By Alexander Opicho
Women and parentless children are discriminated against and violated in all manner – from economic exclusion to compulsory dressing codes, sexual harassment, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, rape and silence, yet women and orphans are the pillars behind formation historical successes in Islam, Christianity and Hinduism as well as all the Western industrial revolutions. Why the world has socialised oppression of women and orphans is a conundrum.
Just as Christa Stolle (2018) observed in the report on rights of women by Terre des Femmes, (a French organisation concerned with rights of women) there is a lot of work to be done to elevate women and girls in non-Western countries, and concerning violence against women in Africa.
Africa has a collective duty to achieve socially-inclusive policies when it comes to planning for development. Stolle estimates that nearly 5,000 underage girls in Africa and Asia are forced out of school into early marriage every day. Stolle also notes that laws discriminating against women exist in 155 countries, with African countries dominate the list. Prof Ali Mazrui in ‘Cultural forces Behind World Politics’ , observes that in African villages one is more likely to see a woman digging using the hoe and a man ploughing using a tractor.
Mazrui further observes that there is nothing so complicated to prevent a woman from tilling the land by driving a tractor other than the internalised exclusive culture in African patriarchal system which fallaciously entrench a believe system that an African woman must not access technology at the same level with an African man. This observation by Mazrui illuminates our thoughts about the future of Africa – that Africa must engender its productive technologies across its economic sectors. Such a revolutionary act will not kill the African man; it can only bring about steadfast liberation of Africa from avoidable economic and social challenges.
According to a World Bank survey 2018, a married woman in more than three quarters of the countries of the world (dominated by African countries) can’t apply for a passport without the consent of her husband; this is also true for an un-married woman who must seek consent of the guardian before applying for a passport. Stolle told the DeutschWelle that in Africa, every fourth woman is affected by domestic violence. She also commented that the most unfortunate side of oppression of women in Africa is that there are still countries like those in Northern Africa where brave women pushing feminist agenda risk arrest and jail for speaking for liberation.
In ancient Egypt, the story is told of a woman called Hatshepsut who, after the death of her husband, Thutmose II, assumed the regency for her son, who was still an infant. She became one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman in Ancient Egypt. The two decades of her rule were peaceful and trade flourished. Still, her successors tried to erase all historical records of her reign. This type of patriarchal attitude to be silent about social performance of an African woman as well as silencing African woman whenever she thrives or voices an opinion is a vice to be fought all the ambassadors of good will and gender dignity if Africa is to achieve its social and economic dream. The social logic behind this call is that, recognizing and appreciating efforts of a person is a pre-condition for good motivation in the work behaviour of the motivated person. The motivated person is the chief piston in the engine for collective success.
Another current but similar case-story to the one of Egypt above is where the current U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the termination of Let Girls Learn education program started by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015 to provide learning opportunities for adolescent girls in developing countries.
Again, in Europe in 1425, the hundred-year-war was raging between England and France when the then 13-year-old daughter of a farmer, Joan, had her first vision of saints rousing her to save France and to bring Charles VII to the French throne. Joan of Arc was captured in 1430, and then tried for heresy and burned at the stake.
Several recent cases exemplify concerted efforts to stifle the rise of the woman economically, politically and even socially. The first is in Uganda when Doctor Stella Nyanzi was publicly shamed by the government for participating in political agitation that wanted free sanitary pads for school girls. The aim of the government in brutalizing Nyanzi was to silence her out of the social process. The second case was in Rwanda, where government sponsored circulation of nude photos of 35-year-old Diana Shime Rwigara, a key opposition politician. The motivation for that vile vulgarity was to shame her into abandoning political ambition and eliminate her from the mainstream economic process by use of gender assassination.
Professor Joseph Kahiga Kirugi in ‘Women’s Liberation; A Paradigm Shift for Development’ relies on the branch of philosophy known as epistemology to discuss liberation of women. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and mindsets. Kirugi explores educational models that can produce practical knowledge useful in liberating women from modern vices of patriarchy, political exclusion, widow inheritance, domestic violence, domestic oppression, illiteracy, rape, female genital mutilation, polygamy, erotisation of politics, professional discrimination and male chauvinism.
The first chapter observes how men oppress women and how even oppressed men also oppress women. Kirugi argues that men oppress women out of fear and that most men oppress women as a compensatory behaviour to hide their own oppression from other powerful men. Kirugi suggests that higher education based on models like ‘Pathology of power’ by Parker Palmer, ‘To know as we are known’ by Parker Palmer, ‘Education and Democracy ‘ by John Dewey and ‘Pedagogy of the oppressed’ by Paulo Freire can be useful in forging ways and avenues for liberating women from oppressive social and economic patriarchy, but only in an environment of strict vigilance.
Kirugi vouchsafes for ceaseless vigilance out of his premise that oppressors are like viruses, always mutating to survive the threat of annihilation by drug only to keep on destroying the host. He explains this by giving example that oppressors began with slavery, and on its abolition mutated to colonialism, later adopting neo-colonialism, post-colonial tyranny and patriarchy.
The book is divided into five sections, looking critically at the issues of women and freedom, women and education, women and development as well as women and human rights. In a section on women and struggle for freedom, Kirugi gives examples of women who have proved to the world that women can only win their freedom through education and tireless fighting for freedom. He gives examples of Wangari Maathai, Mother Teresa, Winnie Mandela and Mary Wollstonecraft. He uses the intellectual legacy of Maathai in ‘Woman Unbowed’, and of Wollstonecraft’s in ‘A Vindication of Rights of a Woman’ to justify intellectual independence as a substructure for women’s liberation.
In his, book Kirugi classifies polygamy into anonymous, synonymous and serial monogamy, and condemns the social institution of polygamy as a patriarchal power play with the innate intention of making women look powerless. He does not find any social logic in the African traditional philosophy for polygamy and Islamic philosophy of four wives. He does not declare polygamy a sin but argues that it is a system of oppression used by man to oppress women.
Kirugi’s fires brutal intellectual salvo on widow inheritance among African communities. He bases his withering criticism on the positive correlation between widow inheritance and HIV infection. Although the author does not explain away the social eventualities of the high level of commercial prostitution in the absence of widow inheritance, still he finely tunes his argument by pointing out that liberated women will catapult the world into fast and quality social as well as economic development.
‘Women’s Liberation’ is the vintage of Kirugi’s efforts in the study of logic – he is the author of other two books: ‘Introduction to Critical Thinking’ and ‘Insights into African Traditional Philosophy.’ It is philosophical and thought provoking. This is a book by an African scholar that quotes Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason on almost every page but with primary aim of liberating Africa’s women.
Frantz Fanon wrote in ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ that freedom means the number of frontiers you have crossed and the barriers you have broken. Economic freedom of women in Africa will not come as a gift, but as an outcome of social frontiers crossed by African women and social barriers broken.
In relation to such reality we can borrow from Jen Thorpe, the editor of the anthology ‘Feminism’, where she argues that African feminism must go beyond particular countries like South Africa to enjoy universal application, especially to deal collectively with universal issues and big questions like equality, inter-sectionality, trauma and gender-focused organising – issues that stand in the way of the African woman in her journey to gaining full economic and social involvement. (