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)