With International Women’s Day celebrated this week on 8 March 2019, the question ‘Are women human beings?’ is an apt and necessary question
How far have we come as a species, in terms of our spiritual and intellectual development, if in the 21st century some can question: “Are women human beings?” The reality is that globally, whilst women may have made great strides, patriarchal attitudes prevail in a male-dominated world.
With International Women’s Day celebrated this week on 8 March 2019, the question ‘Are women human beings?’ is an apt and necessary question. In some parts of the world, free speech, freedom of assembly, the right of women to wear what they please, or to choose whom they marry, is permissible and impermissible.
Without pre-judging what the public intends to say on the topic ‘Are women human beings?,’ the question is intriguing.
Among my social media responses to the question was to turn the question on its head and pose several questions: Who is asking the question? Why are they asking the question? What does it mean to be human? Who defines being human? And, are men human beings?
Implicit in the question ‘Are women human beings?’ is surely a presupposition that some human beings are not human or fully human? In essence, such a position reflects a patriarchal view of the world and humanity.
NOT ALL MEN ARE SEXIST BUT MOST ARE PRIVILEGED BY BEING MALE
Whilst we live in the 21st century and much progress has been made in regards to human development in some spheres such as, electricity, wind turbines and other diverse technologies, patriarchal attitudes and misogyny continue to exist in our world in very subtle and overt forms and patterns. In the Uganda where I live in the last years, Research studies and news reports continue to show that women are paid less than men and that domestic violence remains High and hidden in many Ugandan Cultures.
In short, there remains within the world a deep-seated belief among some men (and I strongly emphasise that not ALL men subscribe to such patriarchal views) that women are somehow, and in some ways lesser human beings than men; that what women have to contribute to society is of less value compared to men; that women’s intelligence and presence has to be tolerated and if women prove to be intellectually capable, their efforts have to be demeaned and ridiculed in order to maintain them in their subordinate place to men. To put it differently, patriarchy is about the domination of men over women, children and other men who are considered weaker; it is the privileging of men over women. It supports other systems of domination such as class oppression, or hierarchies of social status and hetero-normativity. Patriarchal ideology and attitudes continue to view women as lesser citizens; men/maleness as identified with logic, rationality, reason and women/female as identified with nature, emotion and nurturing. It is also pervasive in the practice of sexual harassment in which some men believe they can grope, assault and leer women in public with impunity on account of their ingrained belief that women exist to satisfy male sexual needs.
Sexual harassment of women has been endemic to Egyptian society and was only criminalized in 2014. In 2015 a study revealed that 60 % of Ugandan women had experienced sexual harassment – yet it is the victims who are held responsible for their experience rather than the perpetrators. Moreover, as the Ugandan Security Forces is largely a male dominated force, it remains to be seen whether they will enforce the law as generally male police officers tend to sympathize with the male perpetrators.
Ugandan Security forces and police force should have mindset change sessions that specifically address the issue of sexual harassment of women in Ugandan society, the male police officers should be asked to imagine how they would feel if their wife, mother, daughter, sister, neice, or aunt was sexually harassed – would they continue to be sympathetic to the harasser? Why, therefore, do such policemen believe such perpetrators should face impunity?
South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world in relation to the rights of women, yet it is one of the countries with the highest levels of gender based violence and “corrective rape” against lesbians. In April 2008 the body of Eudy Simelane, former star of South Africa's acclaimed Banyana national female football squad, was found in a creek in a park in Kwa Thema, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. How do we account for the fact that Simelane had been gang-raped and brutally beaten before being stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs? As well as being one of South Africa's best-known female footballers, Simelane was a staunch equality rights campaigner and one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in Kwa Thema. How do we explain the high levels of acid attacks that are used as a weapon against women in Uganda?
As Laura Bates observes: ‘Rape is not a sexual act; it is not the result of a sudden, uncontrollable attraction to a woman in a skimpy dress. It is an act of power and violence. To suggest otherwise is deeply insulting to the vast majority of men, who are perfectly able to control their sexual desires.’
Rape of women is the most extreme misogynistic violation of the body of a woman and her rights as a human being, but there are other patriarchal attacks on women’s right to exist and contribute in our society that go unchallenged and are normalized.
DESTROYING PHALLOCRATIC DISPENSATIONS
Such sexism occurs in the progressive and Pan-Africanist movements as well as in interpersonal relationships both in institutions and within the private realm. The Pan-Africanist Movement has historically been a male-led and defined movement and the contributions of African women have often been made invisible or considered less in comparison to the titanic male Pan-Africanist iconic figures. For example, in Tony Martin’s 2007 book on Amy Ashwood Garvey, with the long winded title: ‘Amy Ashwood Garvey Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs Garvey No. 1 or A Tale of Two Amies’, he writes:
‘The Marcus Garveys, the W.E. B Duboises, the George Padmores, the Kwame Nkrumahs, these were the superstars occupying the very highest echelons of Pan-African struggle. But also important for the history of Pan-Africanism were the countless lesser activists of the second, third and lower tiers, many of them now half-forgotten, but all of whose lives revolved around the Pan-African ideal. Amy was certainly one such.’
It is this rather gendered and hierarchical selection and elevation of Pan-Africanist ‘superstars’ by Martin that reinforces the notion that African women are ‘lesser activists of the second, third and lower tiers’ and men naturally occupy ‘very highest echelons of Pan-African struggle.’ Martin even fails to state which tier he believes Amy Ashwood Garvey belongs to i.e. ‘the second, third and lower tiers,’ that he cites.
Furthermore, in so-called Pan-Africanist gatherings, some ostensible Pan-Africanist men will interrupt, talk over women; engage in narcissistic lengthy monologues; expect women in meetings/conferences/colloquiums to be seen and not heard – or if heard, women to speak briefly, as some men pay lip service to equity and equality for women in male chauvinism. In such circumstances it remains the case that men can talk paragraphs and women only sentences. Women are an afterthought, omitted from programmes, panels, roundtable discussions and gatherings. There is also the reality that when women are disrespected in such forums by so-called Pan-Africanist men, other so-called Pan-Africanist men (and women) present, remain silent and do not challenge such practices. It remains the case that ‘sexism is pan-Africanism’s Achilles heel.’ It remains so because the ideology of patriarchy is ingrained within the unconscious and conscious thought practices, ideas, values of men (and women) which human beings are socialized/conditioned into. It becomes part of the practices, beliefs, norms, expectations that become the cultural fabric of wider society.
Many progressive/Pan-Africanist men in their Pan-Africanist politics and lived lives do not seriously engage with the intersections of patriarchy, neo-colonialism, imperialism, classism and hetero-normativity. In other words, many African men do not reflect on how they are complicit in systems of domination that not only oppress others – specifically women (and other men perceived to be weaker), but how domination of others reinforces their own oppression and is harmful to the struggle for liberation. Domestic violence, incest, child abuse, sexual harassment, are attributable to sexist and patriarchal practices that implicate black/African men. But these are the seemingly more obvious forms of patriarchy and misogyny, though they can be concealed in relationships within the home and within institutions.
Ultimately, there is a need to develop a progressive masculinity in all men in which the male values of aggressiveness, violence, competition, that continue to fuel conflicts in the African Countries of DRC, South Sudan, Sudan,the Central African Republic, are replaced by a willingness to genuinely listen, respect, nurture, be patient, give space to others and genuinely respect African women. War, conflict, aggression - in short, the phallocratic order as a site of power - are a severe hindrance to progressive masculine values and to a radical humanist Pan-Africanist project that seeks to empower ALL people. Feminism does not mean female supremacy; it is not a struggle to take away male power as some popular notions incorrectly perceive it to be. It is a struggle for equality for ALL regardless of sex.
Fundamental to dismantling patriarchal concepts and practices of domination is the development of what Athena D. Mutua defines as ‘progressive black masculinities’ on the African continent. If we are to transform the various forms of oppressions that face African people – whether it be economic, or in the form of class or sexual oppression , it is necessary that there is an accompanying transformation in the mind-set and consciousness of African people, particularly men and boys. Such a new consciousness must be predicated on the development of a new ideal of African masculinities that, as Mutua emphasises, ‘personally eschew and ethically and actively stand against social structures of domination.’ This socialization must begin not only with boys and girls but must involve the church, the mosque, the entire education system, the legal system, trade unions, the police, and the media.
If we are serious about genuinely transforming our society and the African continent in the struggle for Pan-Africanism that harnesses the economic and technological resources of Africa for African people, there is a need to seriously consider innovative ways in which we challenge all systems of domination and subordination, particularly sexism. There is a need to address the seeming invisibility of patriarchy, the social legitimation of it, or normalization, and the often blaming of the victims, before it can be appropriately challenged.
The arduous struggle to retain and assert humaneness or Ubuntu in a world that has become rabidly capitalistic, individualistic, materialistic and narcissistic is an ongoing one that must ultimately be centered on sincere respect, care, compassion, freedom, justice, equity and equality for ALL human beings. It must extend to a struggle in Africa to destigmatize people with mental and physical disabilities as well as albino individuals who in certain parts of Africa, such as in Tanzania are killed, for they, like women are human beings and should be seen and treated as such.
Ambrose Byamugisha Muhoozi
VICTORIA UNIVERSITY –KAMPALA UGANDA