The Star (Nairobi)

15 December 2012

Kenya: In the Pink Corner - How About Ending Violence By Women?

This year there has been a general hue and cry by both the government and many civil society organisations to end violence against women.

There have been billboards depicting village women getting a beating and contrite men talking about how their violent behaviour ended their marriages.

There have been TV adverts and the usual talk shows. I would like to add my voice to the issue by suggesting that perhaps we could also endeavour to end mental violence against women by women. Let me explain.

Over the past five or so weeks, my life has been turned upside down by pregnancy. I have had a day and night version of morning sickness that has turned me into a shell of myself. Imagine throwing up every single thing you eat - and then add a few more token ejections of bile.

It has been draining, to say the least. However, at its onset, when I attempted to get some form of help, I was told by many women that it was normal and I shouldn't bother and I should just get on with my day to day activities because it will pass.

I was told to carry a plastic bag to throw up in and some salt to take the nausea away. In fact, some women made me feel silly and weak for even seeking help. However, as things progressed (including blacking out at the wheel of a car) it became apparent that this was not 'normal'.

Thankfully my wonderfully supportive husband and family could see I had a problem and I received medical attention for it. But even through the treatment, there are people - always women - who cannot understand why I needed to be treated for a 'mere morning sickness'.

I even received one comment about how I was not the first woman to be pregnant before, and I needed to 'act responsibly'. Had I been a lesser woman in lesser circumstances, I might have killed myself (or my unborn cargo) trying to prove that I could be woman enough to get through the illness without help.

In fact, I wonder how many women pay the ultimate price because they are trying to prove they are woman enough. Britain's new Princess Kate has also been hospitalised for severe morning sickness - should we write her off as being unfit to mother royalty?

In societies where they circumcise women - actually circumcise is an absurd word for the horrible thing they do to women - you will not find any male surgeons. It is all done by women and reinforced by women.

They weave grand tales of how you are affirming your so-called womanhood by getting yourself mutilated. These are the same women who know you will never be able to have sex in any meaningful way; the same women who have experienced difficult labour and even resultant fistula.

But they will tell the younger ones to look forward to being cut and be proud of themselves for it. What demon is it that makes women willingly pass on such horror to their daughters?

Coming back to violence against women; a lot of women suffer abuse because some part of them believes that some good can come out of it. And the only place they could get and reinforce this idea is from the other women who whisper to them regularly and influence their sense of self and their values.

I have heard some women tell others that if a man beats you then it is a sign that he is really passionate about you. For such women, no beating means a lack of interest - and it is so ingrained that you will find them publicly provoking their men to anger merely to reaffirm the 'love'.

Other women are busy telling each other that they are enduring the abuse for the sake of their children. A lot of women are reinforcing the idea that without a man a woman is nothing in society, so you'd rather stay the property of an abusive husband than walk away from him and set up camp on your own.

In fact, if you turn up in public with bruises, you are actually somehow shaming yourself. And we do not need the intervention of a single male figure to pass on these ideas.

We women are doing it very well on our own. If women would give women a break and tell women the truth perhaps we could stop sowing the seeds of violence.

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