility. But being an African man sadly with the chauvinistic thinking that men cannot fail to produce offspring, Ngila went ahead and attacked his wife. Slashing her across the face and back then chopping off both of her hands.

Jackline Mwende on the left with injuries after the attack and her husband, Ngila on the right after arrest by the Police. Image courtesy of nairobinews.co.ke

Jackline Mwende ( left) with injuries after the attack and her husband, Ngila (right) after arrest by the Police. Image courtesy of nairobinews.co.ke

It was a tale that left a sour taste in the mouth and got men and women alike outraged and speaking up against it. Women leadersĀ  visited Mwende in her father’s home where she was recuperating and later, in hospital where companies pledged to come to her aid with prosthetic limbs and a decent monthly stipend.

Mwende may have gotten a great deal of help after her ordeal but her limbs are not going to be the same again. The scars she now bears will often be a cruel reminder to her, how brutal domestic violence and patriarchy can often times turn out to be.

But was the pressure to bear children only coming from her husband Ngila? I can’t help but ask.

With all due respect to both families involved in the aforementioned , I will choose not to use them as a reference point for my argument. However, I will choose to look at the African societal set up instead.

In Africa, children have often been associated with being a source of wealth. Indeed parents who bore many children in the olden times needed not worry for it was assumed that they would have helpers in old age. We may have moved from the olden, primitive times but Africans still hold on to the notion that children are especially important in a marriage to complete the family unit.

It is not entirely uncommon to find African women who have faced enough castigation from in-laws simply for the sole reason that they had not borne their son a child/children. Many African families equally value the boy child and an African woman in such a familial set up would give birth to as many as 6 or 7 or 8 children just looking for a boy.

The fear often being that if she does not bear her husband a boy child, then he will definitely go in search of another woman to marry who can give him boys. These things are happening up to date in African society. I reside in Nairobi myself, the hub of East Africa, a capital city and I still encounter stories of real life educated people, who are actively seeking to conceive boy children as if the girl children they have are not human enough.

The pressure from the parents of the husband and sometimes, from those of the wife not doing much to help matters. The idea behind this usually being that the grandparents yearn to see their grandchildren which they consider a blessing to live up to the point of seeing children of your children.

Often times, these aged parents may not see how much their demands may be affecting a couple trying unsuccessfully to conceive. I mean, why do you think rogue pastors in African society are raking in big bucks just from offering false hope to childless couples? It is this pressure for grandchildren sometimes leading to sarcastic remarks from in laws directed many times to the woman and the husband being urged to get a fertile wife to bear him children.

There are many African women who have been cast aside by their husbands because the family had no children. In Africa, unlike the West, you cannot just decide not to have children as a woman. Society expects you to have children by a certain age. As a woman fast approaching my late twenties, I nowadays frequently encounter individuals who assume I’m already a mother. Not that it bothers me. As a matter of fact, I chuckle at their assumptions for I identify it as an African thing.

A wedding photo. Image courtesy of www.brides.com

A wedding photo. Image courtesy of http://www.brides.com

However, the tragedy behind this pressure for children/grandchildren is that African women get blamed for there not being the existence of offspring. Africans do not believe that a man can be infertile even if medical tests prove so. There’s this often stupid belief that African men are fertile, studs in bed. If there are no children, then it definitely has to be the woman. She has to be blamed. She has to be punished for it. She deserves to be added another wife who will bear children.

It is a backward belief. A chauvinistic kind of thinking that makes many African men shy away from infertility treatment. They just don’t want to face and admit the fact that the problem can be both ways and that there is nothing wrong with that. Treatment of either party addressing the underlying issue can solve this. They instead choose to ride on the wave of a false belief of an African man being powerful enough sexually to produce children.

So you can already tell how much mental torture an African woman goes through if she does not get children within an expected period in marriage. The husband may even justify the domestic violence with the fact that “Mwanamke amekataa kunizalia” (A woman has refused to bear me children). As if a normal functioning woman with motherly instincts may just make an intentional decision to irk her husband by not getting any children.

As a modern woman who has become exposed to other societal views, I think that the decision to have children by a couple should be theirs alone. I also urge African men to open their minds to the world of medicine. Infertility can be both ways. There is no shame in it. There is medical help for it. Bearing children is not only a woman’s thing. When two people come together with the intention of conceiving, it is a joint decision. The child will bear both of their DNAs.

How ironic that African children are considered to belong to the father yet when it comes to matters conceiving and family planning, it is the woman who is often blamed or tasked with that? Food for thought, per se.