Violence Against Women(VAW) is one of the widely committed crimes in the world that has negatively impacted on women’s lives leaving majority with scares of pain and agony while others have lost their lives to this vice. As we mark the16 days of activism against gender based violence; I am pushed to think of the SHOULDS in our communities as one major issue that keeps fueling this vice though ignored by many.
The use of the word SHOULD is an expression of duty and obligation according to the Cambridge English Dictionary. As such, its use commands a lot of power that could have a positive or negative impact on humankind. There are many SHOULDS that we receive the moment we come into this world even before we are born, our mothers are already conscious of the SHOULDS of how they will raise us let alone how they will even bring us into this world. Some of these are based on values, cultural practices, religion, customs, norms, laws and ideologies to mention but a few. SHOULDS have been passed on from one generation to another over centuries with trust and hope that they create a safe environment in which all humanity will thrive; truth be told, I cannot imagine a world without SHOULDS.
The context within which these SHOULDS are developed and how they are applied remains one of the issues that have led one set of humanity to suppress and undermine another in ways that have denied women the opportunity to experience the true spirit behind the original design of SHOULDS. Many of the SHOULDS in our communities are shrewd in patriarchal power that seeks to legitimize the oppression of women through political, social, economic, legal cultural, religious and military institutions.
In one community we are warned a woman should not sit like that, In another a woman should kneel down for her husband, a woman should not shout in public, a woman should take care of the children, a woman should not go to school, a woman should not drive, women should not eat eggs, the list goes on and on over flowing from the north of Limpopo to the south of the Sahara. However, when you sit back and reflect on these SHOULDS you will realize that the obligations weighed against women are way burdensome than the ones lied against men. You begin to wonder who designed the SHOULDS of women and who designed those of the men? What were they thinking? Were these SHOULDS truly made in the spirit of humanity?
There is no doubt that the SHOULDS we deal with in our society today must have been designed by MEN for women and men without WOMEN, had it been the reverse women would not have to deal with the longest, toughest, cruelest, hardest list of SHOULDS. Most of these SHOULDS were maliciously set out to create a world in which women would be subjugated and controlled by all means without say or resistance. Therefore women and men who have tried to reverse this order of things have been castigated, named and isolated in society because this is the order and anyone who tries to dismantle it is an enemy of culture, religion, humanity and nature so to speak.
As a result many women today are victims of violence in homes and society because of these SHOULDS. It is estimated that 1 in every 3 women/girls experiences violence in her life time. This should not be happening in this day and era; if you may permit me to use a SHOULD. Unfortunately the moment one fails to honor these SHOULDS they are either punished or banished. For example a young woman who chooses to go to a night club to have fun like any other human will most likely encounter a nasty experience of physical and/ or psychological abuse because of a given SHOULD. A woman who thinks of moving out of an abusive marriage will be hesitant because of another SHOULD, a girl who tries to claim her father's property as heir to his estate will be castigated because of a SHOULD, a girl who gets pregnant before marriage will be stoned to death because of another SHOULD a woman who chooses to wear a cloth of her choice may be undressed on the next street because of a SHOULD set out in a given policy. Could this have been the true spirit of coining SHOULDS?
The power that is wrapped in the SHOULDS is so patronized that it's very difficult for us to unwrap it, even in situations where we have tried to unpack it we find ourselves at crossroads with our religious values, beliefs, and tradition because this is how we have been socialized for decades.
As women's rights activists; we cannot sit and continue to watch another woman suffer and die at the hands of another SHOULD. We have to critically analyze these SHOULDS with an open mind that allows us appreciate the positive and negative aspects to them. We must engage and be part of the processes and spaces where these SHOULDS are designed. There are no SHOULDS that were set in stone, we must revisit these SHOULDS and recall all those SHOULDS that continue to suppress women and subject them to all forms of discrimination. That way we shall be able to create a much safer and free violent world for women and with perhaps a less harsh list of SHOULDS than we have today.
This is not to say we do not need SHOULDS; they are important to society, however they ought to be contextualized and designed based on the universal human rights principles as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that they are not used to marginalize given constituencies but rather foster a peaceful co-existence between humanity and the environment.
Do Something! Stop Violence Against Women!
By Irene Kagoya,
Communications & Advocacy Officer,
Akina Mama wa Afrika!