Gender & Inheritance Among the Kuria People

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— By James from Kenya

The Kuria community is a Bantu tribe found at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, near Lake Victoria. Traditionally, Kurians were subsistence farmers and cattle keepers. But with the advent of modernity, they have greatly metamorphosed. They currently occupy every kind of profession such as finance, military, administration, medicine, engineering, business, etc.

Culturally, it’s men who inherit property among the Kurians. A woman’s position is with her husband, it was believed. And even this way, the inheritance of a woman who did not bear male children was a complicated issue. For such a woman, it meant that all her daughters would be married off and the woman would remain alone with no one to inherit her property or advance her lineage – for only a son could carry on someone’s lineage. So by extension, a mother without a son was generally deemed childless (which was not the case). Therefore, the Kuria community, just like many cultures in the world, values the boy. A sad thing according to me.

Due to these cultural complexities, there were some cultural practices allowed to compensate for the two issues: inheritance and lineage continuity. The “Nyumba mboke/nyumba ntobhu” was the savior. “Nyumba mboke” is a cultural arrangement where a barren woman (not necessarily that she was barren, for the problem could have been with the husband, but she remained faithful to him) or a sonless woman was permitted by the culture to take a younger woman and stay with her. This younger woman has the right to choose a man of her liking to sire children with her. The children of this union were assumed to belong to the older woman, thereby ensuring that the inheritance remained in this household and that the older woman’s lineage did not terminate.

Several points are worth noting here.

First, it should be noted that there is no sexual relationship between the two women as portrayed by some outsiders. It is not a lesbian relationship. Actually, the younger woman refers to the older woman as mother. A quick check on the internet yields articles that assume that a sexual relationship occurs between the women.

Second, this arrangement is only permitted under two circumstances – where there is no son, or where there is no child at all. Again, outsiders have erroneously come up with other circumstances under which the union can occur (e.g. where the husband is absent). *Read an article written by Gabriel Samuels of The Independent on July 29, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/…/straight-women-kurya-tanzani…

Third, the younger woman gets to choose the man of her liking to be her companion and whom she should make children with. It should be noted that the man has no claim whatsoever over the children born out of this relationship. *Read Marie Claire: http://www.marieclaire.com/cult…/a21668/the-tanzanian-wives/

Despite the fact that this cultural arrangement has given women some sort of peace of mind for a long time, it has several major challenges. Essentially, older women who take a younger women have usually reached menopause, meaning that they are advanced in age. Thus, a woman starts taking care of “her children” in her old age when she herself should be receiving care. This becomes a burden.

Meeting the daily demands (both social and economical) for such a household becomes a task. From my general observation, the young women who enter such arrangements are in most cases lacking in western education. Hence, making ends meet in a world that is dependent on western education becomes a challenge.

And, as Marie Claire notes in her article (above link), the biological fathers are not compelled in any way to take care of the children born from this arrangement. This breeds and cultivates irresponsible parenthood. And as it is, these households are more likely to lack a father figure. Thus, the development of the children is disadvantaged in some way.

The words “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” translate to “the weak house” or “the house of women”. These terms are derogatory in nature in a community that is predominantly patriarchal. The meaning attached to the words impacts how people view themselves or how they view others. So, this household is generally viewed as weak and incapable of supporting itself (which in some cases is wrong). Therefore, the children of this household may grow up thinking that they are inferior or that they are not as worthy as the other children in the community.

Although the “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” practice is decreasing (contrary to what outsiders have painted), property inheritance among women in Kuria culture still tends to cater to traditionally held views.

Girls and Science: Can ‘Boys’ Champion the Journey?

— By Ibrahim from Uganda

It is Saturday evening and the sun is scorching hot. There are already only four boys waiting for the event to begin. The guest of honor has arrived and everything seems blurry. They sit there faces chocked with half smiles as they hold on a little bit longer. Promisingly members start flocking in. In 20 minutes, they were ready to begin.

This November 26th 2016 Boy-Talk moment organized by Girls in School Initiative had unraveling surprises of its own. It’s not the pizza that they all enjoyed at the end but the thrilling talk from Concern for the Girl Child’s Executive Director, Catherine Opondo, the guest speaker. She first scribbles through her phone notes and then smiling poses that rhetorical question members didn’t expect; ”Will you be a Champion?” The whole meeting grew silent.

This month’s topic centered on whether girls education in science subjects helps bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of sciences, and as always, seeking to understand the greater role boys play in support of this initiative. Mrs. Opondo took a very firm stand on this, that indeed “Girls involvement in sciences helps to bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of science.” She drew examples from her lifeline and career experiences alongside places she has lived in like the Middle East. Mrs. Opondo made the members to re-imagine where science goes beyond the test tube to daily life experiences practices. To her, what is science and where is science? She imagines boys playing a leading role in challenging a girl on what her future plan/dream is in relation to science? Or is it simply, what is it that she likes in a lipstick? A lipstick is just a lipstick but she nuances it with this scientific aspiring girl who is made to rethink on ‘eco-lipstick’ and how it would revolutionize a healthier woman in a cosmetology world.

That; when girls are pushed to think, they too can progressively become better like boys. Her emphatic ideal was “Boys can point girls to hope,” plus “raising aspirations is really important” in any human lives especially girls. Mrs. Opondo stressed out three main wayshow boys can help: Through, (a) Socialization; where they can help bridge the cultural gap; (b) Protection, where boys protect girls against ill derailleur’s by acting as ‘Big Brothers’ and, (c) Advocacy; where boys become champions for change.

In these modern times, there has been a lot of rumbling and calling for girl’s education. But where do we place the men and what is their role in all this? There is still a lot that ‘boys’ can do to champion the cause, more so in the world of science. Mrs. Opondo gave pointers from leverage the using of the existing structures to get organized and seek support through networks; spear heading men’s groups in informing about both the urgent and long term need/impact for promoting girl child education as well as acting as ‘changemakers’ where they promote and encourage girls to pursue sciences in schools.

As the meeting drew to a close, members were already battering with ideas from their own their experiences afar. They agreed that its high time men stopped giving girls dolls but surround them with gadgets to harness their imagination, i.e., procreating a science mind. On a sad reality, many girls drop out of school when they become pregnant and so are giving up on their dreams. This is where men can come in as supportive and counselors that having a baby is not the end of one’s career aspirations.

The whole event seemed quite mind boggling and yet mind changing. It stems from boys’ testimonies of how they perceive the concept of gender while relearning anew. The talk by Mrs. Opondo was nothing less but exploratory, inspirational and more so, relational. The Boy-Talk Moments have had one important impact sofar; continuous dialogue even after culture shock. Muslim boys who are members are battering with perceptions about ‘who is a woman’(both at a personal, religious and societal level) than ever before. The greater hope that seems to looms allover is that members are endlessly questioning while seeking answers of their own without failing to commit themselves to the cause. Wholly, they all seemed to agree with Mrs. Opondo in her assertion that, “The power imbalance cannot be ignored. We maybe different physically but we are all equal”.

Please, I Want a Boy

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— By Rebecca from Burundi

It was in June, the city of Gitega was very cold and snowy. The birds were singing to announce the birth of a new day. Mwajuma, a farmer woman of five girls lives in Magarama quarter. Every day, from Monday to Thursday, she goes a long way to reach her farm lands located at Songa. It was a Wednesday and Mwajuma woke up early, like every morning. She took a cup, a white dent and a tooth brush from the cupboard, walked towards the back yard, sat in her armchair and brushed her teeth.  A short time after, she went back in the house, tried to be as quiet as possible so that the two youngest children wouldn’t wake up, went to the room of her two older girls and said “Beloved daughters, wake up! It is about time you go to school! Come! Get out of your bed! Remember to take the tea in the cupboard. My daughters have a happy and lucky day. See you in the evening.” Mwajuma then went in her room, picked up the basket and her hoe, and left the house.

Halfway through her commute, she passed by her friends to see if they wanted to share the way with her. Since she woke up Mwajuma was feeling very tired; she had a bit of a headache, nausea and muscular pain but was neglecting all of them. She continued her commute. At that time, Mwajuma was also almost nine months pregnant but was thinking she still had time before her due date. In fact, the doctor had already told her the date, but it made little sense to her; Mwajuma was illiterate. Little by little along the way the pain was growing stronger, as for the muscular pain, the headache, the nausea and the weakness feeling. At some point Mwajuma failed to keep walking and asked for help. Three people; a man and two women, who were passing by, stopped.

Madam, what is wrong?” they asked.

Oaps! Uuuuhhmm! Oath!!! Ouch, my goodness, I feel bad comrade” said Mwajuma.

What shall we do?” said the man.

Okay, right now, let’s take her to the Central Hospital of Gitega” said one of the women.

Mwajuma was brought to the hospital. The two women asked the nurse to help them find a gynecologist doctor. “Wait a moment” said the nurse. Ten minutes after, they learned that she had to be transferred at another hospital, where, she was going to get surgery. The ambulance came and picked them to Mutoyi Hospital. It was going to be Mwajuma’s sixth child. The two women accompanied her to the hospital where they were received by a kind-hearted Italian nurse. Half an hour later, the poor Mwajuma was in the operation room…

Mwajuma opened her eyes and, for a moment, wondered where she was. Then she remembered and a moan escaped through her lips. The Italian doctor hurried over.

Don’t you worry now” she said, “You’ll be fine and the baby is all right”.

Then Mwajuma asked the big question: “Is it a boy or a girl?

A girl” replied the doctor with happiness. “A beautiful, active, five kilograms girl!” she added.

May God send blessing to you” replied Mwajuma.

She was having another girl! What a problem she immediately thought! What would happen to her next? She had mothered five girls already, five girls in nine years of marriage. She felt tears running down her checks, and she remembered how proud and happy she had been when her mother had told her she was enough mature to get married.

Mwajuma had seen her husband Omar, twice. The first time was at her cousin’s house when he arrived there unexpectedly. The second time was when he came with his father to ask for her hand in marriage. It was the houseboy who revealed to Mwajuma the purpose of this meeting. She remembered looking at Omar and his father through the window, drinking wine in small glasses and being congratulated by all the men in the family. They embraced and rubbed noses, with big smiles on everyone’s faces. Mwajuma also remembered her wedding day; the noises, the movements, the old women’s whispers about what will happen during the night following the ceremonies. She eventually found herself alone with this stranger, who had a very good heart, was gentle and considerate.

Well, she knew that right now there would be no happiness and celebration for this newborn girl. God, why couldn’t she have a boy? Just one, that is all she wanted, just one little baby boy. Truth is, she had a boy once, but she had a miscarriage. The only one in nine years and she had to go and lose it… It was her fault too she thought. She had no business climbing a tree at six months of pregnancy, right? She was seeking for firewood and slipped and fell down… After that she had five more girls and now a sixth one. Would Omar divorce her? Would he take a second wife? His old brothers, sisters and parents had been speaking to him about this, even encouraging him to take a second wife urgently so that he can have boys. Omar loved his daughters and her wife, but it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. He needed to have a boy to whom he will inherit. He had all that money and the social and political status and no boy to leave it to.

Her mother came to the hospital to visit her, and then her sisters-in-law arrived. Each one kissed her and congratulated her, but Mwajuma could see they were not really happy. Her mother was especially fearful for her daughter’s future and felt that some disgrace had fallen on her and on the family. The sisters-in-law were secretly very happy, for themselves, because they had boys; with no son in sight, Omar’s social status and half of his fortune would be given to their sons. Of course he was still young and he and Mwajuma might try again. But for the moment the in-laws felt reassured and falsely sympathized with Mwajuma on her bad luck. In Burundian culture, a family with no male child cannot be respected. A woman herself cannot inherit from her parents, only men can. ”Well, it is God’s will”, murmured the sister-in-laws, smiling under their masks and veils. Their mouths were sad, but Mwajuma could see the happiness in their eyes. “God’s will be done”.

After the family, friends started coming as well. They kissed Mwajuma and said, “Congratulations! Cheers!” then sat on the floor, cross-legged. Arranging their robes around them, they drank coffee, ate fruits, paste, and ndagala. Her cousin Sifa, known as “Mama Khadija” came too. She wore a long velvet dress, decorated with flowers, to boast her belly. Mama Khadija was six month pregnant and looked very happy.

Mwajuma thought bitterly “She already has two daughters and three sons. What does she need another baby for? She is not even that young anymore…”

As if she had read her thoughts, Mama Khadija said “This is my last baby. It will be a baby for my old age. The others are married or away at school all day. An empty house is a sad house. You know you need many sons and daughters to keep your husband happy. You are still young, Mwajuma. God has given you six daughters, maybe the next four will be boys, please do not feel tired of giving birth! Remember your husband still want a boy. You need a boy to make you honorable. If it does not happen, I am afraid he will divorce you. So, keep hope. God’s will be done”.

As God wills it, so it will be”, whispered the other women with self-determination and satisfaction.

After a moment, Omar, her husband came in and the ladies all stood up with polite respect and left the room. Omar looked at his wife, tried to smile and searched for something nice to say. He  thought that she must be tired, disappointed, rejected, ashamed of having failed him one more time and afraid of being rejected by him. He sat down near the bed and said “My beloved, mother of my children, we will just have to try again for the next chance, which may be the last, won’t we? I am afraid I will die and then my name will perish, to whom am I going to inherit my fortune? The last chance is nearing, I need a boy!”

Mwajuma suddenly began to cry of sorrow, shame and relief.

Don’t cry” he said angrily. ”the important thing is that you and your girl are in good health” he added, seeming to be humble. “For I still have time, we will try again. Let’s expect good luck for next time, eh?” Mwajuma blushed under the mosquito net and pulled her veil around her face. Omar stood up, heated her hand, got up and left the room with a bit of sadness in his eyes. The ladies came in hurry, rushing back in like a flock of birds, excited to know the news, whether good or bad.

Mwajuma’s mother asked “What did he say, my daughter?

He said may it be, better luck next time, mum…” said Mwajuma while crying.

The mother let out a sign of relief and said “They have another year of sadness…

The women congratulated Mwajuma and left the Hospital to spread the news, just the bad luck of Mwajuma, while she sank back on her pillow and fell asleep…

Womanhood vs. Culture

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— By Rebecca from Burundi

Moving from childhood to adulthood is not always easy, especially for women. For ages, Burundian society has gathered some prejudices and fallacies to be taught to girls once they are heading to adulthood. My life as a girl has always been difficult; I have faced many hardships related to my gender. There are some experiences which might be small enough for others to forget but big enough to reveal the prime purpose of someone’s life – trajectory. Being a girl has sometimes prevented me from being the real person I want to be and made me missed many opportunities.

I have realized that the natural and simple fact that we are created women can be seen as a sin, especially when it comes to menstruation. So, are periods a curse or a gift? This is a much discussed subject in my community. It all goes with prejudices and fallacies which end up undermining females.

When I was about thirteen, I was probably only on my fourth or fifth cycle back then but I already knew the code of conduct that was expected from me while on my period:
“Don’t use the sofa and the bed…”
“Don’t touch anything in the kitchen…”
“DO NOT GO near temple…forget about entering it!”
“Are you a fool? How can you dance during ‘those days’?”
“Keep your used utensils outside of the washing unit, not with our utensils!”

Being a teenager at the time, all these practices barely bothered me and, I have to say, they still don’t bother me much today. I had my cell phone, washroom, utensils, and my food. Who could care less about the stupid outside world?

However, I remember that day of June 2013. I was sitting in my room, reading my favorite novel when I heard my mum: “Rebecca! Get your utensils. A house girl will wash it!” Since I was in my own world; I had unknowingly kept my utensils with everybody else’s. That wasn’t acceptable at all for my mum. Meanwhile I had no idea what was the fuss was all about. You can’t scold a girl in front of her entire family when she is on her period and expect her to not be moody about it.

Obviously I lost my cool.

“What did I do wrong!? Anyway these stupid practices of yours have NO logic, do they?” I said. My mum answered “Rebecca, it is well known in our culture and Burundian community and so you have to follow them and that’s it.” That day shook me. Until that day, I had lived with the perception of being born into a supposedly modern, educated and peri-urban family…

In the same month, my school teacher surprised me too! He asked for help to clean the chalkboard so I stood up to help. Accidently, I slept and almost fell. The classmates burst into laughing and the teacher asked me what was wrong with me.”I am having a great headache” I told the teacher. I did not know that I had stained my skirt with my period and that he could see it. The teacher took me outside the class and asked me what I may have colored my skirt with. I simply told him that I was on my period. Can you guess what happened next? The teacher chased me and told me that I had brought curse into the classroom and that I should not have attended classes during that moment! Then he said ”Rebecca, You will come back after seven days and make sure you return into my class with super cleaning soap and spray to clean that bench!” Godness! What?!

It was on that day that I promised myself to always stand up for what is wrong and the way I saw it and this situation certainly was wrong. These practices seemed fine in the past, considering the fact that no hygiene facilities existed back then. In today’s scenario however, I feel that they are simply hindrances. We expect everything to evolve with time – people’s ways of living, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the government they are ruled by. But this? Oh no! Evolution in this area is an absolute sin!

I always wanted to be something more than a doctor, engineer, CA or collector. On that day, I knew had found my goal;I have a dream to start an NGO working against such wrong doings. But don’t misunderstand my words, I don’t think that our Burundian culture and traditions are wrong, oh no! They are one of the most beautiful principles and values IF interpreted, preached and imparted properly. Following these menstrual rituals for instance is a personal choice and shouldn’t be imposed to people and make them feel less confident about themselves. In the 21st century, it’s time to think about what needs to be changed and what shouldn’t.

Societal Pressure & HIV – a Harmful Connection

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— By Thato from Lesotho

Earlier this year, I laid to rest a very close cousin of mine, Chikabo. The last I saw of him was in 2014 at the Maseru border. He was so full of life and always had some insane story to share. I vividly recall how he would always make me miss my ride with his never ending hilarious stories. Even with all my intent, I never got to see him when he fell ill; I wanted to remember him as I knew him, happy and full of life.

He died of AIDS related illness.

Before that I also laid my uncle to rest. Born in 1970, Uncle Sam was such a sweet man. When I went to see him, he was a shadow of his former self; his skeleton was sprawled on the bed and I just felt the need to add more meat to his skinny structure and bring him to his old form. He arrived in January from Johannesburg, South Africa. I got a call from my mother telling me that he had arrived and was very sick. Uncle Sam was HIV positive. He made the statistics of the many friends and relatives I have lost to HIV/AIDS.

HIV & Denial

The sad thing about these two loves of mine is that although they had known all along that they were infected with HIV, they both admitted to having ceased to take their medication when they were feeling better. By the time they wanted to resume medication intake, it was already too late. I am not sure whether I am angry at them for having cared less about their lives or angry at the stigma surrounding HIV, which has put so much pressure on people, to the extent that people would rather die than face this monster. In Lesotho for instance, there still exist people who view HIV as the white person or urban people’s disease, while others would blame witchcraft when they test positive.

Any HIV related topic has become so cliché, yet people are still not educated. At the beginning of the voluntary male medical circumcision campaigns in the country, I could hear the excitement in the air about the newly found freedom to have unprotected sex. The fact that male circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV by approximately 60% translated differently to many, so I assume. To many this meant freedom to have unprotected sex. When all is said and done, comes denial, which is seen when people refuse to take medication, stop taking the medication when they feel better or resort to traditional remedies instead.

Of the many funeral services I attended where I knew quite well that the person was HIV positive, it was never disclosed how one’s life came to an end. The cause of death was always pinned to tuberculosis or witchcraft. This denial bothers me deeply. The fact that there are other diseases which are more dangerous than HIV should be comforting to people infected with HIV. Statistics shriek daily about the horrors of ever increasing diabetes and cancer related deaths, yet people are still more worried about a disease which, with the help of antiretroviral, is manageable.

HIV & Women

This is sad news for Lesotho, who is rated second in terms of HIV prevalence. Studies have revealed that women are the ones mostly affected by HIV, the very same studies which have shown that women test more than their male counter parts. Patriarchal society has exposed women to this scourge and other things like gender based violence. Women in Lesotho are still seen as minors, which deprives them of the negotiating power when it comes to sexual matters in their relationships. A woman in Lesotho cannot demand the use of condoms in the home because such behavior is frowned upon. Men are the ones with the final say in the majority of matters Our society has okay-ed men’s habits of dating several women while women are expected not to question such behavior. This has not only exposed women to HIV infections it also has contributed to other forms of gender-based violence.

While the Gender agenda has placed so much emphasis on gender equality, the need has never been this great for Basotho women to be empowered to own the negotiation power when it comes to sexual matters in their relationships. Women should be able to insist on the use of condom if they feel a need for such, they should also be able to say no to sex without being made to feel guilty. The unfortunate thing is that a woman is always blamed when their husband passes on, either she infected him or bewitched him if not some silly story far related to HIV.

It is quite unsettling to belong to a society that condones such nonsensical behaviors; this exerts so much pressure on an individual who sees things otherwise. I always feel like a black sheep and a rebel when I talk with my friends and colleagues about the need to use condoms in our relationship; be it with a spouse or a partner. It is worth noting that research and studies have indicated that in Lesotho women are more forthcoming when it comes to HIV testing, while men are rather reluctant. The statistics goes on to show that women are mostly infected with HIV as compared to their counterparts. The use of a condom in the home should not be negotiable; this has the potential of decreasing HIV infections as well as maintaining happy relations where there won’t be a blame game when things turn sour.

Home Ended at 10

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— by Edem from Nigeria

This is the story of a friend of mine I recently met.

My name is Avi, I am a 17 years old girl from Togo. I came to Nigeria 7 years ago and since then I have lived in four different homes as a domestic servant. It was my uncle who brought me to Nigeria. He said it was so I could attend a better school rather than the one in my home Tampasa, a remote farming village in an area called Bassa, located in the northern part of Togo. I was eager to go to Nigeria. I had heard such great things about that country. There were huge houses in Nigeria, people rode big cars and attended loud parties. Children did not go hungry there, they were wearing nice clothes and had shoes. They did not have to go to the farm in the morning and go again in the evening. Things were very flashy in Nigeria. In fact, many of the children in my village had exciting stories to tell about Nigeria, not that they had ever been there, but they had heard them from their relatives who were lucky enough to have visited the place. I too wanted to go there. It was every child’s dream in my village to visit Nigeria.

That fateful day, I was returning from my village school in the evening. From outside our small house, I could hear voices from an indoors conversation. I recognized my father’s voice but the other two I did not know. One voice belonged to a woman. As I was about to go in and greet the guests, my younger brother ran out of the house holding a colorful nylon in his hand and smiling happily. When he saw me, his smile widened. Pointing towards the house, he whispered in excitement “uncle Yusuf is around. He has come from Nigeria and he says one of us can go back with him”. Hearing the news, in that instant my heart began to pound furiously. I had never met my uncle Yusuf but growing up as a child we had heard so much about him. He was the lucky one in my family who had left for Nigeria. He was the son of my father’s older brother and after his father died, he began living with my father. He was about 17 when he left for Nigeria.

My uncle was small in stature and not very good looking compared to what I had imagined a person living in such a sophisticated place would look like. He spoke our local language very fluently, as if he had never left, but when he spoke to the woman who accompanied him, it was in another language. I assume that was the language spoken in Nigeria. The other guest was very impressive. She appeared to be an Alhaja because she wore the traditional covering associated with Muslim women. She looked fancy in her white lace outfit, gold jewelry and heady perfume. They both looked up when I entered and greeted my father. As I was turning to greet my uncle and his friend, I noticed her penetrating gaze fixed on me. It made me uncomfortable. My uncle gave me a colored nylon with some items in it, just like the one I saw my brother holding minutes earlier. He said it contained my gift from Nigeria. I took it smiling, eager to find out what he had brought me all the way from there.

That evening, my uncle sat with us children and shared tales about his life in Nigeria. It seemed like he was very rich and successful in Nigeria. Life in Nigeria sounded truly wonderful. At some point I saw the Alhaja whispering something to my uncle’s ear. My uncle looked my way and asked, in my local language, “Avi, would you like to return to Nigeria with me?” I was suddenly shy. I muttered something about being in school. The Alhaja laughed. I glanced at her in surprise; did she understand my language? “There are good schools in Nigeria, actually far better schools than the ones you have here” she said, speaking in her own strange language. My uncle translated. “I can put you in one of these schools and whilst you are there, you can live in my sister’s house”. My uncle said Alhaja’s offer was a very kind offer and I would be foolish to refuse an opportunity to get a better life in Nigeria. My siblings looked envious. They all wanted to be the ‘chosen’ one.

Later my uncle spoke to my father. Baba did not seem to dislike the idea. The three of them spoke for a long time. After a while, I noticed the Alhaja handing over a small bundle to my father. Later that night my father called me to his side and said that I could go to Nigeria with my uncle but I would only be away for 2 years, after which my uncle would bring me back home. I was delighted. I too would be amongst the fortunate few who got the chance to go to Nigeria. That night I packed my small belongings eagerly and the next morning, at dawn, we were on our way.

Little did I know, that day would mark my permanent displacement from my home and country and the beginning of a journey in the world of child trafficking. I was only 10.

Confronting Patriarchy – The Root Cause of Gender Inequality

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— by Zanele from South Africa

The higher I climbed the public service leadership ladder, the more I experienced the gruesome realization that I was close to achieving my professional development objectives, yet too far from accomplishing my career goals. The barriers that hinder success for a young black woman are far from over. In South Africa, if you’re a young, black, educated, urban, middle-class woman, you are considered as part of the so called “privileged” generation. Little know that the journey to such a false truth as  “black privilege” is a wounding bitter thorn to a delayed success. Such ideologies are often used to reinforce the barriers to opportunities for people of color, which remain high and for women of color, even higher.

I would attend various international, regional and national meetings of all kinds; conferences, seminars or symposiums, and I would be the youngest female professional in the whole lot, the only female at most. The majority, the most represented gender, would be men. Always. Men who would approach me seeking answers dubbed by their curiosity to understand how I got to be in “their space”. In most cases, I felt forced to explain myself countlessly, having to mention my qualifications, experience and the journey that led me to be in the same “space” as my male counter parts… However, one day, I decided to stop. I decided to stop explaining myself. This enabled me to understand the underlying socially institutionalized concept of gender inequality.

Today, majority of companies in various sectors and corporate industries are largely dominated by men. This has been due to many centuries of imposed patriarchy, ingrained in the social, economic and political systems which define how our societies currently inefficiently operate, lacking acknowledgement of the various effects of gender inequality. Essentially in all societies and sectors, Men earn more than women, patriarchy has resulted in staggering power imbalances amongst men and women and this has resulted in evident income and power disparities.

When men hold positions of leadership, they hold decision–making power. As leaders, they are the ones with the authority to determine the limitations to socioeconomic, cultural and political liberation of women and girls. Therefore, to achieve gender equality, women have to strive towards confronting patriarchy in all its forms, throughout all levels of society. Men too have to reach the realization that women are key contributors to economic development, social cohesion and cultural transformation.

Women and men have to work collectively to call for gender equality measures to be reflected in policies and systems, both on a national & global level. Both genders have to partner in solidarity as feminists, to diminish gender biases but most importantly to confront and to dissolve patriarchy, patrilocality*, and patrilineality**. Through this, young people, irrespective of gender, race, social class, education, or lifestyle will have opportunities to freely make meaningful contributions to uplifting communities and making the world a better place for all, without having to explain about how they get to be where they are at.

As young women in the 21st century, we have a vital role to play in confronting patriarchy by persistently challenging the status quo, being pioneers and whistle blowers, calling for gender equality in all its dimensions. To the girl going to school despite cultural barriers challenging her to do otherwise, to the educated and strongly qualified young woman working hard and striving to build her career in a male dominated environment, to the woman who owns her own tangible and intangible assets whilst being a wife to her husband and a mother to her children – I say, rise. Rise, confront the root causes of gender equality and walk towards building futures for your generation and the next. It begins with us.

*patrilocality is when the residence of a couple (especially of the newly married) is with the husband’s family or tribe

** patrilineality is a system in which one belongs to one’s father’s lineage; it generally involves the inheritance of property, names or titles through the male line as well