From the cradle to the grave: A Litany of Violence
When I was 13, I always questioned the practice and understanding that I had to wake up early in the morning, clean the house, cook and ensure that the boys were well fed and have clean clothes. I remember we had nasty fights about why the boys slept while the girls shared the chores. At some point I accepted it and concluded that I wasn’t going to win the battle since no one supported me. They just thought I was mad and Dad was convinced it was the bad influence from the television (which he later restricted to afternoons during the week only).
After university the issue came knocking at my door again. I was then determined to be myself, to challenge the ‘girl and boy’ socialisation process. I had concluded that we are all the same and should be treated the same.
Unfortunately experience and stories around me shook my determination and made me question my belief again. I realised the story of a woman was different perhaps that is what society wants it to be. Obstetricians agree that the passage of the foetus from the womb to the outside world is an extremely stressful and even traumatic event for the child. In fact Sigmund Freud posits that in this process lies the origin of all anxiety that is they go through this strain to hopefully live a happy life outside. For the girl child this is usually the beginning of a cycle of pain that only ends at death. It signals the beginning of an existence littered with prejudice, discrimination, deprivation and physical abuse from which some, if not most, are only released at the other end in death….” Such a gloomy picture they paint??
Somewhere in the world ……..Sharp rebukes and sounds of resistance are heard from a distance. Moaning sounds of a 13 year old girl increasingly grow louder. She is scared but fights tooth and nail. She is overpowered and held down on the cold concrete, two women pinning her legs far apart while an elderly woman cuts the clitoris.
The three women in the room know the fear, the pain and the anger but cannot utter a word or share some advice of the journey that lies ahead of the wounded young girl. To them, theirs are fortified memories never to be remembered.
Somewhere in the world a girl aged 9 is prepared to be married off to a middle aged man. She is told to love and honour him because he is now her husband. She has to have sex with him, bear him children at the age of 13. It is the path chosen for her, where innocence and childhood is just a dream….. Perhaps only for the male child.
Somewhere close home, maybe in Harare a 34 year old married lawyer asks her husband to help with domestics chores while she cooks and attends to their four months old baby. She is beaten to a pulp with booted feet and clenched fist by her husband. She is threatened with death and called all sorts of names for asking the revered prominent lawyer in the Attorney’s Generals Office to wash dishes! She has to report sick to work the next day.
These are only a few examples of violence that women and girls suffer every day around the world in the name of culture and tradition. The manifestation of violence is prevalent in every segment of every society, regardless of ethnicity, race, culture, age, class or country.
These women suffer all forms of violence from the cradle to the grave. Yet we all agree that these are the forms of abuse that we should openly talk about, campaign against but are deeply embedded in our culture and almost invisible.
So my friend had a baby boy and I called the husband in excitement and showered my blessings over the phone before I asked the name and gender of the child. I was left mortified and seething with anger at the same time. “It’s a boy and it’s the only proper way to procreate. Only real men like me give birth to male children. This is evidence that I don’t fire blanks” Oh yes he did (it was in Shona and crude). This is a man who also has two daughters. I was left thinking does he think or treat his two daughters any less than the newly born chief, his lordship and the other guy with a penis in the house? Perhaps not but such thinking!
This is a mind-set that some girls have to fight from the cradle to the grave. It is litany of violence in different forms ranging from sexual, verbal and physical. My argument has always been that culture is not divinely created, it is actually man-made. It is deeply entrenched and parents continue to perpetuate some of these oppressive practices when they socialise their children into the world. Social constructionists go on to argue that gender differences are influenced by social and cultural processes and sex plays a limited role. The statement by Simone de Beauvoir, ‘Women and men are made, not born’ contends that a person acquires the identity of a man or a woman by means of social processes.
Perhaps that is why some of these violations and traditional practices are perpetuated by women. The challenge is that men and sometimes women hide behind culture and tradition as an excuse to impinge on the rights of girls and women. They are shrouded in mystery and if one dares to challenge the status quo, one has to be prepared for the wrath of society and crude names that come with such audacity.
Charlotte Bunch concludes that violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today. Its forms are both subtle and blatant and its impact on development profound. But it is so deeply embedded in cultures around the world that it is almost invisible. Yet this brutality is not inevitable. Once recognized for what it is—a construct of power and a means of maintaining the status quo—it can be dismantled.