June 17, 2019

Women; From Commodity to Equals to Objects

women rights

By George Ojema

“What if that was your mother, or sister, or daughter?”

This question is often thrown around in defense of helpless ladies who experience the misfortune of having their harrowing experiences broadcast on social media. From recorded rape, sexual assaults, forceful disrobing in public or physical confrontation we jump in to register our disgust or, in some cases, approval of what took place. And yet the rhetorical question will always feature.

“What if that was your mother, or sister, or daughter?”

Why is it that these are the three examples used in every scenario? Is it because we think society is obliged to think morally if we use them? That men everywhere will take back their shaming comments if they picture their mother’s faces in the video clips. That a man will lash out at other men considering his sister was in dire straits? That we will suddenly embrace gender based activism if only to protect our daughters from the monsters turning attractive young ladies into prey for their sinister fantasies?
It is unlikely. In most cases we are as helpless to effect change as the comment itself.

Our collective view of women is base, wanting in its evaluation and in need of improvement.

Woman the commodity

The earliest tag a woman bears is that of property, sheltered in one’s house until she was old enough to be married and bear children of her own. A mandatory part of this process was the payment of bride price which in itself has morphed meaning through many generations.

In many communities, the bride price was not necessarily payment for the wife to be. It was the bridegroom’s show of strength, proof that he could indeed take care of the girl and keep her in relative comfort. It was a measuring rod for a man who could have as many children as he liked and not allowing any of them to go hungry. It was also a sign that the man was diligent and hard working. Well, that’s what most old people say.
Over time it became the right to own the bride to be. She was property, bought and paid for. With this tag came exclusive terms of use. The woman can be beaten, starved, forced to bear as many children as was demanded of her and remain at her husband’s beck and call.

Then to some it became a cash cow. The more beautiful the girl the higher the bride price. The more educated, the higher the bride price. If she was perceived to be pure, more pure than all, a man would bleed through his nose to have her… then she was his ‘property’. For this reason, some families warn their sons off certain communities. I would too.

And thus stems the first problem. We live in a society that constantly questions tradition but will not change it. Don’t get me wrong, I am neither against nor am I for bride price. I am against the practice of making women property upon its payment. Because of this predicament, some men physically and sexually abuse their wives and daughters at home, in front of their sons. Some boys will grow up knowing it is wrong but unfortunately some will not. For this unfortunate group the best way to tell a lady she is wrong is to beat her. So asking him if he would handle the situation differently if it were his mother likely won’t change his mind. Unfortunate, but true.

And do not forget, in some households women are to be seen and not heard. Yes, in this time and age.

Woman as equals

In Beijing, China in 1995 a United Nations conference was held. It was at this conference that the subject of equality and women’s rights were discussed and the resolve to empower women set in motion. There are many things that were discussed at what is now called the Beijing Declaration but what emerges is that women’s rights are human rights.

Then came the push for gender balance and the cry to improve the girl-child situation. But one thing was left out in the master plan. Men were not told or indeed taught how to deal with the new empowered woman. Suddenly men went from courting office clerk type girls to courting lawyers. A man got home as the same time as his wife, from work. Women went from earning no money to bringing home more money than the men. And men had not been told how to deal with it.

Contempt for women set in. Young campus girls become threatening for men who are high school drop outs seeing no apparent future. That short skirt and high heels become symbols of a threatening progress you are not a part of. It is a progress many men do not understand and have not been equipped mentally to deal with. So they lash out. Many psychological studies show that sexual abuse is a crime of power rather than passion. Whatever the case, a woman can be immensely bruised physically and mentally by sexual assault.

And yet the question of equality lingers. Have we really achieved it? Here’s a fact for your digestion; in the United States of America men make 7 percent more in wages than women. And closer home in Kenya, it is estimated that about 35 percent of girls between the ages of 16 and 20 are still in school, compared to about 50 percent of boys.

Now objects

“What if that was your mother, or sister, or daughter?”

Sadly, it would not matter. Frown if you must but that is the conclusion one must arrive at. The educated, empowered woman who has become a symbol of hate, submission and property would very easily be the aggressor’s sister and he would still strip her naked in public. In his eyes she is an object that should conform to his rules. She should dress a certain way and talk a certain way.

Over the weekend a woman was allegedly raped and physically assaulted. As Kenyan’s empathized with her plight a local comedian posed the question, and I paraphrase, “Why was she meeting him at 10:30 pm?” Others asked why a married woman was out of her matrimonial home that late at night, and unaccompanied.

This learned, empowered woman, a beneficiary of girl child empowerment and a wife to a loving husband was allegedly assaulted by a man who apparently saw her as nothing but a commodity. While she lay in hospital a society that has not been taught how to deal with the empowered woman, to treat her with equality and respect insulted her because despite being a woman of substance some members of society will only see her as an object.
But someone will undoubtedly ask, “What if that was your mother, or sister, or daughter?”

For this guilt laden query to work the worth of women must be stressed to MEN. Make the woman a woman in their eyes and no more an object. Otherwise, the alternative is to strip young men who sag their jeans to their knees and beat men in public for having pot bellies.

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