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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Real men standing up

Men must teach each other that real men do not violate or oppress women – and that a woman’s place is not just in the home or the field, but in schools and offices and boardrooms. -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

When conducting gender awareness trainings, one of the sessions I enjoy is listening to people from different cultures express what made them know they are boy or girl while growing up. While some are hilarious, many share how an adult made them realize what they were doing not appropriate for their gender. Habits like climbing trees were frowned upon for girls while habits like crying were quickly condemned for boys. Generally girls were encouraged to be submissive and obedient while boys were encouraged to fight and prove they are strong. Many men have memories of being made to fight off an aggressor to prove themselves. While childhood fights are encouraged by peers, for boys it was a mark of ‘manhood’ and the boy needed to prove that he is ‘a man’. A friend of mine shared how his dad locked him out of the house when he was running away from an older boy and made him fight.

Is it any wonder that some of these boys grow up believing that the only way to prove they are real ‘men’ is to exercise power over others?

Gender based violence is generally about exerting power over the victim. This can be done overtly or in a hidden manner. The issue of engaging men to understand about violence and the role they can and should play in stopping this has been discussed over many years. The issue of men engaging on issues of violence against women is sometimes frowned upon. I recall one gentleman involved in such projects share the kind of media coverage they received the first time they held a national conference. The media termed them as “men who are battered by women”. Recently during the “My Dress My Choice” campaign against stripping and violation of women in public some men joined in the demonstration. I remember seeing some comments on social media taunting these men and wondering what was wrong with them or what they were trying to prove. The involvement of men in promoting the rights of women is often questioned in the social arena. It is seen as not being man enough.

The definition of ‘man’ has come to mean power and any misuse of this power is seen to be a proof. Women and men both contribute to the process of socializing children and end up passing these beliefs over and over again. We are therefore the same society that can change the talk.

In younger days I used to hear a song that was popularly sang during weddings and we sang it until I grew and started questioning message.

These were the words:

“Now that you have been married **(name of bride). Morning tea is going to be your role from now onwards. If you do not do it, slap and kicks.

Now that you have been married ** the task of washing clothes for your husband falls on you. If you fail to do it, slaps and kicks”

On the wedding day, the woman was prepared for violence and man given permission to do so if the woman ‘failed’ in those roles. Respect and obedience were emphasized from the woman to the man and not the other way round. The only way to ensure this happened would be through violence.

In a world where about 50% are men and the rest women, it goes without saying that each of them has an important role in fighting gender violence. Despite any messages that are given about women and men, the boy will always watch what men are doing and aim to copy this. When men are seating in their social circles, they are going to influence each other in regard to how women are treated.

The message of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should be heard far and wide. Men must teach each other that real men do not violate or oppress women – and that a woman’s place is not just in the home or the field, but in schools and offices and boardrooms.

I am glad, that real men are standing up to be counted.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Gifted differently: Sexuality and disability

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude” Scott Hamilton

Today I remember one great lady that I know. She was crying inconsolably, and many could barely understand what she was saying. This was unlike her usual bubbly smiling self. She was in pain. Eventually someone deciphered what she was crying about. We understood it then, she had been forced to have an abortion and she was bitter about this. She is deaf; she cannot hear or speak hence the difficulties in understanding what she was trying to communicate. She was not born with the condition but it developed after childhood illness hence she has never known speech. Her situation was complicated and I could tell where her family was coming from. She had two more children and did not have any gainful engagement. It was hard bringing up her children. The other element of her story is that it was never clear if she had been a willing participant or she had been raped. Apparently the perpetrator was known but nothing had ever been done.  Or was he a perpetrator or was she a willing participant? Did her family ever entertain the thought that she had sexual feelings and willingly had sex with this man? What about her, did she want another baby? She was not asked. It is evident that she loves her children to death! Touch her child and she could kill you, and I mean this literarily as some incidence had demonstrated how far she could go to protect her children. But this did not matter, nobody asked her, or advised her about some safety precautions. They made a decision to terminate her pregnancy.

What rights to persons living with disabilities have on sexuality? ALL.

One can never fully understand something until you face a circumstance that is similar. You get to realize that nobody can actually feel your pain much as they try. When I got into an incident on August 21st this year, it led realization of just what being incapacitated means. I fractured my ankle and from the time I first left hospital in Yei South Sudan to the house then to Nairobi vie Entebbe I somehow came to get a glimpse of what persons living with disabilities go through in accessing the public utilities. While I received a lot of support from friends and strangers during this journey, I could not help noticing how the world is not fully set to accommodate this. I noticed how insensitive to physical disabilities the facilities are. I noted how steep stair cases were. I recall while waiting to board the flight in Entebbe the flight staff requested the other passengers to wait as I and some women who had small babies boarded first. The crowd surged forward and we sat back to wait for them to board. I could not blame them, the flight had delayed and one gets the feeling of arriving faster if your boarder first.  I have spent more than 3 months not able to be my normal self with support from family and friends, yet the journey can only be travelled not imagined.
The experience is nothing compared to the experiences that those living with disabilities face. More so the invisible forms of violations that are informed by the social beliefs as to what they do or do not deserve.
 On this 9th Day of the 16 Days of Activism, I remember the persons living with disability on the International Day of the Disabled.  While women world over experience more forms of gender based violence, women living with disability experience unique forms of violence. My Masters Degree thesis focused on challenges that women with disabilities face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services. This included how they are treated when they go to hospitals when pregnant, or to access other related services. I still recall some of the stories shared by the women. The social stigma is incomprehensible.

What comes to mind when you see a disabled pregnant woman?

I asked several people that question and most answered that the first thought was that either the woman has been raped or she is very careless to allow pregnancy while disabled. At the most basic level they are denied the right to sexual expression, bringing up families etc. some shared facing physical, sexual and economic violence to various degrees. One woman was almost having her baby exchanged in hospital and it was only because of her assertive nature that it did not happen. She had albinism and gave birth to a normal colored baby while another woman in the same hospital gave birth to an albino child.  Some were left to give birth on the floor since they could not access the bed and nobody was willing to help.

The experiences shared were touching and inhuman.

On this Word Disability day, I remember women and men who have suffered various forms of gender based violence that has been made worse by their disability.  I remember many women and even men who have been disabled by gender based violence; the many who are denied their right to self expression.

It is about our attitude, not the other person’s ability or lack of.