Friday, 8 March 2013

Enough is Enough!

As International Women's Day draws to a close, I'm left with a feeling of ambivalence. While I celebrate the achievements of women, I'm angry at the hardships we still face, the hatred, discrimination and violence we endure, often at the hands of the men to whom we are so devoted.
I'm angry because women, who are economically dependent on their husbands are being neglected, discarded and disregarded. On this day, the 8 March 2013, I listened to two stories about women who were abandoned by their husbands...stories that reminded me of how far we have to go. The first was of a woman who finds herself in the middle of a court case because her husband has refused to provide for her and their children even though he has been claiming allowances on their behalf. She had agreed to stay 'back home' and take care of their children, so that he could focus on his career abroad. The result was that he decided to act as though neither she, nor her children exist. The second account is of a woman who just died from an illness which was probably stress-related because she was working so hard to provide for her children, after her husband, their father, abandoned her and them. She believed that the long hours, distances and stressful conditions were necessary evils if it meant that she, alone could provide for them and ensure that they didn't want for anything. Both stories, which are quite similar made me ask the question: how can the men we love, and who once loved us so much, turn around and show such total disregard for our well-being? I recently read a book called Tiny sunbirds far away which dealt with a similar theme - a woman abandoned with her children by her husband, who decides to leave the home they once shared to be with his mistress. The woman is forced to return to the impoverished home of her parents with her children after months of her husband not providing her with any financial assistance. I recall being quite angry as I read the heart-wrenching account of how her children's lives are turned upside down and thinking that the author, a woman, was too harsh on the husband., I went as far as accusing her of projecting her own issues and struggles with men in her life,  onto this character. I told myself that surely, he must have one redeeming characteristic, having convinced myself that no man could be so heartless as to completely abandon his children. And yet today, I feel saddened by these two accounts, both true, and proof that such callous indifference to the suffering of women and their children is not only possible, it happens, fare more often that we may realise.
I'm angry at a report on Al Jazeera of the prevalence of sexual violence in Asia; a report that claims that one in four Cambodian men have admitted to taking part in a gang rape. I still feel pain when I hear about the girl who was gang raped on a bus in New Dehli, and died days later. I'm reminded of the witnesses of the Rwandan genocide and the war in Sierra Leone, whose statements recounted the most horrific stories of sexual violence and brutality at the hands of men who claimed to be fighting for a cause. I'm mad as hell to think that part of their protest should include violating the bodies of sisters, mothers, daughters and grandmothers simply because they can. I feel the tears, appear uncontrollably when I recall the cases of traumatic fistula in hospitals in Sierra Leone, the numerous accounts of this awful dehumanising condition that have resulted from brutal acts of rape of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I think about how reports on the prevalence of rape in South Africa, where statistics suggest that a rape is committed every four minutes, makes me recoil. No matter how many case studies I read, statistics I hear, I can never distance myself from acts of sexual violence against women.

I am livid at the accounts of domestic violence, often resulting in the death of women at the hands of their husbands, partners, lovers. I remember a late colleague from Cote d'Ivoire who was murdered by men hired and paid by her promiscuous husband. I remember my reaction at the time being horror but the strangely banal question of why he didn't just continue cheating or better still, leave her? Why murder her and cause the heartache of countless others, her son, her parents and her siblings? I saw a report that on International Women's day men in Russia give flowers to the women in their lives, yet every year there are 12,000 deaths of women, deaths that result from domestic violence. I can't help but be resentful towards Oscar Pistorius, who shot his girlfriend four times - allegedly because he thought she was an intruder - a suspicion that could have allayed by the simple act of switching on a light switch. I'm equally incensed by the other stories that have emerged of athletes who have killed their partners for reasons ranging from their refusal to abort a pregnancy they did not support to their desire to preserve a reputation that would otherwise be ruined by a fling that went too far.
Rather than feeling proud on a day that celebrates women all over the world and their achievements, I am angry and sad and frustrated that we still endure so much hardship, that there are women who feel powerless in a physical, emotional or financial way. And yet I'm driven by of all these stories to support the women I come across who may need help but don't know how to ask. I hope I can to be part of the initiatives that teach young girls to be independent and strong and to love themselves first and foremost. I also hope that we can engage with the men, including the would-be wife-batterers or negligent husband, the soldiers and self-styled freedom-fighters who think brutality against women is part of warfare, I hope we can engage them so that they realise the far reaching consequences of their actions.
I feel its time for us to say in as loud a voice as we can, "Enough is Enough", and then move beyond the words and the feelings of anger and frustration to action that guarantees the safety, security and independence of women all over the world.

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