By Nomazulu Thata
Who has ever seen an anxious mother at the delivery ward? She is frightened, anxiety in her eyes is telling the same old story we know. The thought of giving birth to a girl can even affect the birth pains. She knows what it means to take a girl-child home, she knows the expectations of the entire family; a boy is preferred and not a girl. The husband, the father-to-be, upon hearing that his wife has delivered a girl-child, will go away to have a beer with his friends and pretend as if nothing of significance has happened, but the birth of any child in the home should be significant. Females of her husband’s side preferred a boy and not a girl and they will talk openly about their wishes of a boy-child because it resonate well with the wishes of the father-to-be. It is an underestimate to underline the fact that boys are a preferred gender in African homes, truly little has changed.
The fate of a girl-child is sealed at the maternity ward. Oh! It is a girl! The mother is sad, all the pain to give birth comes back. The sadness that it was pain just to get a girl, she is filled with defeat and shame. Somehow in African culture it is not clear who determines the sex of a child, it is scientifically proven that it is the father who determined the sex. Families should think twice about the pressure they put on mothers and daughters-in-law. Zimbabwe, a country known for its literacy, this habit has not changed in the second Millennium.
How does the direct opposite look like, how does an African mother react when she gives birth to a boy-child? She is overwhelmed with joy, excitement, and contentment. She knows exactly what it means to bring home a newly born baby boy home, her position in the home and in the clan is acknowledged and confirmed. She will be accepted and appreciated. The birth of a boy-child easies tensions in the home and there is reason to celebrate the arrival of yet another valuable member of the clan. A bull or a he-goat will be murdered in his honour to give the mother good relish after a strenuous birth and pains, She should have enough milk to feed the small “prince” the new arrival is a good and a valid reason for extravagance.
The differences of boy- and girl-children start form cradle to the grave. A boy-child is made to breast-feed longer than a girl. The girl-child in her growing years is conditioned for hard life in future. Incredibly early in her formative years she is taught home duties, sweep, collect firewood, collect water from the wells and rivers for the homestead. Slowly but surely, she is taught how to cook meals and collect vegetables for the evening meals. Her duties start early in the morning, she is not supposed to rest, because resting is a sign of laziness. Her mother is the direct mentor all the time as she is the one who allocates duties in the home. Mistakes of a girl-child are not tolerated by the family and it is for this reason some girl-children will avoid it because a mistake is subject to severe punishment.
She works tirelessly because she knows her work will be acknowledged by all in the home. She automatically submits to the defined roles and perfects her female role to get recognition and applause. She is groomed to be a future wife and mother.
Certainly, life has changed in rural Zimbabwe from what it was during our time. Today, girl children are given a chance to attend school, in some cases until she can read and write. After the initiation ceremony is done, a girl-child is ready for marriage. She will about 13 to 15 years old. An initiation ceremony is done when a girl matured, it means she has started getting her menstruation cycles. As per our tradition, the female members come together to “baptise” the girl. Mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters of the clan come together to celebrate the coming of age of the girl. It is this event when a girl is facilitated with values of womanhood, motherhood, wife-to-be technicalities of life. Here, I am depicting the life a girl-child in rural Zimbabwe.
The clue of the story is in the title above!
Reading Zimbabwe news on social media today is a story of a 22-year-old young man who was hauled to court because he raped a girl of 14 years who turned down his love proposal. Before he raped her, he hit her with his belt to submission. This is a 22-year-old young man who thinks and feels he is entitled to have what he wants: sex. He will demand it and get it by whatever means. There is no respect for the girl who refused his advances, he bashes her instead. He takes advantage of his masculinity to reduce a girl by raping her injuring her body and soul. He is currently in custody for rape charges. (I really love Zimbabwe Police and the judiciary sometimes. Paedophiles when caught are punished severely: kudos to you)
How many under-aged girls have been raped by their brothers-in-law? When sexually abused girls report such cases back home, it is the sisters or aunties who threaten girls to silence to conceal the crime. So many cases of raped girls by their brothers-in-law or uncles go unreported and unchallenged because the young girls fear harmful threats made on them by those they trusted most. It takes a brave girl to break the cycle of sexual abuse by those perverse men called varamu/umlamu. My story borders around women who are notorious when it comes to cover up sexual abuse on young women and girls. Does it surprise us then that men who have been protected by their wives, sisters, and mothers for crimes against humanity feel entitled to the bodies of women?
Any culture is supposed to be dynamic and not static; I have heard this narrative on many symposiums and conferences. My question is why are some of our African cultures allowed to remain constant and static while other cultures are changing exponentially? Why remain static when so many social, political, and economic aspects of our societies are in a state of constant change and developments are sustainably skyrocketing? How many times have I been told that “certain” African culture should remain unchanged and I was told am a spoiler of African traditions and culture? In a world full of madness, it’s a compliment to be called you are mad: in isiNdebele they say “kawukwananga! I have outrightly challenged situations whereby supposedly an uncle in the home demanded to have sex with a to-be-married niece to confirm that she is a virgin? He made it clear to the girl that if she does not accept virginity testing with him, she will not get married to the nephew. Virginity testing yet again in the second Millennium!!!!
I have challenged this evil practice at family level, and I have openly condemned it as a degrading traditional practice: that has earned me the epithet: “Mad.” It was for me a great accomplishment to expose and shame the narcissist in the home. Can we imagine or even comprehend how such a newly married young woman presents herself in the family if she has had been bedded by two men: her husband and the uncle, an uncle who was given title of father of the clan? This is how he abuses his position by indulging in sex targeting virgins wholly calculating the desperation in the girl to get married. He felt wholly entitled to have sex with her. This too exemplifies how our women are undermined using sex as a weapon to make them feel small, literally exposing their vulnerability.
This story is not isolated at all but an example of what is going on silently in families today; this is practiced widely in our communities and never spoken about openly. It is a practice that is passed on for generations because it is at the man’s advantage: this is one of the examples of entitlements and privileges that men want maintained, perpetuated, sustained. We demand this practice be abolished at national level. There was a debate in parliament regarding this tradition particularly that has adverse effects on health of women and girl-children. This should be applauded; we say kudos to women legislators who moved that motion in parliament.
When it happens that to-be-wedded women are to be subjected to virginity testing, how execrable, it is the women who are the custodians of culture and traditions who push such abominations under the carpet. Whoever spills the beans, is attacked by the women who have been given a special place, a special position in the family to “roast and grill rebels and malcontents” in the family. The HIV/AIDS and other STD diseases have spread in Zimbabwe to unprecedented levels because of these medieval traditions in the second Millennium.
To demonstrate further that the women are complicit with men’s sense of entitlement and privileges: a social media was reported a woman who lived in Matabeleland North gave her five-year-old daughter to a Malayitsha for sex because his sexual drive was not met not, quenched with the woman in question. The mother of the girl held the little girl’ hands so that the man can have enough sex with the toddler. The womb of the girl ruptured in the sexual act, and she had to be sent to the hospital for treatment. This is how the whole story can into the public. It is not just the sense of entitlement and privilege of man; we can see how women are capable of acts of criminality too. Poverty bites in rural areas of Matabeleland-North yes, but this case is over and above a horrendous, detestable, and execrable event.
What do I mean by sense of entitlement and privileges of men in our societies? Zimbabwean men embrace enlightenment and civilization. But, but, some men do not like it when women are empowered and enlightened because it interferes with their privileges and entitlement. Curiously, some women may argue about gender imbalances in our societies but when such debates are made in the presence of men, they automatically shift their debate in favour of men to get acceptance and good standing. They surrender literally their allegiance to men in totality.
A good woman in our culture is the one who is protective of men in the family who have committed abomination, criminality taking place in our homes. A sign of a good woman in the clan is when females in the family get remunerations in the form of special recognition from men elders for keeping the secrets of the home safe even if they are of criminal nature.
My topic is about privileges and the sense of entitlement men have towards women and young growing up girls: where does this patriarchal sense of privileges come from? I am quick to condemn and judge my womenfolk in perpetuating patriarchal institutions in homes for generations. Women in Zimbabwe are custodians of patriarchy. Women are the first to be in contact with the newly born child right up to their formative years: boys and girls alike. It is the mother and other women in the household, grandmothers and unmarried aunties who are responsible for perpetuating disparaging gender sets ups. This, in a nutshell, is my bone of contention, my argument about women who harbour blind, insensitive and limited sense of family duty.
We must ask ourselves serious questions, bitter as they might be: In some parts of Africa, girls are circumcised by women. These women or grandmothers know the danger they put on babies and toddlers by carrying out such practices but continue to do it all the same. Some girls die of infections and bleeding in most cases. I have seen such debates going on in international media such as BBC and CNN. What is defeating in such debates, seeing and listening to black women forcefully defending girl-circumcision is that they are aware of the dangers and health repercussions of girl-circumcision but their argument will border on: “we do not accept white man/woman telling lecturing us about our traditions.”
In a global village we learn from each other. Cultures and traditions have been interchanged and intermingled disproportionately. How much culture have we taken from western world, and how much have the western world taken from African cultures is no longer a debate but an obvious fact. The Europeans are taking on bord some African cultures including long breast-feeding time of babies carrying babies on the back, less pram use, Ubuntu is included at some university social science curriculums. These are artifices integrated into their own culture because they are found to be enriching.
We read stories daily in social media of rural men who rape old women over 80 years of age taking advantage of living alone in rural areas and because they think old women do not suffer from HIV/AIDS. This, again, is a classical evidence of men’s entitlement over women’s bodies disregarding their vulnerability. These sad cases have been taking rounds for years curiously if found guilty, they are incarcerated for longer years. However, it does not scare other men committing same crimes.
How many toddlers and small children have mysteriously died in homes and when asked the causes of death; it is measles??? Measles my foot! In retrospect the baby will have been sexually battered to death by an overly large p*nis. It is the women who will fabricate lies to cove-up crimes against humanity. How many men today still think they can cure HIV/AIDS by having sex with virgins? How many families condone their growing up young men to practise sex on growing up girls but will demand their own girl-children to engage sex before marriage? Virginity testing will be done!!!!! Such are contradictions in our cultures and traditions that stink to high heavens.
An uncle will “touch” her growing up niece’s breast, deliberately introduces sex in girls aged ten years. This is exactly what we mean by men’s sense of unfettered privileges and entitlements. But if the mother, sister to cynical brother sees no evil in silly acts of an old man, it becomes difficult for the girls to come to terms with obvious violation of their bodies. Women in Zimbabwe have a long way to go: Gender problem must be challenged by women in Zimbabwe themselves. Nobody is going to eradicate misogyny and patriarchy in societies but ourselves.
It is compelling to introduce debates on gender disparities and eradication of our medieval traditions as women as women of this great country. We need to find each other as women, understand the seriousness of our situation and we agree unanimously that our societies deserve better. Our men must be taught they cannot impose access to women’s bodies; they must learn to respect women and girl-children. Men are not entitled to women and girl-children’s bodies. Engaging in sex with a minor is crime against humanity and not a privilege or an entitlement of any men whatsoever. A no is a no! period!
If things must change for the better in our societies, women are the key!!!!!