Vagina Dialogues – How Will Africa Answer?
On Wednesday I heard the voice, and saw the face of courage. It was embodied in a young woman called Aminatta*. At the age of four, Aminatta’s maternal uncle raped her. At six, he asked her to open his zip, remove his trousers, then again raped her. He convinced her later that it was not rape, she had opened the zip and removed his trousers even though it was at his bidding. When Aminatta turned 12, her uncle would send invitations for her through her mother to come and visit during the holidays. Her constant refusals were met with yells from her mother for this man who was trying to be her father figure, ‘this brother of mine who has done so much for you and loves you like his own.’ At his house, while his wife was at work and his children were in their private school, Aminatta’s uncle would get her to watch pornographic movies and re-enact what she saw in the movies on him. Years later, Aminatta found out that 24 of her cousins had also been raped by this man. When Aminatta suggested pressing charges, her whole family thought that she was insane. ‘He is a breadwinner,’ an aunt said to her. ‘He is the man of the house’ her granny quipped, ‘what would happen to the family if Aminatta and any of her twenty four cousins pressed charges?’
Aminatta is alive; Aminatta survived; but Aminatta has never got justice.
It occurred to me that I know many Aminatta’s. Aminatta is the fourteen year old young woman at a school workshop in South Africa who has two children by the school teacher. Her mother has turned down many any activist’s help to press charges against this man for statutory rape because he looks after his children, he buys the family groceries, and if he goes to prison the R200 per child the South African Social Welfare grants per child per month will not be enough to sustain the whole family.
Aminatta is my Zimbabwean cousin who was raped by her father so that he could cleanse himself of AIDS because she was a virgin. His daughter would later give birth to her brother. The whole village knew about it, but no-one did anything about it because he was not only the oldest man in the family but also the sole breadwinner. And what would have happened to his two wives and eight children if he went to prison?
Aminatta is the young girl in Samburu whose mother may know the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation but who will ensure her daughter gets the cut because she does not want to be ostracized by her community or get chased away by her husband. Aminatta is the girl who will be married off at the age of twelve to a fifty year old man who has three other wives because he has enough cattle to give to her father.
It is because of the Aminatta I met on Wednesday and the many Aminatta’s on this continent, that the launch of V- African Summit: Africa Rising in Nairobi this week was an idea worth it’s time. With activists from 28 African countries, the summit also had playwright and activist Eve Ensler. Ensler is the brains behind V-Day initiatives through her Vagina Monologues, and the Monologues as many know, have been staged worldwide for the last 15 years to raise funds to curb violence against women and children.
But it may also be because of Aminatta and the many Aminatta’s that, if V-African Summit is to succeed, violence against women and children will need to stop being something that happens among gender activists at hotels but needs to go into the public domain. Africa will have to examine the socio-economic conditions that allow Aminatta’s mother and women like her to see her child being violated but ignore it because if the perpetrator of violence goes, there will be no-one to look after the family. Africa will have to question utterances by leaders like South African President Zuma that imply a woman is incomplete when she is without a man and therefore may force women into marriages because it is what is expected of a woman. Africa will have to hold accountable women leaders like Zimbabwean Vice President Joyce Mujuru when she states that she knew her husband was sleeping with other women but she was married to him and she would advise her daughter to stay too, despite the dangers, under similar circumstances. African women will have to explain to our daughters why we tell them to go back to their women-bashing, emotionally abusive husbands. We will have to explain to our sons why we allow them to mistreat their women but complain about being mistreated by their fathers.
That day is coming soon because the V-Day movement, if a look at other countries and continents where it has been is an indication, seems to reach out to the grassroots in a way most movements do not.
And when that day comes, it will be interesting to hear Africa’s answer.
Vagina Dialogues – How Will Africa Answer?