The Land of No Men

Watching Broadly’s “The Land of No Men”, a documentary about Umoja village in Kenya, brought up so much emotions and thoughts and I had this strong urge to write about these community.   Umoja village was founded by Rebecca Lolosoli in 1990 and become a safe haven for the women in the region.  The matriarchal community is now home to Samburu women who suffered FGM, forced marriages, and sexual and physical abuse at the hands of men.   This is what ignorance, lack of access to education and inequality looks like.Umoja women

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is already banned and considered illegal in Kenya but there are still some tribes that follow said tradition.  In some villages, a woman can’t get married if  she is not circumcised aka have her genitals mutilated.   “Cut” girls have higher bride price and FGM apparently increases a family’s status within their tribes. Women in this part of the world are also treated as property and simply powerless.  They have no control over their lives.  Most of them were forced to marry men that are old enough  to be their grandfather.  A man can easily leave and replace his wife for just about any reason.  They can beat their wives and if the wife dare leave her husband, her parents would simply return her to the husband because where else can she go?  Rape is also very prevalent in this region be it in the hands of the locals or British soldiers. What’s worse is that women get the blame after being horribly abused, like it’s their fault for being raped in the first place.  They are considered “unclean” and if they got pregnant they would be forced to resort to abortion which was performed by other women in the village.  There are just so many atrocities against women that it made me cry.  How can people be so cruel?
FGM Kenya girls

A public ceremony celebrating the season of female genital cutting, where girls undergoing FGM are being paraded openly in the streets

 

Sick of these age old traditions,  a woman decided to create a women only village. The Umoja Village is the first of its kind in Kenya where women run things and provides a place of shelter from women who suffered abused from their husbands.  To make ends meet,  these women make bead necklaces and bracelets and sell it to the tourists.  Her village was such a success that it inspired other women to put up their own villages too.  Some villages are strictly for women only while some allowed men as long as they don’t interfere  with how the women run things.  A lot of men hated these villages especially the village leaders (who are men so it makes sense)  because they strongly believe that women just can’t be leaders and make decision for themselves.  They believe that these women only villages are in trouble because there would be no men to fight off attackers and women simply can’t fight.  Makes me wonder who are these attackers might,  probably the same men who resented these women run villages.
 Umoja-Womens-Village-making-jewellery
One man was interviewed about how he feels about the Umoja tribe.  He hated the tribe because his wife left him and this time has somewhere to run to and a safe place to stay. He also said that he can easily replace his wife anyway.  Another man was interviewed and was asked about female genital mutilation as part of their culture.  He said that this tradition will continue mainly because their people are not educated.  He believes  that the tradition will eventually stop but in a very gradual manner.  He personally don’t like the mutilation but felt helpless against an old age tradition.  He has a daughter and he certainly don’t want her to go through such brutal practice.
Several women were interviewed and asked how they are faring since they started living in the women only village.  Everyone is very  happy with her decision.  They finally feel empowered.  One woman run away from her family because she was forced to marry an old man she doesn’t like.  When asked if she would consider marrying someone and she firmly said no.  Another woman, a chair lady of one of the women only villages was also asked if she could go back in time, would she marry and her answer is a very firm NO, like it is the last thing she’d ever do in her life.  There are other women who were asked with the same question and their answers are all the same, a big and loud NO.  It’s like the idea of marriage and a husband was completely ruined for them.  Not that I can blame them, these women have gone through so much abuse and violence at the hands of the men who were supposed to cherish and support them.
 nachamivillage
These women are also determined to hold on to their new-found power and have no intention of giving men an ounce of control.  As one of the chief ladies said, they held the power for so long and they took advantage of it.  For her,  once you give men power, they will only abuse it.  She is adamant that women should lead and men should only follow.  While I applaud her strength and determination, it is apparent that what she wants is female domination, not equality but simply a reversal of roles.   This made me feel bad because as a feminist I believe in equality not superiority.  I believe that men and women can work together side by side and create the best version of this world.  This is an experimental community after all and they have so much learning to do.   I hope that as women are gaining more power and independence, men would open their minds to the fact the world is changing for the better and they can contribute to this change by doing their part.
It is also very apparent what ignorance and absolute obedience can do to us.  Blindly following an archaic tradition (something that shouldn’t even happen to begin with) without asking why will not help any society.   Education is extremely important and as long as people are uneducated those who want to cling on to power will stay where they want to be.
 Umoja-01
Women are not things to be used and discarded and we should all know this.  How can someone be cruel is beyond my understanding.   Respecting people’s rights should come naturally to all us. These women survived the worst of and now fight abuse despite being in a society that barely recognize a woman’s right.  They finally got a taste of what freedom is like and have no intention of giving it up.  They realized how education and a source of living can do so much even for someone living in a place that seemed to be cut off from the rest of the world.  While this documentary did broke my heart, it also gave me hope and inspiration.  If these women who have almost no resources at all have fought against misogyny and patriarchy and contributed so much in this world then I have no excuse not be the best version of myself and fight for equality in any way I can.

I’ll Marry When I Want : A warrior’s cry against Child marriage

I’ve watched this TED talk video on my commute to the office.  Way to start my Monday, right?!  While the talk is somewhat depressing it it also very inspiring.

Banda read a poem her friend made before starting her speech.  It was very simple, it’s entitled I’ll Marry When I Want.   In the poem, the girl said she’ll marry when she want, no one can force her to.  She’ll marry when she want but not before she is well educated and all grown-up.

http://http://https://www.ted.com/talks/memory_banda_a_warrior_s_cry_against_child_marriage?language=en

Listening to Memory Banda’s talk about child marriage almost made me cry, the fact that I am in a public transport is the only thing that stopped those tears.  While I am enjoying my freedom, being able to chose the life that I want,  making decisions for my future, there are places in the world that are still trapped in their culture, even though that said culture is nothing short of a crime against humanity.  What prompt them to come up with this kind of tradition anyway? To condemn a girl to life that she has no control over, to a life of sexual and physical abuse, to a life of slavery.  I know I have no right to judge these people, that it is their culture, they are born into that lifestyle.

I can’t even wrap my wind around the fact that these girls are forced to attend a sexual initiation camp, where they to learn how to “please” a man. The community hires a man to have sex with all of the girls attending the camp.  I mean seriously? What kind of a mess up specie are they to come up with this kind of tradition?  A man paid to have sex with girls as young as a 9 year old? What kind of man gets sexually aroused by a 9 year old girl. I know that it is a part of their culture, for them that is totally moral and acceptable.

After attending those camps, some of the girls ended up pregnant while some of them have contracted sexually transmitted diseases.  It breaks my heart to know that there are place on this planet where a person is bound to a disgusting fate just because she happened to be a girl.

This kind of tradition only propagates poverty and ignorance.  You don’t educate girls, you force them to get married and pregnant at the very young age and this vicious cycles continues, so does the poor standard of life.

Banda’s own sister got pregnant during a sexual initiation, married twice and now have 3 children at the age of 17.   Banda escaped that tragic fate because she was living with an aunt who supported her resistance to early marriage and now a staunch advocate against child marriage.

When Banda was thirteen years old, she was told she’s a grown-up and supposed to go to the initiation camps and she refused.  Women in her community told her that she is stupid and stubborn, that she does not respect the tradition of their society.  But she is a tough girl, she knew where she is going, she knew what she wanted in life and clearly that it is not marriage and children at a very young age.

Everyday, ever since she refused to attend the camp, women would always tell that she’s all grown-up and would compare her to her sister who’s already a mother (seriously?! you want her to be jealous of her sister’s fate?!).  And she said something that really touched my heart “and those are the music that girls hear everyday when they  don’t do something that the community needs them to do”

It hurts more when a woman does not support another woman’s effort to  achieve gender equality.  It’s harder when women are the first ones to tell another woman that fighting for her right is nothing short of stupidity.  We, women, should stand together, to become a stronger force, to have a louder voice, so strong so loud, no one can ignore us.

Despite the what she has to go through and all the obstacles along her way, Banda didn’t falter, her determination didn’t waver.  She asked herself, What can I do to change something that has been happening for a very long time?  She encouraged girls to read and write, to remind themselves of what they have learned so far, to talk to each other about the troubles they are facing as young mothers.

They thought why not try to talk to their mothers and traditional leaders about the wrong things that being done to girls. Traditional leaders are so accustomed the old ways, a hard thing to change but a good thing to try.  And they tried and pushed so hard.  Their hard work didn’t go waste , their community leaders stood up for them and said that no girl has to be married before they reach eighteen.  That was just the beginning, they  also went to fight for the rights of girls in other communities.  They worked so hard to convince Parliament members to support the bill that will protect girls against child marriage

Earlier this year, the Parliament of Malawi adopted a law that, for the very first time, sets the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years old.  This law now protects girl from child marriage and forced sexual initiation.

Banda also said that though 18 years old is the legal age for marriage for most countries, we still hear cries of women and girls everyday.  “This is the high time where leaders honor commitment and keeping girls issues at heart.  Women are extra-ordinary, we can do more.  A law is not a law unless it was enforced.”

Banda reiterates that knowing that there is a law that will protect them, women will stand up and defend themselves. She call on male advocates to to jump in and support women issues.

Memory Banda inspires me.  She reminded me of the freedom that I enjoyed so much and take for granted sometimes.  Despite the harsh background and not so supportive community, she flourish and become a strong young woman. She fought not just for her right but for the rest of the girls in Malawi, what have I done so far?  Her story made me realized how petty some of my issues are and that I can do so much to make this world a better place in my own little ways.

http://http://https://www.ted.com/talks/memory_banda_a_warrior_s_cry_against_child_marriage?language=en

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/17/us-malawi-childmarriage-law-idUSKBN0LK1Z020150217

http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/malawi/