The Ugly Monsters Silencing Women

Sex, Culture, Traditions, and Religion

Photo by Gianni Zanato

Writing has been hard for me lately. Still trying to make sense of life here in Kigali (I only got back less than two years ago). But I am still as committed to running the Provocateur section of this magazine. Now, here I am to share a piece I received a few days ago. The author wanted to stay anonymous, and we respect that. Truthfully though, I wish I had had the courage to write this myself. Enjoy thoroughly.

The year was 2016. We were all seated in a circle with about eight women — desperately single — discussing what doom had befallen us. The moans and cries were the usual: ‘Where do we go wrong?’ ‘Why are we still single?’ And the most heartbreaking of all, ‘What is wrong with us?’ I watched, listened, and laughed where it was appropriate. The friends all around us were getting married and shame was quickly settling in our minds. We had to find a solution. And the unfortunate solution was to “get a man.”

This article is anonymous because many of these truths are well understood, unrefuted, and unspoken. This means that the author might have to run for their lives to stay safe and sane. I wonder if it is just me who sees these underlying issues regarding women and, even worse, if I’m the only one who can tie this back strongly to religion, traditions, and the societal customs of Rwanda. I am one of the incredibly lucky few who was fortunate enough to step away from that mindset to give this widely accepted norm a more critical look.

Women are taught to derive their worth from their relationship with men. Yes, I said it. And before you eat me alive, please read this as thoroughly as you can. This goes to my fellow women as well.

Growing up, there is a verse they repeated a lot in Christian schools: “Man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man.” That explains why many churches still debate having with appointing female priests. After all, women can only get connected to God through their male counterpart. We never, ever notice how completely subtle this concept is and how deeply ingrained it is in our minds; the accepted notion that women shouldn’t have been mentioned in religious texts because they were unworthy. Many contradict themselves by adding, in the same breath, that there is “no male nor female” in the faith but women should remain silent.

Do you ever wonder why the Purity Movement in our society strictly speaks to women and not men? Yes, of course, some good humans try their best to put some itty-bitty pressure on men as well, but do you ever wonder? As a young girl, I was praised and paraded around for my virginity. So were my friends and classmates. My virginity gave me privileges in my church circles as a teenager. We were repeatedly given the ever so deep lesson that our “pure” bodies would be the best gift we’d give to our husband. Talk about sexual repression for the satisfaction of a male, who, can I please add, didn’t have to give a flying f*ck about how many women he’d conquered sexually. On the contrary, he was silently encouraged to be himself because forgiveness reigns. The question is, why, oh why, was his “virginity” not important in society?

This is probably going to need a lot more breaking-down because most of us don’t see anything wrong with this. But it would be hypocritical to act like women are treated as equals in most societal circles. That would be a blunt lie. The conversation is yet to be had in Rwanda but I recognise many women taking the bullet for their voices to be heard.

The truth of the matter is women are yet to learn to find and build their identities outside of men. Rwandan families are yet to honour their daughters outside of their potential “to become a good wife.” And the women’s virginity is so embedded in our minds that we will do whatever it takes to keep women intact, like a product that might be exchanged against something of monetary value — like cows and goats. One day, very soon, I will talk about how gusaba is the most demeaning thing to be done to women in Rwanda. We make the curfew stricter for our girls, we sneak in some house chores as impromptu quizzes for the ‘good wife’ test. We allow her to change her last name, abandon her identity, to take on that of a man. We host bridal showers to invite aunties to tell her that emotional repression is what drives the home forward. Women have to compromise.

I see my aunties coming at me with the “do you want my daughter to be promiscuous then?” For the long answer, I’ll have to say, that will be a text for another time. But for the short answer, I’d say we need to change our outdated and warped and harmful view of sex. Allow me to add: We need to do the exact same for how we treat some babies born in a natural, biological way but are called bastards because no cows were exchanged for them to be born. Honestly, shame on society for trying to force women to ask permission to them to have guilt and shame-free sexual intercourse as adults. But that was a commercial break; let’s move right along.

Forty-seven percent of women in Rwanda justify physical abuse by their husbands on grounds of cleanliness, cooking, and other house chores. I guess our parents don’t want us to fail with those quizzes.

Growing up, I was taught that I will find a man who will be worthy to be the head of my home and I will be privileged to submit to him. I thought that was amazing. I will find a man; he will be the head, I will be some other part of the body and that part will submit to the head. Because, of course, men are intrinsically smarter than women. Who could ever doubt or question that? Can we please look at the definition of submit?

Submit (/səbˈmɪt/ — verb) means to “accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person.”

Let’s not forget all the flowery privileges of submitting though: you are protected, your heart is all cute and nice. Aw, you are so cute. Let’s all submit.

Listen, I am not being sarcastic and this narrative needs to change. No! And I will say it again: No! Women are not subordinates. We are full humans in and out of our essence. We do not need a head because we have one of our own.

Last but not least, I believe in relationships based on merit. Your genitalia do not command automatic respect and I reserve my rights to call you out on your nonsense. Our fathers and uncles do have the rights to discuss (even jokingly) the reasons as to why we get to stay or leave the home. I believe that it is high time for us to look critically at what we dismiss as culture, traditions, and religion. The time is now.

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