Sep 17, 2012

Woman, sit down!

In the last few weeks there has been a war of words between opposition leaders Hakainde Hichilema (UPND) and Edith Nawakwi (FDD) and this has largely been played out in the media. Sadly the issues they are fighting about do little to elevate public discourse in Zambia; instead we have two adults fighting in a pig pen, slinging handfuls of manure at each other much to the chagrin of many. If the leaders of two political parties spend this much time calling each other all kinds of names, what time do they have to provide checks and balances to the party currently in government?


Last week marked an ugly turn when Mr. Hichilema said of Ms. Nawakwi:
“Kamukazi kaja sikanakambe vilivonse. Nili namukazi, niwambili wameneuyu  Uyu mukazi anyanya. (That little girl did not say anything. My wife is enough for me. This woman is too much.) Please if you (Nawakwi) have run out of what to cook in the kitchen, go and look for something at the market." 
This was in response to remarks made by Ms. Nawakwi in which she accused him of being selfish, egotistical and difficult to work with in any opposition alliance. She also charged that he has a “singular belief that he is better than anyone else in the leadership of this country as far as his leadership concerned.”

Now Mr. Hichilema has every right to defend himself in the face of this, however, he crossed the line by his choice of words in which he refers to Ms. Nawakwi as a “little girl” and as someone who should be in kitchen or at the market shopping for foodstuffs. This type of sexist and demeaning language is deplorable, and should not be tolerated or defended.

This language reinforces gender stereotypes and normalises violent behaviour against women. Our words often reflect our belief systems and when a public figure like Hichilema makes such statements it’s quite indicative of how he feels about women in the public sphere – “shut up, and go back to the kitchen where you belong.”

This is also not the first time he has been caught making negative references to women. In 2006 he accused a former ally of “being a woman” for “running away” from an alliance. The implications of the remark were obvious; he views women as cowards and to call another man a woman was an insult.

If Hichilema wants to position himself as a future president of Zambia he needs to check himself before he wrecks himself. By virtue of him being a public figure means he is subject to both men and women talking about him, and if he doesn’t particularly like the opinions of women perhaps he should resign his position and find other things to do with his time and money.

Let me also be clear that I do not agree with Nawakwi's counter that Hichilema is a "male chauvanist pig." By calling him a pig we're back to square one of name calling instead of bringing the focus back to the problematic sexism inherent in his initial response. 

Do not doubt the power of words and the violence they can easily spark. Yesterday it was reported that former UPND national youth chairman, Joe Kalusa, had vowed to rally the party's youth on the Copperbelt to gang rape Ms. Nawakwi "to teach her to respect married men like Hakaine Hichilema." Twenty-four hours later and not a single person from UPND has repudiated these remarks including Mr. Hichilema himself.

Unfortunately this is not the first time we have seen threats of rape against a public figure such as Ms. Nawakwi for what ruffians deem as disrespect. Even sadder, the subsequent silence is yet another repeat of history. But not to worry, there are enough of us out there disgusted by it all, and we will not be silenced. The backlash against Hichilema and UPND will not go unnoticed.   

8 comments:

This is balanced, thoughtful and well written. HH's words are out of line. And he must apologize to the nation. In 2012, we cannot tolerate ideas that confine our women to the kitchen. Not any more.

I just went to the Post newspaper website and saw this article.Believe it or not,the first person I thought of was you.(What would Miss Bwalya think?)
*Raises hand* long time lurker here.

I find it appalling that HH had the audacity to say what he did.And for Kalusa to include that gang rape scare tactic or whatever he perceives it to be is just disgusting to say the least.Zambian men,whether in leadership positions or not need to know that such language and behavior is not acceptable at all.It's even more weird that none of the two men have apologized for their remarks.

Ps:Thanks for discussing such issues and bringing them to the fore.

Kas

A WRONG IS A WRONG REGARDLESS OF WHO SAYS IT; IT MUST BE CONDEMNED IN THE STRONGEST TERMS; OUR SOCIETY HAS TO BE WEEDED OF THESE DEROGATORY.
To dedicate the whole article in defence of Nawakwi and only one paragraph to the "male chauvinist pig" (paragraph 7) is not good enough. Reading this article brings to bear the very ugly inherent weeds we are fighting to uproot. A moral perspective approach for both perhaps could be better, good too for readers to learn. Both are leaders, whose words MUST inspire the nation across all strata. Insults and derogatory in our society must stop. Neither the “Small gal, Kitchen” nor the "male chauvinist pig" is worthy grossing over. A wrong is a wrong regardless! ; IT MUST BE CONDEMNED IN THE STRONGEST TERMS.
MSovi

Dear Anonymous #2,

It’s a pity you read this post as a defense of Nawakwi because it’s not. I chose to focus on HH because his language is endemic of how many men and some women view women in the public sphere. In his choice of words about Nawakwi being a little girl, his satisfaction with his wife, and how Nawakwi should return to the kitchen or marketplace it stopped being about her as an individual and encompassed the greater sisterhood.

It always starts with one person saying such things about a woman, and when we don’t respond, it’s normalised and gives power to the next person who chooses similar language. Because we’ve said “go ahead, it’s not offensive. Put them back in their place.” In order for us to root out such negative stereotypes we need to meet them head on.

While Nawakwi’s “male chauvinist pig” statement may be offensive to HH; it doesn’t speak to a greater societal issue where men are deemed as pigs and as such are disadvantaged in their pursuits to gain economic and personal independence. But you're correct, the use of that term must be condemned because it does nothing to elevate our public discourse.

You’re welcome to write an article more balanced in its repudiation of both characters, and I’m happy to post it here for readers to consume.

Most appreciated,thanks for your open mindedness-noting my post above and for the Invite to write. Will confirm once these busy schedules and travels are off my path for a ,(condensed article-brief,yet in context)-"The Zambia and society we yearn for-A leadership perspective"

Most appreciated,thanks for your open mindedness-noting my post above and for the Invite to write. Will confirm once these busy schedules and travels are off my path for a ,(condensed article-brief,yet in context)-"The Zambia and society we yearn for-A leadership perspective"
Msovi

@Elias Munshya - thanks for reading and for your comments. We indeed should not tolerate such ideas in our homes, workplaces, politics and everywhere else.

@Anonymous #1 - if you're starting to think of me when you're reading certain news stories, I'm flattered. Hopefully, my analysis doesn't disappoint. It's hard to believe we'd always agree on the conclusions but if at least the analysis is thoughtful then I'll keep you as a loyal lurker and occasional commentator. Thanks!

Well said Bwalya, a word in time, I hope it will save much. Indeed, Mr Hichilema was out of order by using Ms Nawakwi's name in the same sentence with his wife. What Mr Hichilema goes through with his wife has nothing to do with his relationship with a fellow politician. As you said, the tendency to demean women and look at them as fitted only for matrimonial duties should die. I also read the post in response to yours from "Anonymous", while it is important to be just in our judgments, the issues of how women are addressed or perceived in business, politics and elsewhere is of profound importance in the developing world. As long as we encourage or gloss over stereotypes, we cannot expect to change much, we have to be deliberate, strong and outspoken on issues like this. It does not matter what the context is, abusive and demeaning language is just that, abusive and demeaning, there can be no defense for it.

Thanks for posting.


Isabella

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