Thursday, August 1, 2013

Stop the Mediocrity: Be Issues Based Madam President, Please!
The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) of April 2013 to March 2014 makes it clear that 21 Districts of Malawi are facing food insecurity. It underlines that:
The total humanitarian food required to support the vulnerable population is estimated at 57, 346 Metric Tonnes maize equivalent with a cash equivalent of MK7.2 billion if sourced locally’ (MVAC Bulletin no. 9/13 Volume 1, 2).
In its recommendations, the MVAC concludes by calling on ‘Government and its collaborating partners to explore a range of interventions varying from cash-based to food-based interventions in addressing the situation,’ going on to emphatically add that, ‘Interventions that build people’s resilience should be given priority’ (3).
As if that is not enough, the Gender Based Violence Baseline Survey Report (2012), the Integrated Household Survey (IHS, 2012), and Malawi 2012 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer – outline in details, the mountains of challenges facing Malawians, especially women. These include the various shades of poverty, gender-based violence, impacts of adverse climate change, just to mention a few. [You may add the economic hardship Malawians are going through at present]
Against such a background, you would think that when Malawi’s Head of State gets onto a campaign podium, as was the case on Sunday July 2013, she would be addressing national issues and not discussing personalities. One would have expected that some of the national issues mentioned above would be of A1, top priority and the Malawi President would not have time to parade the mediocrity of attacking personalities, which, in itself, is degrading behaviour to say the least. It also takes the women’s movement backwards. This is why I was disappointed when the Head of State, when she went to Nkhata Bay on Sunday 21st July 2013, used the presidential podium to lambast gender activists and not discuss national issues. Instead of focusing on the challenges facing the country and employing a systems based approach to leadership, she found it prudent to isolate gender activists of Malawi and attack them on the issue of divorce, even going as far as mentioning the exact number that one of them has been divorced, as if how many times a person gets divorced or married plays a role in the livelihood and development agenda of this country. What the leadership of this country needs to explain to us Malawians, the ones who vote and put leaders into office, is of what importance personal and personalisation of issues are to the democratic governance and developmental agenda of the country?
Instead of attacking personalities, focusing on the personal issues of 6 women, it would be refreshing if each time Madam President got onto a podium focused on mapping ways to deal with the following issues ailing many Malawians:
• Food Security, in view of the 21 districts that are facing food insecurity.
• Gender Based Violence
• Rising cost of living, life is very hard for many Malawians. The cost of food and fuel is unbearable for most of us, the mere availability of water and electricity is such a challenge, not mention medicine.
• Corruption – local newspapers have whistle blown consistently on this issue.
• The Threat of losing Lake Malawi – we are facing a battle of our lifetime because if there is one thing we all call ours and identify with, from Nsanje to Chitipa, it is Lake Malawi. Losing it will mean the loss of a prized national asset. Losing part of it threatens the loss of employment and source of protein for many Malawians, including a representative number of women.
• Sustainable and Representative Development - When one looks at the anthropometrics section of our IHS, especially the nutritional status of children and poverty and income inequality statistics, it is clear that many people are ultra poor, they need urgent help in basic commodities
• Health sector funding since the 2013/14 health sector budget analysis has shown that the health sector is grossly underfunded. It argues that, ‘there was critical shortage of drugs (last year) and currently the available drugs are those supplied by donors under the emergency procurement, an arrangement that will expire in August 2013. (The Health Sector Budget Analysis Report, 2013/14, 21)
• Sustainability of institutions of higher learning, especially that more are opening up
• Youth development, given that most of the youth are unemployed, and the government promising them jobs in South Korea, etc. By the way, did Madam President’s government lie on this issue? If it was a lie, then it becomes a serious constitutional issue given that the President took an oath to do good to all of us.
• Openness on the government’s agreement(s) with Paladin and the whole controversy over the Kayelekera Uranium Mine. Malawian deserve to know the truth, Madam President.
As the MVAC reminds us, the livelihood question is a priority and our president as Head of Government, should preoccupy herself with issues linked to the livelihood of Malawians, not how many times they have been married or divorced. Malawi’s plate of issues is so full, there is no need for its politicians, especially the Head of State, to attack personalities and personalize issues. Malawi needs a systems approach to governance. We urgently need leaders that focus on issues. The last think we need is leaders who take the lead in name calling, labeling of people and mudslinging.
It is also surprising that Madam President, who herself, has told us many times that she experienced an abusive marital relationship, should castigate women who have experienced the same and got out of it. Is Madam President not contradicting herself here?
I have heard some Malawians ask why those of us who were attacked on this Nkhata Bay address are not approaching the Head of State personally to raise this issue. When the late president (Bingu wa Mutharika) violated academic freedom, we did not go to his residence to raise issues with him in his private space. We, Malawians, stood up to him and spoke our minds. Our stand or the manner in which we stood, had nothing to do with his being a man. It was because of how him, as Head of State, had handled an issue, that of academic freedom. By the same token, the current president has used a podium for personal attacks and some of us are standing up to call her out on that. We are asking her to be issues based. When we speak, especially those of us who are women, it should not be read as women speaking or shouting at each other. It should be read as Malawians raising issues with their Head of State. Just as some of us spoke during the academic freedom saga, we are speaking now. We are not making this call because she is a woman. Even if she was a man, it the issue was going to be raised. It is about the issue, not the gender of the person or people involved.

Jessie Kabwila Ph.d.
1 August, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Message to Men: Lets End Rape-Culture
by Mtali Banda

A few weeks ago at UMass it was WAAR (Week of Action Against Rape Culture). For me, this was the first time hearing the term "Rape Culture." From then onward, I pondered in my head what rape culture actually implied. And now I'm thinking that if I've never understood what rape culture was until only recently, maybe a lot of people--young and old, men and women--still don't understand the full ground that rape culture covers, as well.

Even up until only a few years ago--my first year of college--did I even start to understand that rape was a social ill that needed a social remedy. With the help from my studies, I began to make the link of connecting rape to the other injustices towards woman occurring globally. The social construction of the housewife, the witch hunts, body politics, and the denial of voting rights are all oppressive forces that strike to the core of patriarchy: to kill the mind of women while controlling their bodies; and then build a power-structure that feeds off of this oppression and cripples any chance for change.

My gender consciousness was expanding and I was starting to see rape as not just a singular act of violence, but one that held a broader significance in an old world order. In the same way the witch hunts oppressed women from exercising their full intellectual capacities, rape has become just another modern manifestation of a male-dominated culture. Its purpose: to silence the women of the world and secure male dominance.
And then there are the high-profile rape cases that have been receiving a lot of media attention worldwide. When you see these cases in the news, accountability is given with ambivalence, and so you're not really sure which side your sympathy should be guided towards. You see a mainstream perspective that doesn't give true justice to the victims, or even adequately address criminal accountability towards the rapists.

With the Steubenville case, we witness two High School football players being charged guilty of rape and who could potentially be imprisoned until turning 21. We see news media outlets like CNN--media sources we trust--broadcasting pictures of the two teens crying and begging for forgiveness. When you read these articles, more often than not, you see a story that says something like "Rape Victim Hopes to One Day Forgive Rapists." Through only a few words, they are able to redirect all of our sympathy towards the two young men who committed the crime, focusing on their emotions and with little coverage on the trauma of the real victim, the victim who was actually abused.

And then I remembered, back in 2008, the spring-season following the rape charges towards the Duke Lacrosse players and how sports-media outlets nationwide had stories about how the team would overcome adversity and be able to have a successful season in the wake of such a scandal. I didn't make the connection at the time, but I see now how backwards this way of thinking was.

As men, these images of victimizing the rapist have given us no sense of accountability for rape. We don't make bigger connections of rape-culture being a product of society. We see it as only an individual problem--like stealing--that deserves individual punishments. When we do this, we are only able to look at rape cases by shaking our heads and saying to ourselves, "What a tragedy. Too bad we couldn't do anything to prevent it."

But what if we could have? When a rape occurred, what if we had been proactive and had at least handled the situation a little better in order to prevent future acts of violence against women from occurring?

It is in these moments when the seeds of rape culture are planted. Violent acts against women happen every day around the world and they go unnoticed by the spotlight. But when they are noticed, when the world is watching, it becomes a golden opportunity to really address the ills of a male-dominated culture where women are continually objectified and society's "acceptance of women as 'things' to be used and disposed" is--if not overtly--subtly stated between the lines.

It was because of only seeing these one-sided perspectives that I--even after I had began to see rape as a product of patriarchy--still hadn't fully understood how damaging rape could be for a woman.

And then, last October, I read an article by a student from Amherst College. Through her narration of being raped, and the belittlement she experienced from peers and college administration who made her feel she was to blame, I saw the real damages that rape culture causes. It is not just the act of rape that is damaging, but how society prevents women from properly healing through victimizing the victim and not bringing true justice upon the rapists. Society's unhealthy actions not only hinder the victims from getting better, they make the situations worse.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine was also monitoring a rape-case on her own campus. Hearing her tell me the story of how this girl was raped--how her friends peer-pressured her to be alone with another male "in order to make the gender ratio even,"--again awakened me to how alienating it must feel to be a victim of rape.

What is more important, though, is that we understand how our roles --as well as our actions, words, and our complicity towards others' actions--perpetuates the culture of rape. In another blog, May Lample writes:

"Rape culture is not so obvious as to be a message that says, 'oh hey, rape is great!' Rather the message is much more subvert, insidious and unrelenting. It’s small messages like women want to be chased, that they are looking for men to be proactive during romantic pursuits."

My fellow men need to understand that rape-culture extends beyond the notion of believing violence against women is okay. Whenever we use--or allow others to use--the word "rape" in a positive connotation (I totally raped that exam, or that team was raped) we are not only being complicit with a culture of rape, but we are creating one. When we preach the need for women to put clothes on to avoid being attacked, we are unconsciously perpetuating the idea that women who are raped deserve it and the only real solution is in their hands--the hands of the victim. It's a one-sided argument that offers no real solutions, but rather only takes the responsibility and burden off of those who cultivate a culture of rape--usually men.

Like so many others, I grew up thinking these ideas were okay. I didn't understand how rape could be so troubling for an individual. It took these close encounters with others who were raped to understand the full implications of rape and how we--as a society--carry its legacy through our actions, as well as our inaction.

Myself, and so many others, needed something concrete--a first hand account--to give us a firm stance against rape. But if so many people can only be against such a culture when they hear stories that allow them to empathize, what does that say about our society? It says that the only way to be for a cause is if it directly impacts us. It's individualistic, and it's wrong.

It should be common sense for everyone--including men--to be against a terrorist culture like rape. We shouldn't have to witness a rape or a retelling of one in order to inspire us to change.

At the root of it all, rape-culture exposes more than male-domination, it shows a narrow-minded society where everyone is out for themselves. It is a culture where individuals are only passionate about the issues that directly effect their lives, everything else--like rape--takes the back seat.

We need to understand that we are accountable for the perpetuation of this culture. We have to take this into our own hands and realize that we can control a society that dismisses violent acts against women as being worthy of attention.

We have to internalize these beliefs into our actions, our words, and our thoughts. We have to raise awareness, stand up against ignorance, and understand how easy it is for us to create this culture so we can understand how to bring it it down.

"We all have a part to play in allowing rape culture to exist—so, we can all do something to eradicate it." (The Nation)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Are women on the rise in Africa?

It is easy to believe that women are on the rise in the Africa of today, especially when one considers that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the president of Liberia and Joyce Banda, that of the Republic of Malawi. From July 2012, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma took over the leadership of the African Union. Indeed, the list of women occupying spaces of power is growing. However, a few questions need to be asked before we can say women are on the rise or not. Firstly, what is the main source of oppression for women of Africa and can they rise from it, by becoming president of a country? What constitutes women being on the rise in Africa? Who is woman in Africa? More specifically, are the women who are ‘rising’ representative of women in Africa?
The Yoke of Male Superiority/Privileging
Research clearly illustrates that the principle of male supremacy, is the engine of the oppression of many African women. For women to be on the rise, the gender ideology of seeing men as people who are superior to women, has to be deconstructed and brought to an end.
In the context of such gender relations, one wonders if one woman’s joining of the nation state, especially given its sexist and male privileging character, really makes a difference? I would argue that unless one changes the male privileging structure that has produced that woman, both in and outside the state, the one she has have risen through and become master at, her joining of the state is often a cooptation, a process that demands her to become a ‘man’. In fact, her very survival in the position depends on her ability to perform this manhood and assure the status quo that she will continue to privilege men and manhood.
Outnumbered, by Far
Another factor that is crucial to remember is that right now, only two out of fifty four African countries are being led by women. Interestingly, this pathetically imbalanced proportion is being read by some as women being on the rise. This is laughable, particularly when one remembers that demographically, women are over half of the population in most countries in Africa. Imagine if after the independence struggles only two out of the fifty four countries were being led by Africans. I do not think that would be read as Africans being on the rise.
Change the Structure
For women to be on the rise, whatever the woman leader does must trickle down to the other women. This means we have to change and transform the colonial structures imposed on the African social landscape such as the modern state, organized religion, global capitalism, reinvent male privileging institutions that oppress women at personal and communal levels such such as marriage.
When we say African women are on the rise, we need to be sure if we are talking about leadership or structure. What needs to change is the structure to enable women to emerge from the base, instead of being appointed. Transformation is needed but this can only occur with the transformation of the whole system.
Who is surrounding Her?
Political power has a lot to do with the people who surround the leader, it comes from the structure. The women in power are often surrounded by men in a system that is constructed to serve men.
Stereotypical Appointments
It is also sad that many times, women are appointed into positions stereotyped to be for women. A good example is Joyce Banda’s choice for ministry of gender. In order to change the patriarchal gender ideologies and show that women are fit to be leaders, it would be good to appoint them into ministries such as defense. This can help contest the political culture and tradition.
Majority of African woman
The majority of African women are poor, living in the rural area and illiterate. The bulk of the women who are ‘rising’ are not from this class. Zuma, Sirleaf Johnson and Banda, are card carrying members of the ruling elite, socially and politically.
What to Do?
One could ask how do we ensure women truly rise in Africa? This is where one needs well researched, effectively implemented and monitored affirmative action programmes. These need to be homegrown and owned. Botswana and Rwanda are examples of African countries that are registering significant gains in women’s participation in political power. Affirmative action is what addresses structural imbalances, not having one woman running government. Women need to be in leadership positions in various board rooms, political parties and spaces of knowledge production such as the university, just to mention a few. If we can get 50 percent of boards and parliaments to be ‘womaned’ by women, then you have opened space bottom up, instead of just having one woman up there, in structure that is hostile to women.
A female president can make a huge difference in her country and this can be in increasing women’s participation in democracy, making sure that the state is accessible to women. She will make sure that their voices, especially that of the uneducated, the rural illiterate, is taken into consideration and not belittled by being assumed or spoken for. A woman president can champion issues concerning women. But, the woman leader has to remember that the male supremacy principle is used to control resources and power and when threatened, it mutates and reinvents itself, reminding the woman leader that she will be punished by those peddling and benefiting from this male privileging, if she does not maintain and reproduce it. So the woman president has to be an organic leader one who takes gender justice as a principle. She has to be someone whose political capital resides in having integrity, truth and justice, not populist loyalty. Because of the globality and interconnectedness of indigenous, colonial and capitalist male privileging ideologies, an African woman president must be prepared not to be voted back into office but focus on standing for what is right. Such a stand will most likely be costly politically and its fruits take time to be registered. They are not short term, yet politics is built and thrives on short term results. Such a leader knows that change is not an event, it is a process and benefits of woman friendly stand will most likely be harvested in the long run and by other people. This kind of a woman leader is committed to the greater good, the collective vision, not the next election or the ability of her post materially benefiting herself and those surrounding her. Such a woman president would not use and depend on recycled politicians as they are clear products of a ‘boys club’ that has survived on mastering and playing the political field, an entity that has historically been modeled on corrupt male forms of power.
The woman president would handle issues of the economy is an astute, mature, meticulously informed manner because she knows that poverty informs issues that produce and propel women’s oppression such as gender based violence, maternal death, HIV and AIDS, and impacts of adverse climate change. This woman would demonstrate that she is aware that many African women are in the informal sector and they live in situations rife with power relations skewed against them locally and globally at race, gender and class levels. The way she handles issues such as devaluations, would illustrate that she knows that such things are lethal to the poor, uneducated and living with HIV and AIDS, majority of whom are women.
A non-male dominated State
One could ask what a non-male dominated state would look like. Firstly, the state would prioritise female participation in various institutions, bottom up, top down and horizontally, especially in issues that concern women. Structures that produces political power will be reconfigured to invite and accommodate women in their large numbers, starting by deconstructing ways of running the state that favor male forms of power. Such a state would adopt feminist approach to development and fighting poverty, maternal death, HIV/AIDS and climate change impacts. In such a state, woman would not be a second class citizen and women’s empowerment and personhood would be an issue of priority. Issues the oppress women would take center stage in state sponsored programmes. Women’s labour would be recognized and rewarded, including what is done at home and in private and informal spaces.
It is good that the number of women in positions of authority in Africa is increasing but for this to constitute a rise in the definition and lives of women in Africa, the structure that produces what is called a person, man, woman and power has to change. After that, you can begin to ask if the emergence of women like Joyce Banda means a rise for women of Africa.

Jessie Kabwila Ph.D.
20th September, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My thoughts on Women, showing flesh and empowerment

I think something in African feminist scholarship needs to be done about women, especially young ones cherishing their looks, showing of their bodies more than being politically savvy, educated, have a grounded opinionatedness. there is something wrong when women value showing their flesh, nakedness and live for their looks, attractiveness. How does one negotiate the polirisation of the patriarchal silencing of women's bodies versus the human rights discourse of this is my body and i can throw away my dignity and self respect, i am sexy business that is driving me crazy, as a feminist, this is killing me. i see it here in Germany, the US, at home (Malawi), wherever i look. what to do?

Honestly, this issue is worrying me because i fight and believe in women's rights but, i see that the burning of bras, empowerment movement seems to be interpreted to mean i can value sex and showing myself as a sex symbol, becoming a prisoner to make up and dressing, bags, shopperhocalism, than knowing what is on the news, how can i be an engaged citizen. i hear women proudly saying 'ine zandale ayi'(I do not like/do politics) when some of us are fighting day and night for women, whose majority is the poor and kept out of corridors of knowledge, to enter spaces of power. meanwhile those young girls are very scantily clothes, walking past you swaying their hips and salivating on the latest hollywood fashion, spending money of wanna be culture. what does an academic activist do. that kind of dressing plays right into the hands of the religious patriarchs who now order a clamp down on women's dressing, in the name of them enticiing men, which is a new problem now and you end up in the Malawian market issues when i come out blazing defending my right to dress. but, how does one inculcate rights that are deeply imbedded in responsibilities, is my question, which i think the euro-western discource has failed to do miserable and we have a chance to do better

Friday, June 22, 2012


I get there in my german jersey but already decided to support greece.

Before the game starts, as the players are filing in, a Greek group of fans is shown waving and then passing down an doll, almost an effigy of Angela Meckel, in full german colours, and it is undressed in front of the cameras. Then Greek anthem is first to be sang and one supporter in the crowd where i am decides it is time to boo.

Germany scores first and I say, well i expected that. Second half, Greece scores and i heave a sign of relief, one for those of us who cannot balance our budgets and are perpertual borrowers. The crowd is silenced but Germany quickly scores and and the floodgates open. Germany lets loose an avalanche of goals, making me feel so bad for Greece but, tough luck Greece, the best team won, really wish you had won, just to open a new discourse in this have versus have nots talk, at half time, a tv anchor actually said 'if greeks ran their economy the way they played their football in the first half, the euro would not be in situation it is now. Talk about nationalism and football, now it is euro politics being played out on the pitch, interesting. but, the best team won. if england faces germany, do not know who to support, in all honesty. will just watch and see what happens.

unfortunately i could not hear the german that was around me, football is really a big tool of constructing national politics, makes one very guilty of reproducing this discourse when you love football like i do. i have never seen so many flags ain germany since i came as i have seen during the game and the question for me is how much of that is good natinalism versus destructive one, if there is good nationalism to start with, i know when Malawi wins, i am happy and i enjoy waving my flag and being around Malawians, chanting etc. but, how much of that is constructed about a nation and not in opposition and superiority to another, i wonder.