Are you thinking what I'm thinking?











If words alone, regardless of intention, could change circumstances then March 8 would be salvation day for many women. You can fault this day for many things but definitely not for failing to produce high profile speeches, lots of media coverage, widespread praise (both realistic and romantic) for women and their abilities, resilience and great importance, and just generally keeping women front of collective mind.

This year’s International Women’s Day on March 8 was no different. There was marching in different parts of the country, marchers were in new uniform outfits according to the organisations they represented, there were speeches and there were speeches, there were appeals to government and there were assurances by government, there was eulogizing of women on different platforms, there was celebration, there was entertainment and of course there was media coverage, lots of it.

I support the idea of commemorating International Women’s Day; its relevance needs no justification. I think the type of expression it generates is also good, including the one by those who join in simply because “everyone else is doing it”, because it contributes to entrenching a culture of celebrating women.

One of my main reservations about this day though is that I sometimes feel it encourages an amount of contentment that we as a country should not yet feel. I feel it creates an impression that gender has now arrived at the top of the country’s agenda and it is a foremost priority for millions of citizens. If it were so, I do not believe we would still see the attitudes we see towards women. We would also not see the very marked reduction and even disappearance of gender as a subject in the media and in many citizens’ conversations as we do once March 8 passes.  It is as if “gender” is an event to attend at a particular time and having fulfilled that on March 8, people can move on to other things until the next event probably the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence.

What if the impression created during Women’s week and Women’s Day was where we really are, can you imagine the possibilities? I think we would still be committing much time and passion to raising issues and ensuring something is done about them. I think it would bother us more that even straight from progressive events like the commemoration of Women’s Day, many women go back home to their limited means, to their toxic relationships where intimate partners double as their emotional abusers, batterers and killers, to their desperate poverty, to being ladders for political climbers who never return once they cross over to the plentiful land of public office, to illiteracy, to never ending lack.

We would be diligent in calling things as they are: for example we would not call women and children who walk long distances to draw water for daily use strong, we would call them deprived. If service delivery was as it should be, no one would have to do this. We would adjust our expectations and stop believing deep down that poverty and lack are an acceptable state of being; that it is meant to be this way for some people.

I think if all the people who raise their voices on March 8 could carry on without waiting for another event before they talk again, we could do a lot. The day to day discussion around women could significantly shift from blanket statements that do not reflect the varied nature of our realities as women, to well researched specifics. Specifics that we can confidently use as a checklist when the government talks about the services it has delivered; we can easily see how much the progress on paper reflects the progress on the ground. Specifics that can guide our own interventions as citizens; we would know better where we can make a practical difference.

If the visibility that women enjoy in the media for example and indeed the popularity among many politicians is not just lip-service, where does it go when there is no event? It is not possible that we exhaust all issues during these ‘peak’ periods. We can never run out of things to talk about: the lack of capacity that excludes many women from the possibility of having meaningful income or competing for high positions; the lack of opportunities for that same capacity building; the poverty that makes it impossible to plan as far as the next meal; the death of great ideas due to lack of access to finance; the needless suffering and deaths due to lack of access to quality health care services; the avoidable maternal mortality; the illiteracy that enables gullibility during elections; the economic dependency that makes women stay in abusive relationships; the lack of satisfactory representation in politics and other decision making roles…I will not even try to exhaust this list because I cannot. The issues are clearly too many, too complex and too urgent to be limited to a few designated days.

It is imperative to mention of course that women cannot live any better than their environment allows. If inequality, poverty, lack of opportunities and general hopelessness remain widespread in the country then surely women cannot be expected to be exceptions; they will continue bearing the brunt of these unfortunate circumstances.

It is, however, still not too much to ask that we as a country should take care not to be comfortable with treating women like a convenient category that can be sidelined for as long as we want then called upon to be fussed over and romanticized in order to complete the March 8 script or whatever occasion where a “gender quota” needs to be filled.

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United by a common journey: I am every woman and every woman is me - Lwanga Mwilu.

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, the day that women can speak and be heard, in theory at least. I am celebrating my day by standing in solidarity with all my fellow women and by imagining a more woman-friendly world through my wish list:

 

1. I wish for a world where there will be a 100 per cent assurance that a job can be acquired and a promotion or pay hike negotiated without any skirt being taken off. Let society allow women the dignity to compete on merit and by all means quit objectifying our bodies.

2. I wish that more men could love and respect women enough to stop cheating on them; to stop sacrificing their hearts, health, dignity and pride on a few minutes of selfish pleasure. I wish that more women could put their own welfare before their fear to be alone; the fear that makes them accept that a bad man is better than none. A relationship between a man and a woman should not be an exercise in humiliation and a cheating, disrespectful partner makes it exactly that. Fidelity in men is not a dog’s horn; it is not an urban legend; it exists!

3. I wish that more parents will raise their daughters knowing what love is not; what respect is not; what integrity is not…so that when they encounter an abusive man they will know exactly what they are facing. They will not buy into the generations’ old lie that if he loves you he will ‘discipline’ (read beat) you once in a while. They will realise that never in a million years will abuse – emotional, mental and physical – become a form of love. Love never takes away from anyone’s sense of self worth; from anyone’s wellbeing and anything that does is definitely not love.

4. I wish that more women will remember today that motherhood is an honourable undertaking. To give birth to, nurture and raise a child is praiseworthy and whether or not you are receiving the credit and support you deserve, be happy in the knowledge that you are irreplaceable. I believe I represent many adults world over when I quote Renita Weems and say of my mother: “I cannot forget my mother. She [was] my bridge. When I needed to get across, she steadied herself long enough for me to run across safely”.

5. I wish that more women will refuse to accept discrimination as normal. The biggest hurdle to our cause comes when insults on our dignity grow so mechanical through centuries of use that the victims accept it unconsciously. It appears natural; an inevitable way of life. Refuse to be paid less than your input; refuse to be denied any of your rights; refuse to be defined by other people; refuse to be a willing victim of any sexist system.

6. I wish that more women will defeat the curse of low expectations: the damaging but deeply entrenched and widespread belief that it is alright to be disrespected here and there. Beware of participating in your own domination and humiliation; beware of any instrument that undermines your worth even if it comes decorated as culture – case in point, polygamy! Why should having multiple sex partners, which is normally called infidelity, be accepted without question? It may be culture but if it places your health at unnecessary risk and undermines your dignity, then you have a right – a responsibility even – to question it. Every culture was created by people who knew whose interests it was going to serve and I believe women are not who they had in mind when they created polygamy. Learn to expect from others what you give to them; if one man is enough for you, then one woman is definitely enough for him. Whoever teaches you to respect your partner should not neglect to teach you to expect respect in return.

7. I wish more women will remember today that being adequate, strong, smart, beautiful, and independent does not put you at risk of being alone for the rest of your life. It may intimidate some men but that is no reason to tone down your real abilities; do not blame yourself for any man’s insecurity and by all means do not apologise for being phenomenal. There are millions of men out there who will love you exactly the way you are – brains, big job, confidence, beauty, bling and all. Empowered women are the future.

8. I wish that ALL women will attain economic freedom and be able to have a say in their lives and homes without being reminded by Mr. Pathetic that he has worked for everything they are now enjoying. And I wish that ALL men will respect all women no matter how financially dependent they are on them and realise that money does not make any person better than the other; integrity is what makes one better than the other.

I will end my clearly biased wish list by wishing all my fellow women, a happy International Women’s Day and beyond that I wish you a life of dignity, love and respect. I wish you a life that does not stifle your best instincts but instead accommodates and nurtures them; continually providing opportunities for you to be your best. And to all men who are with us on this journey to self love, acceptance and empowerment, may posterity reward you. And to those men who are undermining this journey by doing to women what you wish never to be done to you, allow me to quote one of my favourite people in the world; “I like an honest person. A man who is a man and proud to be a man, not a brute, not a batterer, a man” – Maya. Angelou.

With best regards from your sister, daughter, friend, partner, mother and every woman in the world that wishes issues affecting women could make the global agenda every day!

Author’s note: first published on 08. 03. 10 on Lusaka Times.com



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