People. We need to talk. Like right now.

Slut shaming is NOT OK. Stripping a woman in the name of decency is NOT OK. Moral policing in the guise of promoting “cultural” values is NOT OK. Misogyny in the name of  ‘stopping temptation’ is NOT OK … as revealed in Kenya this week.

Incase you don’t know what I’m going on about, a horrifying video popped this week on social media of a woman being stripped naked in Nairobi’s CBD by a group of men on a popular bus route.  On the clip, she screams for help but only one man amongst a dozen, comes to her aid as she is shoved, kicked and even fondled while the mob tears off her jeans and then proceeds to remove everything else to her bare skin.

Her crime? ‘Seducing the men’.  The men cried out that her jeans – the offending item of clothing -  was “tempting” them. While they tore off her dignity, they accused her of dressing inappropriately and called her a “Jezebel” and in doing so flagrantly practiced the art of slut shaming.

Hurray for decency.

“The fact that the disturbing incident happened in broad day light, in Nairobi’s CBD for that matter and there was no police in sight,  leaves a lot to be desired. Much worse the act was barbaric, an injustice and an abuse to the dignity not just of this woman, but to all the women in Kenya. It doesn’t matter whether or not the woman was indecently dressed, after all what’s the benchmark for what is considered decent? Furthermore, how did stripping her bare aid in enhancing her decency?” asks reporter Winnie Kabintie (KenyaForum.Net).

The video has sent Kenyans up in arms, with many, including government ministers, urging the police to look into the matter. Good, however the cynic in me says that if the men can be found, I dare say at best they’ll be slapped with a fine or a short jail term. At worst, they may become heroes for the battalions of  moral police and vigilante groups roaming Africa in an effort to enforce “codes of morality”, targeting any activity that they deem to be “immoral” and/or “against ‘acceptable’ culture.’ In any case, they’re yet another sign of a growing cancer globally – that of violence and intimidation against women in the name of ‘seeking decency’.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking, why is this happening at all? What moral justification if any, did these men have to strip a women bare in public? Granted I’ve only taken a morning to research this, but what clues I’ve found online are telling, if not disturbing:

For illustrative purposes only. Please note this is not the woman in the story.

For illustrative purposes only. Please note this is not the woman in the story.

A quest against the west? 
“Speak of ‘western culture’, and if you are ‘not western’, you can totally relate to the undue judgements and insinuations that the word connotes. But have no fear, the right wing extremist groups are right here to ‘rescue’ our society’s cultural fragmentation from this curse. This curse that has introduced us to the follies of being unashamed about our sexualities, expressing affection and girls using mobile phones and wearing jeans!” * While tongue in cheek, this statement captures the attitudes of a growing number of men in Africa. Don’t believe me? See the stream of comments on a recent Facebook post about the incident (search #MyDressMyChoice).

An pseudo economic frustration expressing itself in moral infuriation? 
Moral policing has been attributed to the dislocation caused by the third world’s uneven economic growth and the gap between affluent, urban youth who embrace Western values and the more traditional rest of society, who are generally older or poorer. In India, a society likewise plagued with increasing occurrences of ‘rape culture’ and shaming women, “lopsided economic growth has created a dispossessed population which cannot relate to Western cultural values and norms. The political class exploits this.,” says commentator S. Parasuraman, head of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

A trend towards conservative religion?  
Religion is also often used to justify moral policing. The moral police often accuse their targets of “offending religious sentiments”. Commentators believe that the third and emerging world … “has failed to engage in a serious debate about the balance between art and religion, and between freedom of expression and the defence of religious sentiments.

I want to dwell a tad here. While there’s no evidence the recent attack was religiously motivated, the fact is extreme religious thinking is infiltrating into our African society, even into Kenya, the result being that “moral codes of conduct” foreign to Africa are being encouraged with increasing impudence.

If you haven’t heard of the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice”, then don’t travel through and to Saudia Arabia until you do. Government sponsored, their members patrol the streets enforcing dress codes, strict separation of men and women, salat prayer by Muslims during prayer times, and other behavior it believes to be commanded by Islam. They are known for having full beards (sometimes henna-dyed) and for wearing their headscarves (ghutrah or shemagh) loose without an agal—they often wear a besht as well—and for often coming from Saudi Arabia’s lower classes. They are empowered to detain and berate offenders and shut down businesses.

Iran has its own moral police (who  enforce the wearing of the hijab; arresting women for violating the dress code; prohibiting male-female fraternization; monitoring citizens’ activities; confiscating satellite dishes and `obscene` material; intelligence gathering; and even harassing government critics and intellectuals) as does Afghanistan.

If you don’t think the moral police culture is not in Africa, think again. Egypt in 2013 instituted a moral police force, and in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria and Somalia have religious police. In Nigeria, the Hisbah (religious police) are funded and supported by governments in several states, where they enforce their interpretation of sharia law. In Kenya, Muslim separatists on the coast have advocated long and hard for sharia law, and their thinking has spread into Nairobi, into the slums, which have long provided a fertile recruiting ground for extremists. The area the woman in Nairobi was assaulted in one such improverished suburb, and it’s not a far leap of the imagination to believe that the mob was, to some degree, incited by increasing conservatism and religious moralism/extremism. (But please don’t write to me protesting. I’ve stated this is not a fact, just an opinion deduced from a set of facts.)

“I find it the height of impropriety and hubris that we humans are in the business of protecting our gods rather than the other way round. It betrays a fragility of belief and a crisis of confidence that genuinely religious people ought to find offensive. Our social contract is that we honour the dignity of each individual by giving them freedom of expression, that we value dissent and new forms of articulation even if some of it runs the risk of being silly. But make no mistake about it. The Talibanisation of India is under way. What else do you call a republic where artist after artist is feeling insecure?” (Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in an article in The Indian Express, stated that the right of free expression should apply equally).

I agree with social commentators, who believe that countries like Kenya have never engaged in any serious debate about what should be allowed to be shown in public. “Our problem … is that we have no standards, no barriers and no sense of what is acceptable and what is not. Each time the issue erupts we engage in the same finger-pointing debates, and call each other names.”

People, the problem with a moral vacuum is that if it not filled with wise and good thinking, it will be filled with vacuous, enraged and/or depraved thought. You have been warned.

They asked for it?
Truth be told friends, we do live in a world where women and girls are exposed to hypersexuality, case in point Kim Kardashian, whose full frontal images on Paper Magazine ‘broke’ the internet this same week. The bloggersphere and instagram are packed with women exploring their bodies and sexuality, liberated by  information, the feminist movement and self empowerment. It’s a given that the current generation of women, mostly in westernised countries, feel they can express their own sexuality without criticism, yet the fact is that there’s always the extremes – women who over sexualise their image and/or wield their sexuality without maturity or responsibility. 

The result is a backlash against women’s sexuality, amongst men, and would you believe, it, amongst women as well. Slut shaming has becoming du jour, becoming an overused term as opponents and slut shamers themselves trade insults and throw labels over the fence. Conservatives – Christian, religious, agnostic alike – say “we’ve gone several standard deviations beyond the norm”, and it would be nice if we “let the pendulum swing back a bit” calling for “fashion (and life) choices can be defined as “respectful of others” and “decent.”

There is some wisdom here friends. “Everything in moderation” is a phrase I turn to frequently  to help guide my choices and whilst I’m not advocating a return to Victorian fashion, as a mum of a young baby girl, I’m uncomfortable with women oversharing their body parts for the world to see.  

But my argument here is not against the Kim Kardashians of this world. It’s against those who feel the need to ‘tell’ Kim what to do, and then further, if they were to meet her, strip and humiliate her for her choices however misguided they may be, and then to tell her they did it to help ‘control’ the urges of the men unable to ‘control’ themselves when seeing her naked body. 

As young girl in high school said, “I, as a teenage girl, am able to control myself when I see a boy in a loose tank top (which oftentimes slide, revealing nipple) and tight jeans and/or shorts, and can remain undistracted. However, because I’m a girl, this “control” is expected of me. Using the excuse that “boys will be boys” not only lends preference to them, but it teaches them that it’s acceptable for them to have no control– which feeds into rape culture, and the objectification and subjugation of women. If a boy wore his wrestling singlet, would he be ogled and objectified, possibly even grabbed and pinched? From what I’ve seen in my time, his attire would be viewed as “classic schoolboy antics” and might even be laughed at. Males in small amounts of clothing may be “distracting” but it probably wouldn’t be filed under something of a sexual nature. However, a girl in such a small amount of clothing would not be laughed at. It would not be “cute”. Even if it was a joke, it would be interpreted sexually. The issue I’m trying to get at is that everything a woman puts on her body ends up having sexual connotations, no matter its purpose. When the “distracting” label is applied to women, it almost automatically means that they are dressed too sexually, which not only reinforces this dehumanising mindset, it also contributes to shaming women about their sexuality in all aspects of life.”**

slut shame main

Tried and true misogyny?

The incident is one of many, growing in number across Kenya and Africa. The issue however is not limited to the continent. Violence against women is a global pandemic. Statistics show there’s a growing trend towards unsettling and intense misogyny worldwide that begs the question – why the hate towards women?

Consider femicide, which is the murder of women because they are women:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by an intimate partner.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India in 2007, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders.
  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
  • Honor killings, the murder of women for bringing shame to their families, happen all over the world, including the US.

What about slavery, which is what trafficking is?

  • Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • This number is on the low end. The U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 2.5 million people worldwide are victims, of which over half live in Asia Pacific.
  • Trafficking, in the form of the importation of female sex slaves and use of children as sex workers, is on the rise in the U.S. and internationally.

Still not outraged? Because if not, there are always euphemistically titled “harmful practices” — which are violent forms of torture and rape. For example:

  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting. Every year more than 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of the practice.
  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, another euphemism if I ever heard one, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
  • These numbers don’t include bride burning, suspicious dowry-related “suicides” and “accidental” deaths or other hateful acts.

Now we’re at plain old domestic and sexual violence:

  • Every nine seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.
  • Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
  • As many as one in four women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy, for example, which increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion.
  • Up to 53 percent of women in the world are physically abused by their intimate partners – defined as either being kicked or punched in the abdomen.
  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is so much fun to visit, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 per cent of cases.

According to the US Department of Justice, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. (overwhelmingly women). One out of every six American womenhas been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. That is almost 20 percent of our population and the US Justice Department acknowledges that rape is the most underreported crime in the nation.

Worldwide, the numbers are staggering for rape and sexual assault. Especially when you take a look at rape as a tactic and weapon of war. Millions of women (and children) have been raped as the result of the systemized weaponization of men to “dishonor” their enemies. Most recently, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo alone, more than 400,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented - a rate of 48 women an hour.

Getting tired, depressed? Almost done.

At the end of the spectrum is relatively “benign” harassment, including sexual harassment at work and street harassment:

  • Between 40 and 50 per cent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace. Sexual harassment and street harassment are symptoms of a much deeper problem made viscerally evident by the statistics above.
  • In the United States, 83 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools. . Worldwide between 87% and 98% of women surveyed report persistent, aggressive street harassment that alters the course of their day, their ability to earn a living, go to school, feel safe, achieve equality.

NO JUSTIFICATION

“As a woman, I can boldly say that we live in a society with scores of perverted men and most of the time, regardless of whether you are wearing a dress that runs all the way to your shoes or one that ends at your knees, it’s almost impossible to walk in some areas, especially downtown or in some suburbs within the city, without getting inappropriate remarks from men. Some will even go to the extremes of spanking /pinching your bottom or even brushing across your bosom. Dare confront the culprits and you will be hit by the harsh reality that you are fighting a losing battle as they will either hurl unprintable words towards you or even threaten to beat you up, all this as the ever curious Kenyan onlookers just stop to listen, see the drama and walk away. If such bold barbaric acts from egocentric men, who will violate women just to satisfy their egos, are entertained, then soon we will see girls and women getting raped under the ‘justification’ that they provoked it.”***

People, there is simply no justification for treating women like objects who require ‘controlling, policing, moralising and demeaning.’

Indeed, Kenya’s women have not taken the incident lying down. They’ve protested, and quite vigorously. They’ve appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene. An online petition  has been created at AVAAZ.ORG“We are concerned by the trend where citizens will find it allowable to strip naked women and go scot-free. We are disturbed that the gains made in ensuring equal right of women and men in this country are being trampled on by citizens who go unpunished. This is a high level of impunity that must be addressed,” reads part of the petition, which is to be delivered to Nairobi governor, Evans Kidero, Senator Mike Sonko and the OCPD Nairobi.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

The below advice comes from Soraya Chemaly, a writer for the Huffington Post.

“I refuse to believe that boys are born to grow up and hurt women and that girls and women are born to be victims. At the very least, we can all be more aware of the spectrum of violence against women, the subtlety of a culture that promulgates it, and its prevalence in the lives of all women. Don’t ignore it, don’t trivialize it and don’t let your representatives in government do it either. Whether you are a man or a woman, learn more about the Say No-Unite campaign to end violence against women. The web site includes a detailed list of actions for Individuals, Students and Teachers, Governments and Parliamentarians, Civil Society Organizations and Community Groups, Businesses and Corporations. There are also many organizations, far too many to list here, like Women for Women InternationalWe Are Equals and UNWomen, dedicated to everything from helping individual victims of violence to changing the culture. A simple search for resources at local, regional, national and international levels will yield a good list.

If you are a man and interested specifically in what you can do, there are many resources. For example, please take a look at Dr. Jackson Katz’s 10 Things Men Can Do to Prevent Gender Violence or Stanford University’s Men Against Abuse Now or Men Can Stop RapeThe on-campus Anti-Violence Project also has a great resource page, as does RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Web sites like The Good Men Project and A Call to Men are also committed to redefining masculinity in a way that doesn’t incorporate violence against women as a biological imperative.”

In Nairobi, The Kilimani Mums Facebook group will host a mini skirt protest at Uhuru Park on November 17 at 10am in support of the woman publicly stripped for ‘indecent’ dressing, and in objection to violence and sexual assault against women.

Kenyans are also expressing their disapproval of the act via #MyDressMyChoice on Twitter.

Not all men of course are raving misogynists. There’s an army of good men out there, I know. I’m married to one.

Infact men were the most vocal critics of the attack in Nairobi, as seen on Twitter and Facebook:

“On Monday, l shall join my wife, daughter and all the women who will do a peaceful procession,” Boniface Mwangi tweeted.

“Even if a woman is wearing next to nothing, no man has the moral ground to even lay a finger on her,” Anzaa Makena posted.

Christopher Kirwa wrote, “U support Embassava sick touts 4 stripping a woman? Wait till one day u see your mother, sister or daughter being stripped (sic).”

Tell it like it is, Christopher.

LET’S FIGHT THE DESCENT INTO BARBARISM

I know, as I wrap this up that there will be responses to this article about violence against men, about women who murder men or are the perpetrators of domestic abuse, about men who are raped when incarcerated or sexually abused by women. I know that these things happened and they are horrible and violent and dehumanising. That’s not the subject of this post.*****

This is the subject of this post: We need to fight against barbarism. We need to say NO as a society, NO against this descent into baseless beastliness. We need to prosecute the offenders and make it clear, by law, that attacking women for their choices is NOT acceptable.

However we can’t just leave it there. We need to educate our young men and women, giving them access to equal opportunities in our society. The fact is this behaviour, while inexcusable, is fuelled by frustration, disempowerment and anger – against corruption, injustice and a lack of opportunity within our society of which women become the battering ram. Young and mostly poor men, who feel powerless to make a difference, to educate, feed and empower themselves and with their lives out of their control, become fodder for violence and mob rage, whilst others are drawn to extremist thinking and moral policing.  Others, without sound leadership and teaching on how to respect others regardless of sex, become arrogant  and entitled to their ‘manhood’, believing women to be below them and therefore deserving of their misogyny.

There’s no overnight fix for this. There’s a ton of work to be done. And if we shirk our responsibility to educate our African societies and empower ourselves, we will be inviting great sorrow in years to come. Like Noam Chomsky said:

“We live in a society which is the most aggressive in the world, and we live under conditions of almost unparalleled freedom. We therefore have the opportunity to eradicate a good part of the illegitimate violence that plagues our lives and that is destroying the lives of many who are much less fortunate. I think we have no choice whatsoever but to take up the challenge. If we do not take up this challenge, we will help to bring about a very different state of affairs which was reportedly predicted by Einstein, who was once asked his opinion about the nature of a third world war and replied that he had nothing to say about that matter, but that he was quite certain that the fourth world war would be fought with clubs and stones.” ****

Africa, our problem in the future will be one of a clash of civilisations and if we don’t address, discuss and decide the moral issues before us now, they will be decided by war in the future.  Dramatic? Maybe. Far Fetched? Not so much.

_____________________________________

Sources:

http://thenational.net/politics/heres-need-common-sense-less-moral-police-kiss-love/2571/

**http://bottom-of-the-glass.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/decency-synonym-for-slut-shaming.html?m=1
***http://www.kenyaforum.net/2014/11/11/embassava-touts-should-face-the-law-for-stripping-woman-naked/

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/112100

****http://www.chomsky.info/debates/19671215.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/violence-against-women-is_1_b_1121001.html

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/03/19/religious-police-found-in-nearly-one-in-ten-countries-worldwide/

http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21570748-making-mockery-saudi-morality-police-whos-dinosaur

3 Responses

  1. mike

    Tre its was very bad and dirt I am a Kenyan but hate what my brothers in Kenya did the law is slow and even ministers like mrs Murugi who thretened to use stripping made striping be seen as fun instead of shame

    Reply
  2. robert wanga

    Well researched article. The recent events in Kenya are a shame to us collectively. Have we now dealt with all other issues leaving ample time to deliberate on what the ladies ought to wear? Shameful really…

    Reply

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