Addressing Rape Culture

[Trigger Warning: This article may be traumatising to victims of rape and sexual assault.]

A girl you know has a reputation for taking a different guy home every time she is at the club. A man who has been watching her decides that if she said yes to the first 20 then his is also implied… When she goes to the police for help they question her about the number of sexual partners she had, what she was wearing, whether she was drunk. They dismiss her case and blame it on her history of being a slut. She goes home dejected and vows not to speak up again. If the case makes it to court, she faces the risk of having her entire sexual history dragged out by the judge and this will add to her humiliation.

A young woman goes to a party with friends. A guy who has fancied her sees this as an opportunity to turn her long standing refusal of his advances into a yes and begins to ply her with alcohol. Eventually, the young woman becomes intoxicated and passes out. The guy, knowing full well she will not remember this in the morning, has sex with her unconscious body. The following day, nobody will scold the boy who intentionally got a girl -who had clearly expressed that she did not want to sleep with him- drunk so that he could take advantage of her, but will question her behaviour and why she wasn’t more responsible. “You should be more careful at parties,” they tell her “don’t you know what happens to girls who hang out with the wrong crowd?”

A male student is in his final year of study. His female lecturer has yet to sign off on one of his courses that will allow him to graduate. His father has put extra pressure on him as he is the first in their family to go to university. This is why he does not tell anyone of the things she makes him do in her office late at night. He knows if he tells his peers they will mock him. This is his mess, he got himself into it, and will do it until she signs off. He has no choice.

This is an example of rape culture – a normalised attitude to the crime of rape that leads to a society where both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death.

In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is unavoidable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.”

Still don’t understand?

Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what to wear, how to wear it, how to carry oneself, whom to trust, how much to drink, to learn self-defence, to never let your guard down and failure to adhere to the rules means it’s your fault.

Rape culture is ignoring that the thing about rapists is that they rape people, whether strong or weak, careful or not.

Rape culture is street harassment, it is being groped in public transportation, it is treating women’s bodies like public property.

Rape culture is the narrative that boys can’t be raped, that wives can’t be raped, that sex workers can’t be raped.

Rape culture is rape jokes. No sir, you weren’t JUST JOKING. Rape culture is using the word ‘rape’ casually in conversation. “That exam raped me” That’s rape culture.

Rape culture is even hidden in the imaginary friendzone. Yup, the friendzone, that mythical land where a man believes that he is entitled to sex with a woman simply because he was nice to her for an extended period of time. And yes, even women are guilty of this.

This lax attitude to the word rape, this feeling of nonchalance about a crime that happens in Kenya every 30 minutes, to boys and girls, women and men, regardless of age or dressing or whether they were drinking, is a huge problem. It is dependent of society believing that women owe men sex, that consent is not necessary and that they should take what they want from us whenever they deem it necessary.

Rape and sexual violence is normalised and that’s a bad thing. We would rather believe that these things are perpetuated by bad men wielding axes in dark alleyways even though two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. We would rather believe that the terrible realities we hear about aren’t real or that, at least, we can’t do anything about it. The truth is ugly. But by denying the obvious we continue to allow rapists to go unpunished and leave survivors silenced.

But blogging about it is not enough. Pointing it out on a forum tends to reduce the intensity of the message. It reduces it to a long winded conversation that will be forgotten when the wi-fi is out. So this is my solution.

I would like to go to high schools, everywhere in the country and educate young adults about the extent of rape culture. And I need your help.

We will go to schools, both private and public, in suburbs and impoverished areas, teaching them about this societal ill that will face them as soon as they are out of school. We will teach them about street harassment, victim shaming, slut shaming and all the things that are encapsulated in rape culture.

Sign up here to add your voice to #StopRapeCulture.  Since the problem lies in a culture that is entertained by degrading acts and images of women, the solution is to look at the individual acts as a symptom of rape culture and solve it holistically.  We all have a part to play in allowing rape culture to exist—so, we can all do something to eradicate it.

Men, Sexism and Denial

“Sexism is a big problem in this country…” started a woman.

“NOT ALL OF US ARE SEXIST!” Interrupted the men in a booming chorus.

“Yes, but we need to talk about…”

“But we’re not sexist. We think you’re equal. See? Not sexist. I agree you should get all that stuff you’re asking for.” And thus the men patted themselves on the back for not being sexists and avoided the conversation entirely. After all, it should have been had with all those crazy sexist men out there, not them. Certainly not them.

***

I have something to say. I’m sexist. Before you act all surprised, if you’re a man, so are you. In case the message was lost in that phrasing what I’m saying is that ALL MEN ARE SEXIST.

Before you skewer me in the comments, consider this, sexism isn’t always obvious. You don’t have to slap your wife around or throw insults at women. You don’t have to outright view women as lesser or even be against equality. All you have to do is live in a sexist society and pick up sexist attitudes without even considering what they are.

Consider two stories. One, the president has an affair. Two, the first lady has an affair. Which do you think will be the bigger scandal? You know which one it is. You know where the moral outcry will be loudest even if they’re both the same thing. You were brought up in that society and whether you like it or not you picked up some traits from it that determine how you treat women.

Most men have given some form of preferential treatment to a pretty girl as if looks were an indicator of how well someone should be treated.

Most men have said something to the tune of “you know how women are.” As if half the people in this county (or in the world) could fit into such a narrow behavioural pattern.

Most men have reduced a woman’s interests down to how they relate to men (“She likes football/top gear/ video games. She’s wife material.”) As if everything you find good or interesting about her is really just a criteria for whether or not she can be married.

All men have done and do things like this not out of malice or some intentional bigoted agenda but because the significance of these acts never even occurred to them. This is what I mean when I say you’re sexist. Perhaps you’re not A sexist. I acknowledge that difference. You don’t go out of your way to do it. Nevertheless the underlying tendencies are there and the fact that you hardly notice it is why this conversation is so important. Until you start listening you might never see how you’re mucking things up and you can never do better. Not hitting, insulting or openly looking down upon women is not an accomplishment. You don’t get a cookie and a free ride to skip this class.

Inevitably someone will point out that women are entirely capable of doing some of the things mentioned and of being sexist at large. That’s true. Here’s the difference. As a man you have certain privileges that women do not have. You do not have to feel any fear when walking down the street simply because you’re a man. When you’re assaulted you know what you’re wearing cannot be used to dismiss your claims. You’re not likely to be paid less because of your gender. Being a man means you’ve probably never had to worry that you’ll be forced to have sex to be able to do your job.

When it comes to sexism and men, in well over 90 percent of cases, you can simply walk away and be done with it. Women cannot walk away. They have to live with it. They lack that choice that you have. And when the problem is so systematic, of course it’s going to get priority. It affects half the country’s population directly. Any way you look at it that’s a national crisis. That’s why you (should) hear about it all the time.

Now, if my point still sits wrong with you here’s an analogy to help you along. You’re like a tourist on his first visit to an African country. Everything he knows about “Africa” is based on books and shows and hearsay that have a skewed slant to say the least. As a result he keeps offending people. For some reason the “you don’t live in trees!?” and the “I was expecting wild animals everywhere” don’t sit right with people.

The tourist isn’t a bad person. He’s not trying to offend. But what he knows is inaccurate and inadequate and it comes across. Many of us can find it within ourselves to have patience with him. It’s not entirely his fault. If he’s striving to actually learn something then we can even let his slips go by. But if he responds to every correction or confrontation with defensiveness, you’re less likely to be understanding. “It’s what I know!” Is not a particularly good defence if you’re not trying to know more. Nor is “I respect Africans as equals.”

So, in summary, just because you’re not a sexist doesn’t mean you’re not sexist. Those “you’re letting a girl beat you in school” speeches and their ilk among other things probably influenced your world view when you didn’t know any better. Your problem, and my problem, is largely ignorance. We can know more and we can do better. Don’t cling to your ignorance. Don’t defend it. Accept it, catch it, correct it and with hope, we can pass a lot less of it to the coming generations.

KENYA & SOMALIS: “Saving The Country”

“We have to do something! We can’t just sit back and do nothing!”

This is something you’re likely to hear if you bring up how Somalis have been treated in this country. They may phrase it differently but it always has the same components. There is an urgent, drastic something that needs to be done immediately or an apathetic nothing. There is never anything between those two options. It is a situation of extremes. One or the other. Now or never. Terrorism or oppression.

If you ask them if what’s happening is right they will sigh impatiently. They will give you that look they give people who do not understand the world and explain, as if to a child, that:

“Sometimes you have to do what is necessary. You should know that.”

If they are older than you they might add,

“You’ll understand that one day.”

Perhaps I do not understand the world as they so clearly suspect but that seems like a non-answer to me. Is it wrong but necessary? Or is it right because it is necessary? More to the point, why is it so necessary? Ask that last question at your own risk. The answers will often carry a thinly veiled accusation.

“Do you just want to let Kenyans die?”

“You have to consider the survival of our country!”

I have had this argument many times now. Sometimes with smart people. With people whose opinion I respect. And from what I understand, this is the summary of what they’re trying to say. Because we’re facing a crisis on a scale we’ve never seen before we have to take measures that some may find unpleasant. It is an ugly but necessary sacrifice. Put like that, it almost seems to make sense. Here’s the problem with that. The first part, the justification, isn’t true. That’s the effects of terrorism talking.

Terrorism works because of fear. It’s supposed to make you overreact, to think the problem is bigger than it is. It inspires the kind of fear a drowning person feels as they act against their own interests and try to take down the person rescuing them. This is why so many people are talking about terrorism like it’s the biggest threat in the country. It isn’t. It’s not even close.

Think of it this way. How many people get killed in homicides every year in Kenya? According to UNODC, in 2012, it was about 2,700 people. To put that in perspective, how many people get killed in terror attacks in any given year? In 2012 it was somewhere in the range of 4,500 people – worldwide. When you add up all the recorded terrorist attack fatalities in the world, inflate the number by a few hundred for any that may have been missed or underreported you get less than two years of one country’s homicides.

It’s a lot more disturbing when you consider that the 2012 rate of homicides has more than doubled when compared to what it was in 2007. If you want to rate crises, you can see which the more pressing Kenyan problem is. Yet, we would never stand for suspension of laws or profiling in that area. You’re never going to hear about an inquest into what community people who commit the most homicides are most likely to come from. And even if the information were available, we certainly would never act on it in the way we are towards Somalis.

I-am-not-a-terrorist-6

All this is not to say that terrorism isn’t a pertinent threat. It is. And I’m certainly not saying that the deaths caused by the terror attacks don’t matter. They do. What I am saying is calm down, take a breath and relax a bit. Our survival as a nation does not hang in the balance. On the list of things that are likely to kill you, terrorism is very low on that list. Which means we have time to think this issue through. To come up with proper solutions that will actually yield positive results in the long term.

We can’t continue to pretend that a lot of the people being persecuted for not having legal papers would not have them if the system was working properly. Or that we’re seriously combating terrorism when our anti-terror unit is still underfunded. And most importantly, we cannot deny that the state hasn’t been acting within legal boundaries.

You can see hints of the law being sidestepped in this UNHCR press release. If you want to see a more blatant legal breach you need look no further than this ruling the High Court made in 2013 relating to refugees and insecurity in the country. You can read the whole thing and see just how its directives are being violated. It’s almost prescient:

 “The State has not demonstrated that the proliferation of the refugees in urban areas is the main source of insecurity … Security concerns must now be viewed from the constitutional lens and in this regard there is nothing to justify the use security operation to violate the rights of urban based refugees.”

Sometimes saving the country means preserving our national identity. What we do. Who we are as a people. That means looking past the fear and making decisions that are ethical. Decisions that will help us in the long term.  That’s not easy, but it’s not meant to be. Or, to quote that ruling again:

The cost and burdens association with deepening constitutional values does not lessen the obligation of the State to,“observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.”   Every State organ is called upon to be creative within its means in order that every person enjoys, “the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Bill of rights to the greatest possible extent.”

Need i say more?