tradition

Breast Ironing And The Fear Of Sexually Active Pubescents

Just when I had been tempted to think that FGM was the only remaining barbaric practice targeting the female sexuality, I was recently awakened to the retrogressive practice of Breast Ironing. Apparently, some African cultures such as the one in Cameroon find it okay for grown women, to heat grinding stones, spatulas, hammers and what nots, then proceed to press them on the chests of young girls, who are just starting to grow breasts.

The common belief behind this archaic and oppressive practice being that breasts are attractive to males. And so to prevent this pubescent girl from getting noticed by the opposite sex and possibly get pregnant if she gives in to their advances, these African mothers have taken it upon themselves to subject their young daughters to the unimaginable pain, of having their breasts pounded or massaged with these hot objects. The result; traumatized girls, shame in adulthood, malformed breasts, damaged breast tissue and sadly, in some cases, difficulty in breastfeeding their young ones later on in life.

Speaking up against breast ironing practice. Image courtesy of 9jas.com

The disheartening part about this practice is that it is carried out by mothers, believing that they are preventing their daughters from early marriages, unplanned pregnancies, unwanted sexual attention and incidents of rape. In reality, the only thing that this retrogressive practice succeeds in achieving, is promoting the lowest self esteem in women and furthering the stereotype that a female’s sexuality, is to blame for sexual violence or societal ills. These women have sadly been conditioned by their environment to think that by doing so to their own daughters, they are in fact helping them. Perhaps in the hope that they will thank them later in life for it.

I doubt whether these Cameroonian women, who have been subjected to breast ironing and are now forced to live with the negative consequences of the practice, actually thank their mothers for trying to cub the growth of what makes them beautifully female. It should be noted that most of these barbaric cultures sugarcoated as “tradition” and “helping the woman” do little or nothing to that effect. All of these cultures are characterized by one thing in common. And that thing is often to deny the sexuality of a woman by tampering with what was designed for a woman’s own good in that aspect. In the process, empowering the male’s sexuality.

In this breast ironing case, denying the sexuality of a woman and hampering the nurturing role of a mother to her infant. If this woman who has had her breasts ironed by heated crude tools in puberty, cannot be able to breastfeed her young ones and therefore nurture them, then she has been denied one of the crucial roles in motherhood. In addition to being repulsed by the image of her own breasts, flattened and ugly, from what transpired when she had just started to blossom as a woman.

Just recently, I was shocked and saddened by the fact that some young men actually thought that FGM was beneficial for a woman. We often say nowadays that the boy child has been neglected at the expense of empowering the girl child. However, that recent discovery I made on social media when I read a post from a young man encouraging FGM, makes me think that the girl child has hardly been empowered and that the boy child, is currently enjoying the benefits of being male and in a position to further oppress the female.

Breast Ironing and the tools used. Image Courtesy of Daily Express

The female’s anatomy and what makes her beautiful has constantly been considered a threat and something that needs to be kept in check, if these breast ironing and FGM practices are anything to go by. Society has since led women to believe that they are to blame if a man cannot control himself sexually. We have been conditioned to accept some horrific cultures as things intended to help the woman, even though the only thing they contribute to a woman, is causing her emotional and physical scars that are often times hard to heal.

Women have since been made to feel ashamed of identifying themselves as feminists, in the event of trying to speak up against some of these retrogressive practices that interfere with womanhood. A feminist who is trying to help the girl child escape some of these practices that do her more harm than good is often branded a bitter, wayward, male basher. But perhaps it is time that we decided to actually pay attention to what these feminists are trying to preach, in efforts of allowing a girl child to blossom as the woman she was intended by God to blossom into. In certain cases, only a female is better placed to understand the underlying consequences of some of these harrowing practices.

I tend to feel that the boy child is still very much empowered than the girl child. The boy child still gets to experience his puberty without much interference that will cause him permanent scars in future. Of course I’m not blind to the fact that some boy children, are denied the right to being children and going to school in the event where they have to herd the family’s livestock, get forced into being child soldiers and the likes.

However, society still gets to treat the boy children gently in terms of tampering with their anatomies as men. Circumcision for males is a rite of passage from childhood into adulthood. A badge of honor. Circumcision for females signals the onset of early marriages and is actually aimed at preventing the female from being sexually active or promiscuous to put it that way. In the case of breast ironing, subjecting the female to an unnecessary practice, so that the male can not be attracted to a blossoming female as if the male cannot interpret by himself, that he shouldn’t be messing with this young girl who is just but a child.

I’m in no way trying to bash the male with my sentiments as you can see both FGM and Breast Ironing practices are carried out by women on fellow women. However, what I would like to bring to the fore is the motivation behind some of these practices. Often motivations that come about in relation to the privilege that most males are accorded in patriarchal societies that do not value female contribution. Perhaps a father’s intervention could have stopped a mother somewhere in Cameroon, who had picked up a hot grinding stone ready to massage her hapless daughter’s chest with.

But males you will learn, do not hang around environments where the females outnumber the males in such societies. There are in fact oblivious to the going ons and may not really see the need to speak up against some of these practices, only choosing to openly agree with them if it so happened that someone sought their opinion. And so only a feminist’s voice can come in handy in such a situation, of condemning a practice that should have long been done away with. My heart bleeds for the Cameroonian or African female somewhere who was forced to undergo breast ironing.

 

The Kenyan-Indian Connection

Nairobi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta after their press statements at State House in Nairobi, Kenya on Monday. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh (PTI7_11_2016_000128B)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta after their press statements at State House in Nairobi, during the PM’s visit to Kenya. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh

The day before yesterday therebout, I chanced upon a post by a local media station on Facebook, claiming that the Kenyan-Indians had requested to be recognized as the 44th tribe of Kenya. So I was curious to read the comments and the vitriol that spewed from Kenyans could not be masked in the comment section. I’m not sure if the Indians among us read those comments and what they felt about it.

As I have already mentioned before on my blog for the sake of my foreign readers, the Indian community came to Kenya in the 1890s to aid in the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway. Many opted to stay and bring their families after it was completed. So when we are talking about the Asian community, as we like to refer to them in Kenya, we are talking about 3rd and 4th generation Indians who only know of Kenya as their home.

It may surprise you though, that the Kenyan-Indians upheld their culture and still practice many if not all, of their Indian cultural practices to date. It may surprise you further, that many Kenyan-Indians have chosen to get married to their fellow Indians and stick to their close knit way of life. To the other Kenyans, this tends to come off as snobbish and probably racist?

It’s not something we openly talk about but when given a chance, Kenyans can really talk ill about the Asian community. This was evident in the many comments I scrolled through on the Facebook post. Many of the bitter complaints arising from the kind of treatment metted unto them while working for Indian bosses, who have a reputation of being hard to please and too harsh for their liking.

In essence, I think Kenyans would really appreciate it if their Indian brothers and sisters chose to intergrate with them. I also think that the foreign culture of Indians in general greatly confuses them. It is a culture that is rich and Kenyans would love to understand it but fail miserably at it, with the level of silent suspiscion between the two groups that simmers just beneath the surface.

My childhood best friend in the 8 years of primary school happened to be a Kenyan-Indian. I have equally worked for an Indian boss. Therefore, when I talk about the Asian community, it’s not out of bitterness or a need for vindication. It’s basically to bring issues to the fore, that have for a long time been swept under the carpet yet they affect our Kenyan society.

Trust me, there are many Kenyans of African descent who have worked for Indian companies and bosses and have a long list of complaints regarding unfair treatment. But why is this so? Methinks colonialism and ancient Indian culture played a huge role in contributing to this kind of sour relationship between the Kenyans and Kenyan-Indians.

During colonial times, of course the Black Africans were at the lowest on the tier. As a result of their skin color and culture considered primitive by the colonialists who had their own hidden agendas, the Black Africans were looked down upon and suffered many injustices as a result.

The Indians were of course lighter with silky hair and therefore not really prejudiced against as much as the Black Africans were. They were of course not considered to be of the same level as the European colonialists, but they were placed somewhere in the middle, above the Black Africans.

It should also be noted that the Indian coolies who came to offer labor in building the railway line, landed in Kenya at a time when colonialism was just taking root. Coupled with their ancient caste system that grouped individuals in society according to their social standing, it was inevitable really for the Indians not to look down upon the Black Africans.

By Independence, the enterprising Kenyan-Indians already had a presence in many economic spheres. Not so for the Black Africans in Kenya who had been long suppressed by the colonial system. Indeed one of the first president’s agendas was to eradicate illetracy among mainly the Black African community.

It is however unfortunate that the preceeding generations of the Asian community in Kenya, held on to what their forefathers believed in and passed it down to their own children. The Indians chose to stick to the familiar thus limiting their interaction with the other Kenyans in society.

At my time in primary school, I would still see Indian kids from different classes, opting to form a large group of friends despite their age differences. The memory is still vivid in my mind when my Indian friend once tried to include me in one of these groups.

One Asian girl in particular, carried on speaking in Gujarati despite my apparent lack of understanding and my friend’s obvious struggle in communicating back in the same language, thus opting to reply in English. It was the last I would agree to tag along. However, there were and are still those Kenyan-Indians, who do not mind interacting with the Black Africans as was evidenced by my friend back then.

I think the thing that irks many Kenyans the most though, is the fact that we have heard of stories where if an Asian got married to an African, he/she would be considered an outcast by his/her family. This was quite evident in the My Bukusu Darling saga, where an Indian girl in Western Kenya fell in love with her father’s employee, an African and moved in with him.

It was evident that her parents did not agree nor approve of it and many Kenyans doubted the union would last. It is not everyday we get to see an Indian marrying a Kenyan of African descent. True to the majority’s doubts, the union between these two individuals did not successfully weather the family storm. Quite soon enough, the marriage broke.

This and many other misplaced beliefs between the two groups is what makes genuine interaction nearly impossible. Over time, Kenyans have equally developed an attitude toward the Asians, that further hampers hopes of the two groups integrating.

When a Kenyan walks into an Asian owned business/company as an employee with a set mentality that he/she will be mistreated, then justified acts of sternness by the Asians present, will be interprated as acts of cruelty. It is what fuels the constant whines and complaints about difficult Asian bosses and causes others to steer clear of the Kenyan-Indians.

As for the Kenyan-Indians, the mentality that an African cannot be trusted to do a good job, be a good friend or an upright individual, is what creates that level of suspiscion that you can almost feel, when sometimes interacting with an Indian. The superiority complex that still makes a section of Kenyan-Indians, to view themselves as better and of a higher social standing than the Kenyans of African descent further stretches the divide.

The Indians in our midst are an enterprising lot that have greatly contributed to the Kenyan economy. However, some of these backward mentalities, religious and social stances that we stubbornly hold on to, are what makes Kenyans be wary of the Kenyan-Indians and harshly criticize their suggestion of being recognized as a tribe.

Behold, A Kenyan Christmas!

As is Kenyan tradition, many of us will travel upcountry or to smaller hometowns for Christmas. The upper middle class who consider themselves lovers of travel with disposable income, will however head to the coast or to an exotic hotel somewhere in the middle of the wilderness teeming with wildlife and have themselves a wonderful, drama-free Christmas surrounded by a spouse or partner and/or children.

Photo credits: Internet Sources

Photo credits: Internet Sources

For the rest of us headed upcountry or to smaller hometowns this Christmas season, here’s what to expect;

1. An Overflowing House.

A house that once consisted of ageing parents, will soon be transformed into a house teeming with humanity. All the grown children will decide to come home for christmas together with their offspring and hapless spouses, who lacked believable excuses to remain behind. Children from the city will suddenly whip out tablets laden with downloaded games, to which the neighborhood children or children belonging to cousins who never left the locality, will gawk at in awe as these “enlightened” city borns tap away with such dexterity.

Granny will suddenly want to brag introduce her successful children to her church women friends. They will always seem to come trooping in every single evening and struggle woefully to pronounce the city names of the little ones. Names like Tamara, Chantel, Kian, Jason…will prove such a huge task to grasp for these church mamas who are more conversant with the missionary names, Margaret, Jane, Lucy and the likes.

For the hapless spouse, they will only have to endure the inconvinience of a houseful with a most believable smile plastered on their faces, all the while vowing silently to skip next Christmas’ journey to their in-laws.

2. Sharing beds.

Most of the time, the youngest of the adult children who is not yet married and probably still in campus, will be requested to share beds with the children who sleep the worst. Just to appear polite, he or she will probably agree all the while knowing that texting away in the cover of darkness will soon be proven extinct, by these young ones who sleep as if they are in the middle of a swimming lesson.

Mornings will be terrible as waking up with aching and tired muscles and stiff necks from all that kicking and turning of the new bed occupants during night time, will be the order of the day. Plus they risk being dumped by that hot chic or guy who probably has started assuming they are cheating, that’s why they nowadays do not seem to keep up with night time texts.

3. Never ending chores.

With the daily influx of visitors coupled with the increased population in the house, chores will appear to stretch the entire day. The hapless spouse who can whip up some tasty chapatis will automatically be expected to cook two bundles of chapatis come Christmas day.

She will most definitely spend the whole day in the kitchen wrapped in a lesso while sitting on a low stool, cooking chapatis for everyone else in the house. When done, she will probably have a splitting headache from sitting too close to the carbon monoxide laden jiko and lacking in appetite, as the smell of cooking chapatis has bloated her tummy already.

Again there will be utensils to wash, a kitchen to clear, diapers to change for the toddlers who have eaten too much for their little stomachs to handle and tea to make for the older generation. By the time Christmas season is done, many who did the house chores will feel as if they had been to a bootcamp rather than a holiday.

4. Family drama.

Of course there’s that brother or cousin who never made anything of himself and has since decided the world must be against him. Or that sister who started giving birth in class 7 and over 20 years later has 5 children, with 5 different men and is married to a jerk, who beats the daylights out of her.

Those ones will decide to settle scores over Christmas lunch with relatives from the city they think abandoned them at their most vulnerable. The sister will start with sarcastic remarks aimed at a sister, who is probably doing well which will eventually escalate into a bitter exchange of words. The brother will visit the chang’aa den, add some weed to it and decide to smash the windows of another brother’s car. Chaos will erupt. Some will fight, some will cry, some will start packing up in a bid to return back to the city where they came from…

In the end, the elderly man of the house will bring order by threatening to curse anyone who misbehaves and reminding everyone, that they are related by blood incase they had forgotten. Christmas will still be celebrated and grandparents will be happy to see their children and grandchildren and to receive gifts from those who came home for the holidays.

 

For everyone else celebrating Christmas across the world, I wish you a Merry Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Non-Committal Men And The Lies They Tell

I think so many men are pretty non-committal in their 20s. Going by the number of Kenyan men I have encountered in the past who just don’t want to be in an exclusive relationship. I know someone somewhere of the opposite gender is already foaming at the mouth at my blatant declaration. Well, just to be fair and not so much of a pessimist, there is a percentage that WANTS to be exclusive. This percentage, sadly, is a small one.

A non-committal man is obviously one who won’t commit.

He will come up with all of these reasons as to why he doesn’t want to be exclusive just yet. You will be surprised that some of these reasons sound pretty justified.

A non-committal man is the kind who will pretend to be interested in a relationship in the early stages. Once you give in to his charms and start “dating”, it won’t be long before he begins acting distant.

You as the woman, will get thoroughly surprised by this sudden turn of events.

Indeed one of the earliest signs of a non-committal man is an unwillingness to spend time with you. These kinds surround themselves with friends so much, to the extent where he barely has time for the woman he is trying to lure into his life. The woman will try to beg, negotiate even, for more time, to which the man will blatantly refuse to give.

Non-committal men have a tendency to give a past broken relationship with a woman he really loved as the reason why they will not open their hearts to love another woman. This ladies, is a TOTAL LIE.

In truth, a non-committal person, male or female, is actually afraid to love. He knows that love will make him vulnerable and that he will have to open up to another person of the opposite gender, while in that situation of being in love. He is completely insecure with the thought of opening up himself to another person and so he would rather create a false illusion, that he is not ready for exclusivity or love for that matter.

A non-committal man will never admit his deep insecurities to a woman. Instead, he will employ the blame game and the poor ex, who happened to cheat on him or treat him badly, will be the one to always take the blame. Until that point in time when this man decides to face his fears and in the process, feels ready to fall in love and actually commits to one woman.

I’m no relationship coach but in my dating years, I have encountered quite a number of young men in their mid to late twenties, who have over time created this very tough wall of being “NON-COMMITTED”.

Sadly, some of these men drag this tough wall into marriages and that is why you get to hear of “open marriages”. Whoever came up with that concept? But it is happening! Not only in the West but in Africa too. It’s only that in African societies, we keep it hush hush for obvious reasons or coat it with tradition and culture and claims of a wife belonging to the community, when in the real sense it is a husband who does not want to commit to one woman.

A non-committal man often seems unconcerned with whoever you as the woman, want to spend time with of the opposite sex. Trust me, a man who truly loves and desires you will be very bothered if you get to hang out with other men on dates and social activities. By stating that, I’m not endorsing possessiveness where the man curtails your movements and does not even seem to understand that you have male colleagues at work as well as male relatives and friends.

I’m speaking about a man who will not seem bothered that you went out on a date with another man, had him accompany you to your house or out of town while you are his supposed girlfriend. I once encountered a non-committal man, who insisted I go out of town with a man whose intentions I did not trust completely and had already shared my concerns  about it with the said non-committal man, because I thought, we were in a relationship. Needless to say, I was appalled that he kept on insisting that I travel with this shifty character and in the process made it seem like I was simply being paranoid.

Similar to open marriages, be wary of a husband who gives you permission to sleep with other men while still married to him. That is not normal. That is absurd. Men get hit by that pang of jealousy when a woman they love and want to be with seems to be getting attention from specific people of the opposite sex. It is human nature. This gender is naturally competitive. So if he doesn’t seem to care and encourages it, he doesn’t love you. He is not interested in commitment. He doesn’t care who beds you.

Same way you wouldn’t care if that guy who keeps on hitting on you and you don’t feel him sleeps with 20 other women besides you, is how this non-committal man doesn’t care.

Some insecure non-committal men will embark on painting you the woman desiring a relationship with them, as various unsavory things. A sex addict, paranoid, jumpy, moving the relationship too fast…blah,blah,blah. You are not any of those things.

Let me tell you a secret.

As much as I agree it is important for a relationship to grow gradually. A man who is interested in being with you will put in the effort from day one. He will call you, be interested in your hobbies, take time to understand your character, create time to see you…

If a relationship feels dead from the very beginning, this man DOESN’T WANT TO BE WITH YOU. He will only keep on branding you as paranoid, jumpy, nagging, a sex addict and all those unsavory things so that your mind gets preoccupied with all the negativity to the extent where, you don’t get to truly see him for what he is. A NON-COMMITTAL MAN. Instead you will blame yourself for the relationship not working out. It is HIM  sister, not YOU.

And lastly, the classic, LET’S BE FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS. This is your time to flee from this non-committal man. Oh, so he doesn’t want to be exclusive with you, but the few times you guys have sweated it out in the bedroom, he has already decided he doesn’t want to give that part up just yet, so he comes up with this ridiculous proposition, because that is how his warped mind sees you. Dear sister, cut this man loose.

You are a strong woman. You can make it without him. In fact, a wonderful man is just lurking round the corner. You only need to get to that space where you are comfortable with your singlehood to be able to accommodate a worthy man in your life. Non-committal men will only string you along for no reason and for your information, you don’t need FWB arrangements in your mid to late twenties. You need a man who is courageous enough to step up and declare that he wants to be exclusive with you.

Forget the idea that your love can change a non-committal man. Most of these kinds are very stubborn. They will only change when they feel like changing. It is not your mandate to change people. Let him be, no hard feelings. Never be down for mediocrity.

For Men, It Is A Pleasurable Activity; For Women, It Is Often Laden With Stereotypes.

I’m a talkative person. Perhaps that is what makes me privy to sometimes, weird conversations. I shall not reveal identities for obvious reasons but I shall definitely share.

Someone of the female gender this week, shared with me that someone else of the male gender, had warned her against allowing a female friend of hers from holding her infant child. Why? Because according to this man in question, since he suspected that the lady friend to the one who shared with me the info was sleeping around, then she would be dangerous to the baby. In short, when a baby is handled by a person sleeping around, a woman for that matter, then that baby constantly falls ill.

thisisafrica.me

thisisafrica.me

I don’t know if this applies to other African countries but in my country, there is that cultural belief among some ethnic groups, that your baby should not be handled by a cheating husband or promiscuous woman. Sadly, this person who also happens to be my friend wanted to find out from me if it was indeed true. I didn’t even know what to tell her. But I had so many unanswered questions in my mind that I doubt will ever get satisfactory answers.

Did that mean that single women were not supposed to hold their married friends’ babies because they were unhitched and definitely sleeping around? The lady in question is single and the one with the child is married. Does that mean that men now have the mandate to decide for a woman, who is to hold her baby and who shouldn’t considering the fact that this man, has no relation whatsoever to my friend? Explain the relation between sexual activity and being a contagious transmitter of illnesses to young children. And why are women often judged so harshly in matters sex?

Sometimes it is really difficult to question culture and tradition. And especially, when belief is deeply ingrained in individuals. As a matter of fact I found the whole conversation to be in bad taste. I felt as if the stereotype of women engaging in sexual activity as being dirty, was further being propagated against someone, I was made to vow never to disclose the information to. Of course I wouldn’t. How would I start even?

The fact that it was a man who had come up with this whole conclusion made it even worse. What right did he have to judge a hapless woman who probably had no ill intentions toward the said child? Why didn’t he warn my friend against letting both men and women handle her baby because of their so called philandering ways? Why only the woman?

And was it a possibility now for my friend to avoid her friend and therefore create a rift between them because of this information? Would she be blamed for being suspicious now of her friend’s motives each time she wanted to hold her baby? Isn’t loving one another as we love ourselves the right thing to do?

The fact that in many societies the sexuality of women, is always associated with negativity while the sexuality of men, is often associated with some sense of pride, further contributes to some of these deeply ingrained notions. Indeed it is so bad to the extent where some people believe that women who get raped brought it unto themselves. Perhaps they wore the wrong attire or they attracted the wrong attention or they walked in the wrong places after dark, are the reasons that this section of people use to justify why a woman got raped.

I have encountered misplaced stereotypes in the past against single women living alone. With some men thinking that a woman renting her own place has all the freedom in the world to invite different men to her house for sexual activity. Nobody judges a single guy living alone even though in some cases, the evidence of a string of different women spending the night on consecutive days, is open for others to see. But they are just being typical guys! We often assume. Men and women alike. That is what guys do! We conclude. Save me the explanation that men cannot last long periods without sex.

Since when did chastity only apply to women and not men? But that is how society has over time defined the sexuality of men and women. That is why malicious sexual propaganda is often targeted at the female gender and not the male gender. It is a sad state of affairs and one laden with double standards. When I see learned people who have lived in urban areas thinking the same, I know that it will be nearly impossible to change how things have been.

 

The Red Alert!

en.wikipedia.org

Let’s talk about menstruation. Or rather, let’s not mention that word. It’s quite sensitive, right? A woman’s business, why is she (me) bringing it up? OK, why is it even a sensitive subject in the first place?

I once mentioned some male co-worker attributing a forehead breakout I had to my period. I was offended and you know how they usually advice that if you have nothing nice to say you better shut up? That’s what I did. I clamped up. I knew that if I had spoken up immediately it would have been to tell him off because he was all up in my very personal business. A subject that even my male friends know better not to broach. So why was this man trying to act all too smart by coming up with a diagnosis for what I knew was a case of my sensitive facial skin acting up?

I may consider myself a feminist but menstruation is something I hardly discuss with the males in my life. Not because of any shame attached to it but because I feel it is something exclusive for women that I don’t need to keep on talking about with the opposite sex. Plus there is that whole disgust reaction most men get when women begin talking about their monthly period and cramps that I find hard to condone many a times. I guess the only time a section of men don’t feel at all disgusted discussing our monthly period, is when they are inquiring on when our last periods were. Read, they just want to be sure they won’t have to budget for diapers in the near future, for those who weren’t anywhere near committing to us in the first place.

Many societies in the world have always considered a menstruating woman to be unclean. This has equally been mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. I once read a blog post which discussed how some societies in India forbade their women from sharing the same beds with their husbands during the whole monthly period duration. There are also menstrual huts where menstruating women are supposed to reside during that “time of the month”. Funnily enough, in the same Indian society being discussed, menstruating women were equally forbidden to take a bath during that time.

Before you accuse me of peddling falsehood, the blog post was on an Indian blog typed by an Indian woman. I was curious to see what the commenters had said and was surprised to see Indian women concurring with the revelation that they weren’t allowed to take a bath in the whole duration. Women in the 21st century, mind you. One had gone as far as revealing that her husband literally had to force her to do away with the tradition because she was more than determined to follow it to the latter. Now that’s a good man there. Why further the “unclean” stereotype already in place by ensuring a woman remains unclean (avoiding the bath) in the actual sense, during that time?

However, it’s not only in India where some weird practices have been put in place with regards to the monthly period and how a woman should conduct herself at that time. According to an article on the website http://www.ruby-cup.com titled From menstrual huts to drinking blood. The weird and wacky world of cultural attitudes to menstruation. Pt. 1;

A lot of the obligations imposed on menstruating women are meant to protect other members of the community. For example, men are often thought to be at risk if they have sex with a woman when she’s on her cycle, as menstrual blood is considered polluting. In an extreme case, the Kodi of Sumba (an island in eastern Indonesia) believe that sexually transmitted diseases are contracted by men who have sex with a menstruating woman.

Now that’s a community in need of serious enlightenment on the transmission of venereal diseases although I wouldn’t advocate for sexual relations too at that time. But that’s simply my thought in that respect.

Similarly, to isolate menstruating women from their partners and their families, they’re forced to sleep apart in certain cultural traditions. These include those of Rastafarian societies, Bali, Hindus in South India, and certain tribes in Nigeria, where women are confined to a menstrual hut (a custom that used to be practiced in many parts of the world, but that has gradually disappeared).

Again, for the benefit of a menstruating woman’s family, in the Hindu societies of Nepal and Rajasthan, as well as in Bali, Bangladesh, and in Rastafarianism, she’s not allowed to cook or come into contact with other people’s food.

Instead, to safeguard the community more generally, and as a form of respect for divinities, women on their cycle must abstain from visiting religious sites in many Hindu societies, as well as in Bali, in Islamic culture and the Shinto religion of Japan.

Finally, for a woman to leave behind her unclean (i.e. menstruating) status, she must perform a ritual bath at the end of her cycle: this is practiced, for example, in Bali and in Orthodox Judaism, where the bath is called the mikveh.

The article goes on to state.

One might be tempted to react with outrage, at how a woman on her monthly period is treated in some societies, which seem to possess all forms of patriarchy but you may be surprised to learn that, it is not all doom and gloom in some scenarios. There are societies which actually celebrate a woman’s monthly cycle and her “time of the month.”

However, other customs aim to protect menstruating women themselves. In Rajasthan, girls on their period aren’t allowed to walk through crossroads, as they’re thought to be particularly vulnerable to evil spirits when they’re on their cycle. For this same reason, in South India it’s common to keep a piece of iron and/or a lemon. What is more, in South India, once girls reach menarche, they shouldn’t have contact with boys and aren’t allowed to spend as much time outside as before: given that they can now become pregnant, it’s thought that mixing with males is particularly dangerous.

Interestingly, in many of the societies I have mentioned, whilst menstrual prohibitions are widely practiced, so is the celebration of girls’ menarche. Ceremonies, involving food, family, friends and gifts are customary in Nepal, South India, Bali, Bangladesh, Japan, amongst the Akan of Ghana and the Maroons of Suriname. Amongst the Zulus of South Africa, a goat is slaughtered and the girl is secluded with her friends, emerging the next day to be bathed,smeared with red clay, and taught lessons for adulthood by other women-www.ruby-cup.com

And while there are societies known to go to extremities such as drinking the menstrual blood just to celebrate the woman, I consider these other ones mentioned pretty reasonable. A girl who is first experiencing her period should not be made to feel shame for it. While growing up, we laughed, whispered and snickered at our counterparts who were “unfortunate” enough to accidentally soil their uniforms in school with their first period. We didn’t know better.

However, it is time that parents and teachers taught both girls and boys about the differences between both genders. I do not advocate for going into deep details for the boys lest you scare them off completely but general knowledge, can go a long way in ending some of these stigmas and misconceptions surrounding something that is biological in a woman and a symbol of her fertility.

 

Of Body Art And Beauty Politics

What crosses your mind when you see a heavily tattooed woman?

genevieveng.com

genevieveng.com

Well, I kinda was confronted by that question a couple of hours back. I walked into a shop and one of the shop attendants was a woman, with lots of tattoos on her arms as well as a large flower detailed one on her lower back. You might wonder how I was able to make out that she had a tattoo on her lower back. Well, this particular woman who is every inch African, was wearing a daring cut out blouse that was literally open at the back so you could get an ample peek of her bra as well as the tattoo.

I emphasize on the word African because the tattoo craze has only caught up in Kenya a couple of years ago. Back in 2003, you could walk up and down a street all day long and not spot a single soul with a tattooed arm or neck or whatever. For those who are African and have been born and brought up in Africa like me, they probably know how much religious Africans are. We tend to attach every little detail of life to what religion states and since the Bible forbids one from putting permanent markings on their skin, tattoos are still being frowned upon by many of the older and younger generation alike.

Most people of the above reasoning tend to associate the putting of tattoos on one’s body with being devilish. However, for quite a large number of people from this generation, tattoos just like ear piercings are a form of body art. A way to express oneself. Well, if being tattooed wasn’t entirely a painful process, perhaps I would be having one teeny tiny one myself. I’m not so big on several tattoos on one’s body but I must admit that I have previously (and in the recent past) yearned to have one small one. If I was the very daring type, perhaps 3 small ones in different locations. However, it’s not something that I’ve finally concluded to do. Fleeting thoughts if I choose to look at it from that angle.

Some religious denominations equally discourage body piercings in addition to tattoos. There are members of certain denominations who would not dare wear earrings or any jewellery. All these things are usually attributed to some demonic origin thus the shunning. Well, Christians tend to be divided in the aforementioned reasoning. I personally have had my piercings from a very young age and I now consider them a part of me. The first pair of ear piercings I got at 6 years of age and the second pair at 10. I sleep in my studs, shower in them and only part with them when I want to change earrings into something more fancier.

I tend to believe that the Israelites too donned a lot of jewellery. When Moses in the Bible went up to the mountain and these people who seemed to possess such little faith, decided to remove all of their jewellery and make a golden calf to worship, that must have been a ton of jewellery. As a kid, we once visited the Gede ruins in the Coastal region of my country on a school trip and one of the photos I saw and remember, in the mini museum at the historical site, has this Arabic woman wearing so much jewellery including a quite heavy looking nose ring. I had never known people adorned their noses with other things other than studs before and therefore, remained quite puzzled for a while, long after the school trip was over.

Africans too have been known to fancy tribal markings. This is more like the tattoo version of Africa. Surprisingly, the idea behind some of these tribal markings was to enhance the beauty of a woman. I have witnessed Sudanese citizens currently residing in Kenya with wavy tribal markings on their foreheads that are permanent, men and women alike. I once mentioned that to a friend and with a puzzled look on his face, he stated that he had never noticed these kinds of markings on our Kenyan-Sudanese counterparts. I reminded him to pay close attention next time and he will surely spot this.

It might come as a surprise to many Kenyans of the latter day generation that some communities too in our country had tribal marks. However, you can hardly spot any Kenyan nowadays with tribal markings since these are practices that have been completely phased out over time. Save for the Maasais, Turkanas and Samburus who still elongate their earlobes, it is quite rare to encounter a Kenyan with tribal markings across the face or body. So we can confidently state that human beings have always possessed this fixation with body art for eons. That doesn’t mean that those actively pursuing the culturally motivated ones are primitive or in need of serious enlightenment.

On the tattooed woman I met today, well, I personally still get a little surprised seeing all those tattoos on someone. I’m not one to impose what I believe on another. I’m also very aware that there are a lot of stereotypes attached to people who decide to get tattoos. We may be tempted to brand them as misfits, ungodly or rebels. Perhaps people who have no intention whatsoever of ever being employed in a sober organization. Being a third world, Africans tend to place a lot of emphasis on education for a better life. We are guilty of overlooking the Arts or someone’s creativity in making a living. That’s what the missionaries drummed into our heads. Education is the ticket to success.

Well, it might come as a surprise to many that there are people out there who have no intention whatsoever of ever getting white collar jobs. Who do not care whether a tattoo is on their face, wrists or wherever. That is simply their choice. We also vary greatly in our choices of body art and while I will always prefer ear piercings over large tattoos someone of another thought may view tattoos as the way to go. Such is the diversity of different personalities.

So what crosses your mind when you see tattoos on anyone?

 

 

 

African Men And Polygamy

Are African men naturally polygamous?

I got thinking about this after a story surfaced on the internet sometime last week concerning the African country of Eritrea. It was alleged by an unknown source, that the Eritrean government had passed a law requiring all men to take up two wives or a second wife or face life imprisonment. The story has since been proven to be a hoax according to http://www.tesfanews.net/eritrea-forced-polygamy-story-exposed/ 

Knowing how creative and hilarious Kenyans can get, the news immediately sparked a horde of memes mainly communicating the glee and anticipation that the story had caused in Kenyan men. Almost like they all couldn’t wait to get a go ahead to woo and marry Eritrean women considered very pretty together with their Ethiopian counterparts in the African continent. The author of the above post on the link provided, has quite some harsh words to say with regards to the reaction, the supposed hoax of a story caused.

I’m not basing my post only on Kenyan men but on African men in general. For generations, most African men have been painted to be polygamous by nature. The practice of polygamy is so deeply ingrained in some African countries that their own leaders have no qualms, getting several wives and being actually proud of it. After all, it is considered normal for an African man to prove his manliness by not sticking to one wife.

African women on the other hand are expected to go along with the flow and accommodate the additional wives. They should consider it healthy competition and accept that their men’s needs have to be met. They should actually keep up with the timetable if there happens to be one, dictating what days of the week or month the husband will visit particular homes of his many wives.

After the introduction of Christianity in my country, many Kenyan men felt embarrassed to openly exhibit their polygamous sides and therefore opted to keep concubines. For some whom the polygamous bug had bitten them to the point of no return, one woman could have been wedded in church thus paraded as the legitimate wife while the other could have been wedded traditionally.

Of course once the secret leaked that this man had more than one wife other than the one people were used to seeing, the man would indeed be at horrible pains to explain his situation and especially, if he had a position of some sort in the church. No wonder the need for our own president to sign a bill into law permitting men to marry additional wives even if the first wife does not approve of it in 2014. I have a feeling that the African patriarchal way of thinking regarding polygamy pushed the president to do this.

With the emergence of the HIV/AIDS virus at some point in time, a couple of polygamous homes suffered gravely. Many homes too, where the husband kept a concubine or side chick were not spared either from the spread of the deadly virus. Suddenly, polygamy did not seem all that fashionable if people in marriages got infected with HIV and had to suffer the consequences of living with the virus. But still, a huge section of African men felt that they could not survive with only one woman.

Is this really true? Could this be a myth that over time turned into a fact for some?

Polygamy in my view, is another form of cheating in a marriage that is only coated with terms of culture, tradition or male nature. In these times where the economy is never that favorable, you cannot quite convince me that a polygamous man will give his extensive family the very best of his abilities. As per my understanding, one cannot serve two masters.

Many Africans for the polygamy idea may argue that most men who take up additional wives are in fact capable of providing for the whole brood of children as well as the wives. After all, polygamy is yet another sign of wealth in Africa. However, a man with over 12 children from different women may find it difficult to give all of his children and wives his undivided attention, education and livelihood of a similar standard. Of course there is the school of thought that the women should understand the situation and live with it.

But could it be the reason why many co-wives suffer bitter rivalry among themselves all through their lives? There is no one woman who is similar to another and in such a situation, the man may tend to favor one woman over all the others. It is human nature to develop preferences over some things of a similar nature. Jealousy is bound to arise as well as unhealthy competition. It may be hidden in some situations but deep down, it will always exist only to further hamper the success of the whole family. You may even encounter children of a particular wife being more learned than children of the other wives or vice versa.

A section of people advocating for polygamy look at it from the Biblical point of view. Indeed some notable men in the Old Testament of the Bible had more than one wife and God endorsed it. Why is it now considered a taboo in some circles to be polygamous? It should be noted that in Biblical times, population was not as dense as it is in modern ages. Perhaps it was God’s way of fulfilling his multiply and fill the earth law if we choose to look at it that way. It should be remembered too that Jesus Christ in the New Testament came to amend many of the laws that had existed in previous times.

Patriarchal societies have however seemed to twist the whole idea to suit their patriarchal needs over time. African women are now expected to put up with this culturally endorsed form of cheating by turning a blind eye to their men’s philandering ways or welcoming a new wife in the house. Quite recently, there was a story of a Kenyan woman whose own adopted daughter ended up stealing her husband and her husband blaming her for it.

It is despicable really that many choose to justify their lustful transgressions by riding on the wave of polygamy being a male nature. However, polyandry should be frowned upon and such a woman stoned to death if possible. If African women should have no qualms whatsoever sharing their husbands, shouldn’t the African men too have no qualms sharing their wives?

Issues of polygamy in African societies can transform into a raging debate of sorts. I however firmly believe that polygamy is based on personal choice and not biology as many would like us to believe.

 

 

 

Would You Take Up Your Husband’s Name?

atlantablackstar.com

I belong to a highly interesting Whatsapp Group. Perhaps I should give you guys a brief history of the members of this group and why I find it that entertaining.

Well, all the members are people we schooled together in the same year in primary school. Most of the members are people I’ve shared a class with from age 6 all the way to 13. A couple of the members are people I’ve shared a class with from age 6 to 17 which is primary school and high school included. Plus we are at that stage in our lives where some of us are settled down with kids, others are in the wedding planning process and others are kind of starting to feel the heat, to find that someone and make a family.

Quite recently, we had quite a charged debate on the group on whether women should take up their husband’s names after marriage. Of course the opinions were varied with some stating that they would retain their maiden names, while others thought it best to take up the hubby’s name. I lay on the latter form of reasoning.

Marriage to me has always been some sort of fascination. I especially love how other cultures conduct their weddings. I love how the Hindu brides dress up for their big day. The intricate henna designs and the jewellery. Makes any woman anticipate marriage! I admire the Muslim Nikka and all the celebration that goes with it. I will always want to watch a program that is wedding themed. Indeed, the reader can already judge that weddings are a key factor in my fascination with marriages.

Over the years, I have kind of settled on the idea that an official marriage would be good for me in future. I would not fancy a “come-we-stay” arrangement as we refer to them in my country where we live under one roof as partners. That doesn’t mean that I frown upon people who haven’t made their marriages official. I’m of the idea that whatever floats your boat with regards to whom you want to spend the rest of your life with, then by all means, go for it!

However, I find an official marriage in my case to be some sort of a sense of security. I would yearn to make it official whether it will last only 2 years or a lifetime. Quite a number of people from the opposite sex may argue that weddings are an unnecessary expenditure. A tiresome chore for the man. Others of both sexes may conclude that if a marriage made official does not work, then divorce court proceedings will definitely be an otherwise, avoidable cause for sleepless nights. I tend to hear the reasoning “tujaribu” (we try) from some people when they talk of settling in marriage.

I personally would not want to “kujaribu”. I would want to make it work. I would want to go to a church and take my wedding vows from there because I believe in seeking God’s blessings in a marriage and where else, if not in his house! I know it’s probably very easy for me to talk about making it work when marriage for me is not even in the cards yet. I equally know that this whole union needs a lot of tolerance and may not always be “a happy ever after” affair. Heck, I’ve seen enough marriages break all around me to further confirm my fears that it’s quite rocky in that world. However, it wouldn’t hurt if I still did my best to make it work and that is just per my reasoning.

So yes, if my husband-to-be is willing to go through all the steps to be officially hitched to me, I will definitely take up his name. It wouldn’t be something I would think twice of doing. If I’m in love with him and willing to spend the rest of my life with him, then I believe we are one unit and we can’t successfully achieve that one unit, if we are using different names. I would want to show my children the importance of having a family name. I can’t quite say that worked well for my parents but my mother ensured we used our father’s name. It didn’t matter to her that they were no longer together, she still insisted that the name should appear in our school certificates and national IDs.

Personally, I wouldn’t feel less of a woman for using my husband’s name. As a matter of fact, I will have a sense of pride for being accorded a Mrs. So and So status. It would only serve to remind me of the commitment I made to that special someone. I have witnessed many professional women still retain their maiden names then add a hyphen and their husband’s name at the end. That didn’t make them less professional per se. It didn’t make them lose their brand. It only proved that they have moved from one stage into another.

I view marriage as a transition. Of course with all the adjustments you have to make in your life once you get married, it is only befitting to accord it that status. A name change to me simply signifies the whole transitioning process.

So, would you take up your husband’s name?

 

 

Has Africa Done Enough To Cub FGM?

Should these girls face FGM? Photo courtesy of globalhealthstudents.blogs.ku.dk

Should these girls face FGM? Photo courtesy of globalhealthstudents.blogs.ku.dk

In 2011, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was outlawed in Kenya. A law was equally passed clearly outlining the illegality of practicing FGM or taking someone out of the country, to have the procedure done. However, despite a law banning FGM existing in my country, some communities still actively engage in the heinous practice till date.

According to a definition by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA in 1997, FGM is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. World Health Organisation (WHO) goes further to expound that an estimated 91.5 million girls and women above the age of 9 in Africa are currently living with the consequences of FGM. A further 3 million girls in reference to the report by WHO, are at a risk of undergoing the cut every year.

Indeed as I was going through the FGM related images on the Internet for this post, I couldn’t help but find a huge chunk of them to be too graphic for myself and I believe, my readers too. I chose to settle on a milder form of the images. But is there really a milder form of FGM for those women who have undergone the worst form of it and have to further undergo reconstructive surgery in order to consummate their marriages? Worst case scenario, die in the process or develop complications during delivery because of being victims of the cut?

I sought to understand what lies in the mindset of female circumcisers and ended up stumbling on an article dated July 3rd 2015, by Felicity Thistlethwaite on the website http://www.express.co.uk. Two female circumcisers had been interviewed by MailOnline in their village in Kenya (Names have been omitted for this post to avoid ethnic profiling).

Woman 1 had this to say about the deeply entrenched practice in her community;

Girls are cut to ensure they remain faithful because the sexual organ is not there anymore. When you are cut you will not be like a slut looking for men here and there like a prostitute. You are docile waiting for your husband because after you are cut, sex is for having children not for anything else.

Woman 2 further added;

When you are cut, that is when you grow healthily into a woman because the bad blood is not there anymore. In the body, there is good blood and bad blood. After a girl is cut, the bad blood is gone.

Just by looking at these women’s reasoning, it was quite evident to me that a female’s sexuality has always proven to be a bone of contention. In most societies in Africa and across the world practicing FGM, the main intention is usually to tame the girl child from being sexually active before marriage. We can also capture a patriarchal kind of brainwashing in women toward what marital sex constitutes.

If sex in marriage is only for making babies and nothing else, then happens a situation whereby the husband craves sex but with no intention of getting his wife pregnant, then will sex in marriage have lost its meaning? And is it in order to conclude that women do not desire to engage in intercourse with their husbands except in situations where they have a plan to conceive? How then can we explain troubled marriages whose main cause is them being devoid of sex?

Indeed, there lies quite deep connotations of patriarchy in this whole business of FGM in societies which actively pursue the practice. It may come out as cheap feminism banter if we decided to question the liberal nature that has been accorded men when it comes to their sexuality, in comparison to the subdued nature accorded to the women’s sexuality?

And while FGM has always been painted to seem like it advocates for morality in matters sex, truly, its main intention is to further oppress the weaker sex in society, and that is the woman. To deny her a voice and a right to own her sexuality. To equally deny her a right to exercise her own self control while giving the stronger sex, the upper hand to decide what to do with regards to what should actually be a female responsibility.

Some of you may argue that no man participates in the cutting of women and that women, in most cases are actually willing to undergo it. I attribute this fact to the patriarchal brainwashing I previously mentioned. When you live in a society where the major decisions are being undertaken by one gender, then it becomes acceptable over time and a way of life. Unless enlightened, sadly, the situation remains the same and you will find women echoing what has been put in place for generations. They will not even think of questioning its validity in their lives.

You may agree with me that most of the societies engaging in active FGM are societies that lie on the deeply entrenched patriarchal spectrum. And that after the girls are circumcised then they are considered ready for marriage. Why not ready for other aspects pertaining to their lives as women? I leave that for you to judge. Yet FGM is considered a must for women in these societies and a woman who has failed to undergo it is subject to malicious gossip, shunning and taunts.

Apart from the sexual aspect of FGM, the girls are equally exposed to a horde of other risks. There is the risk of contracting the virus due to the poor sterilization standards of the crude razor blades used, bleeding to death, experiencing difficulty in delivery as well as the whole experience being traumatic for the girl.

I once watched a docu series where a circumcised girl in one of the communities in my country, had to walk kilometers after the practice under the hot sun in pain and bleeding. And all the while villagers awarded her with notes of cash. How that is supposed to prepare someone for womanhood beats my logic as the only interpretation I’m getting from it is that, this girl will probably conclude that womanhood is often traumatic. I fear that she may never view her womanhood as a cause for celebration and equally fulfilling.

An expose at the turn of the year by NTV’s Enock Sikolia on FGM among one of the communities in Kenya where the practice is heavily rampant, revealed that some trained nurses also perform the cut on unsuspecting, uncircumcised, pregnant women as soon as they go into labor. I found this unsettling in so many different angles.

First, a nurse is someone who has been to medical school and is therefore literate as well as enlightened on the dangers of FGM. Second, a nurse is someone a patient trusts to handle them professionally. Third, circumcising a vulnerable woman in the throes of labor pain is akin to maliciously abusing this woman physically and emotionally, while overlooking her right to stay uncircumcised. It would therefore be in order for parliament to pass a law that will ensure such rogue nurses, are liable for prosecution if it is ascertained that they indeed did circumcise a pregnant woman in labor.

The expose further shed light on the circumcisers change of tact. Instead of performing the practice during the expected periods by authorities, keen on pouncing on such offenders, they opted to circumcise girls at a much younger age or in hospitals. Here is where the role of some of the nurses came in. However, as a result of pressure from the community, many married women had voluntarily decided to get circumcised in a bid to save face. A sad state of affairs.

WHO states that the prevalence of FGM varies significantly between regions with ethnicity as the most decisive factor. The specific FGM procedure performed also varies by ethnicity. As of 2008/9 the prevalence of FGM in Kenyan women and girls between the ages of 15-49 years was 27.1% (www.compassion.com)

An article by Silas Irungu, a Compassion Kenya, Field Communications Specialist titled Fleeing the Knife on the website mentioned above narrates;

Young (insert tribe name) women undergo female circumcision as part of an elaborate rite of passage that initiates young girls into adulthood and ultimately early marriage.

The practice is deeply ingrained in the culture such that women who have not gone through it are not considered for marriage or if married, the bride price is heavily discounted much to the disappointment of the bride’s family.

Silas Irungu goes on to state;

The law in Kenya prohibits female circumcision and other cultural practices considered to be violence against women. It is difficult to prosecute the perpetrators of FGM because of cultural allegiance. Usually the practice is done in private under the cover of darkness.

To sum it all up, FGM is a thorn in the flesh and it is quite refreshing to witness many anti-FGM women crusaders up in arms against the practice in Kenya. Educational centres have been set up in communities where the practice is rampant, with an aim to shield young girls keen on pursuing their education, from undergoing the cut and being married off. Former Marakwet East MP, Linah Jebii Kilimo is one of the many high profile women against the heinous practice of FGM. She rose up to become a female leader in her community, despite being uncut.

Which firmly proves that if the African girl child is to truly prosper, then the practice of FGM needs to transform into a thing of the past. A retrogressive aspect of culture to be shunned and forgotten. Despite the many loopholes that we face in completely eradicating this practice, with one voice as Africa, it can be achieved.

What has your African country done to cub FGM?