#PatriarchyMustFall: Tears, Complexities and Realisations

As published in UCT’s Varsity News – http://varsitynewspaper.co.za/opinions/4259-patriarchymustfall-tears-complexities-and-realisations

The oppression of women is normalised in our current society. We talk about rape on a day-to-day basis without flinching – we forget the emotion behind individual experiences. This all changed for me on Wednesday night at Leo Marquard Residence, as I stood and listened to women share their stories of being molested as a child, of being publicly shamed by males for being ‘ugly’, or of being cat-called. For the first time I felt like women were able to voice their pain. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

It was a process of realising that so much of what I have experienced – catcalls, guys who make lists of girls according to attractiveness, low self-esteem – is actually symptomatic of a bigger experience of patriarchy in our society. The process of unleashing these stories and emotions has affected me deeply over the past few days. Flashes of bad memories of being used and objectified have filled my consciousness.

However, my experiences are those of a white, heterosexual female. I may be oppressed based on my gender, but I recognise the privilege that I hold because of my race, my sexuality and by being a cisgendered being. I cannot speak on behalf of all women, and I cannot understand the pain that people of colour, those within the LGBTQIA+ community, and non-binary individuals face.

My conscientisation is another reason why the #PatriarchyMustFall movement and other discussions is so powerful: for the first time, intersectionality is not just a buzzword, but a way of understanding. Gender equality is really complex, as we are all individuals experiencing different manifestations of the patriarchy, and so hearing about these different experiences is helping everyone passionate about the cause understand some of these complex nuances. This is why inclusivity within this discourse is so important. By hearing the stories of women with different identities, I was given insight into the complexity which has helped me position myself within our society.

While, as a movement, we have shown a great sense of camaraderie – specifically when we all went back into Leo Marquard to find the person who threw eggs at us – the complexity of gender equality means that we don’t necessarily agree on everything.

This is why, when a male got up to speak at the mass meeting with Kopano Residence, and a female expressed her disapproval and he subsequently stormed out with other males, a difference of opinion arose. Some believed that we should not have silenced him, while others felt like he was intruding on the space that we had created for ourselves.

As I sat in the front row watching this transpire, I understood where she was coming from. As the man got up to speak, he appeared arrogant, entitled, and condescending. The need for her to express her contempt was valid, and should not have been questioned.

This has called into question many beliefs about the involvement of men in the process of dismantling patriarchy. Depending on how the space is defined, and the intention of the gathering, it is important to gauge what sensitivities are at play. While some believe that they should not have the right to comment at all, in any circumstance (as they will never understand what we go through) I think that they are important allies within this process and they can perform such a role if they are more aware of the sensitivity of this process.

There is a lot of listening that needs to be done – there is so much that men donot understand about our experiences as women, just as there is so much that I do not understand about the experiences of black women.

By listening to understand, and not necessarily to respond, constructive learning can take place. Furthermore, if men are able to check their privilege before they speak, and not necessarily assume they understand how we feel, it might help them to navigate the sensitivities of this issue.

Discussions about patriarchy are often hard to navigate because of the multiple intersections with other issues such as race, class, and ability. This is why many people find it hard to engage in these topics.

These discussions are necessary to shift the status quo, because they are actively changing the entrenched mind-sets which are the very beliefs that have institutionalised sexism within the University of Cape Town. Unequal residence rules, an underrepresentation of women in leadership – specifically women of colour – and systems which are ineffective in stopping rape and sexual abuse are all sexist devices.

As more people join in with the #PatriarchyMustFall protests, and the UCT for Women dialogues and other programmes, the dismantling of these mindsets and institutions starts to take place. With this, hopefully more individuals will experience the eye-opening, tear-inducing realisation that I had , so that we can start turning tears into plans,  and plans into change.

#BringBackOurGirls

Gender equality has been a consistent struggle for women globally, right from the Suffragette movement, through first wave feminist to Malala Yousafsai of today. The thing is, it’s getting tricker. The movement is no longer about white, middle-class housewives trying to be free from oppression from their husband. With women empowerment n the 21st century, questions of cultural relevance and religion are always in constant debate.

 

This is one of the main reasons that extremist organisations make me so angry: they misrepresent what religions truly stand for. For example, and what this post is specifically about, Islam: it is a religion based on love which pursuit of knowledge, yet organisations like the Boko Haraam stop girls from going to school “in the name of Islam” – it’s so twisted.

 

When I first heard that the girls had been abducted, the first thing I thought is that it could have happened to me. We do not choose our circumstances. I am lucky enough to go to an all girls’ school safely, but I could have just as easily been born into a country threatened by a terrorist organisation.

 

Education is a right to all – regardless of race, religion or social status. We can’t just let these girls be oppressed for trying to fulfill a basic right. In January I read ‘I Am Malala’ and it was really shocking how the Taliban had very similar ideologies to the Boko Haraam. It’s the 21st century and people still believe that women do not deserve equal rights – this is saddening.

 

Subsequently, I’ve watched a snippet of that video that the Boko Haraam leader put out, and I think that the girls are being used as political weapons as well as symbols of backward beliefs. The group has given Goodluck Jonathan an offer of releasing the girls on the condition that currently imprisoned Boko Haraam members are released. Since when is it okay to let almost 200 young humans act as bargaining agents?

I feel like global diplomatic action needs to be escalated.

 

What has been inspiring, however, is the social action taken by civilians, specifically in my direct community. I’ve seen my own school explode with passion regarding the issue – tweeting #BringBackOurGirls intensively, as well as making posters. We’ve also attracted a lot of media attention!

As well as this, the G(irls) 20 Summit delegation that I’m a part of has taken social awareness action on Facebook. Angie Motshekga, South Africa’s minister of Basic Education, has also be quite action (as she told us when she visited our school on Friday) as she has created a petition… Sign it! http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ancwl-bringbackourgirls-safely-now

 

So, I hope these girls are okay. I hope they get rescued soon. As for the rest of us: why not take a few moments to be grateful that we live in a free society, and let’s use that to help those not as lucky.

Imagine All The People… Did some research

The whole Global Warming and Climate Change movement has become a bit cliched. The media has blown it entirely out of proportion, causing people who don’t even know the facts or the science behind it all to either be completely for or against it. There’s no moderation. That’s why we need to educate people, and realise that we should go green and respect our planet, not because an apocalypse might happen otherwise, but because it’ll prolong our existence here.

 

Recently, when I was at a workshop at the South African Institute of International Affairs, I came across a programme, called the Environmental Sustainability Project which is basically like a research paper for the youth to do, looking at and linking three different aspects of the environment in relation to going green. I, having quite a ‘change the world’ mentality, was immediately interested, and in doing the research, I’ve learnt and discovered so much more than I could have imagined.

 

My paper focuses on Climate Change, how we need to develop sustainably to mitigate it, and furthermore looking at how women’s role in agricultural production is integral for that. Sounds boring to some of you? I actually would have thought so too. BUT – how everything links to each other is incredible. Women make up more than half of the farmers in Africa, and often get given a huge workload because their husbands have to become migrant workers. These women then have to do the farming, household chores and look after the children. The scary thing: tonnes of farming policy makers stereotype farmers to be men, detrimenting these poor women further. So helping them farm sustainably would protect the environment (linking to Climate Change), and make sure their children – our future generations – know how to do the same.

 

(Warning: slight feminist rant ahead)

The most amazing part of it all is that women are actually extremely important, in so many aspects. If we educate them, they will be able to get jobs, having children later on. According the the UN, girls in developing countries who receive seven years of schooling have more choices in life: marrying an average of four years later and having 2.2 fewer children. They also are raising our future generation, and if we educate them, they can educate their children about things like being green.

 

I say, half of the world’s problems are caused by men (petrol companies, industry) and the other half can be solved by focusing on women (education, overpopulation and resource limitations).

 

So I guess what whoever is reading this can gather from the above, is not only are women important ;), but by me, just one teenage girl, looking into issues and doing some research, I’ve generated pretty good (if I do say so myself) solutions to the world’s problems – at least some of them. Point is, If ALL people, ALL ages, ALL classes, did a bit more research into Earth’s issues, rather than just taking the media’s word for it, we’d have a lot more informed, passionate, conscious people and a lot more solutions.

 

If that was at all inspirational, and you’re feeling like you want to get some research and reading done, here are a few cool places to start:

5 Reasons You Should Care About Girls’ Education – http://www.unfoundation.org/blog/5-reasons.html

Seeds of Change (an awesome initiative involving African women in agriculture) – http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/impact/food-security

Women’s Environment & Development Organisation’s take on sustainable development – http://www.wedo.org/category/themes/sustainable-development-themes