I was in Swaziland a few days ago and had the privilege to walk through a typical Swazi village and learn about the culture. Its such a colourful nation and I appreciated the terrain because I was so used to the concrete of the city of Johannesburg. The tour guide spoke about the role of women in their society and I cringed because this role really boiled down to nothing but “Silence”.
A married woman has to wear a black head wrap and a strip of goat skin over her shoulder to symbolise that she’s married. A Swati man on the other hand doesn’t need to wear anything because he is “free for all”, he can have as many women as he wants. A woman is not allowed to eat beef tongue because it will make her talkative. She isn’t allowed to eat the brain as it might make her more intelligent. Their way of life is structured to make sure a woman stays silent and this is true of many of our African cultures.
Patriarchy is a tangible reality in our world today. It screams louder than equality. We are decades if not centuries away from a civilisation free of this verity. The Dora Milaje are the women warriors of Wakanda. Women here are being portrayed as fearless, courageous, respected and equal. The men believe women were intellectually capable of making political decisions. Wakanda represents a fictional world in which a woman’s natural beauty and intelligence is an accepted norm of a society that values and affirms both her femininity and humanity. But its fictional, Wakanda doesn’t exist. I love that Marvel has given us a glimpse of what it would be like to be heard, to be important. How it feels like to not be in the kitchen in an unflattering outfit with a baby on our backs because that’s how Hollywood usually portrays us
A colleague of mine asked me the other day why there was a women’s day and no men’s day. I just smiled and answered politely, but deep inside I wanted to scream it’s because “We are never heard, never appreciated, patriarchy exists, it’s a man’s world everyday so for one day can it be our turn”. But the next day, we go back to that world where women are battered and abused, silenced and ignored.
From an early age we are taught to be submissive, to be silent. A woman mustn’t talk back to her husband. A woman mustn’t make her husband feel inferior to her. So many of these rules that make you feel as if a man is more important than you. Our mothers and grandmothers teach us these norms and lay down so many rules about how to treat a man and keep him happy. I’m still to hear about a seminar or way of life for men that teaches them how to treat a woman. When a husband treats you bad in the house, you are told be strong and take the knock. When a man does the same his told she’s a disrespectful woman, get someone else. When are we going to be equal, when are we going to be treated like humans who have feelings. Our lives cannot be about how to make the man comfortable as if we don’t need our own comfort. Let our mothers be the last generation of women who teach the girl child that she doesn’t matter, that her husband’s happiness is more important than her own. Our narrative needs to change.
Women are strong, intelligent, compassionate, kind and nurturing beings. We have so much wisdom and knowledge to share. We are capable of taking up any challenge thrown at us. It’s time we change our story. I have hope for our kind, hope that one day female Presidents are seen as a standard and not a far-fetched idea or wonderful achievement. Let us start now to tell our daughters to stand up for themselves and not allow a man to disrespect them. Africa will one day produce a way of life where men were secure enough to let women advance as far as their talents can take them.