The debate on gender and women’s rights in this 21st century seems to be an ongoing debate, which is not yet closed. However, what is more worrying is the fact that most of the literature on the above discourse seems to be more activist than scholarly as much as it ignores/masks the grounded truth and reality of our times. Whether this is by accident or by designs nobody really knows. The gender debate still remains an elite preserve, ring fenced with academic scholarship, whilst the reading on the ground indicates otherwise. Most of the sanitized versions that have surrounded the gender debate remain veiled under the velvet curtains. Ultimately much scholarship on this discourse has done little in trying to address and unpack the central and fundamental issues that affect the ‘ordinary woman’ either in the sprawling high density suburb of Mumbai or in the rural Masai area in Third World countries like Kenya.
However, our society seems to be in a transition as much as it is also entangled in ‘power struggles’ across gendered lines as the balance of power seems to be tilting from men to women. There seems to be a general understanding that women’s rights crusade is an idea whose time has come. However, what remain puzzling and mind boggling is the fact that some fundamental issues or debates are left closed as the society grapple with the issues of gender, feminism and women’s rights. This has been motivated by a host of factors ranging from culture, politics, religion, economics to name just but a few. The society now chooses to be silent on some other issues, whilst becoming vocal on other aspects. This then raises more questions than answers. There are hotly contested issues of paying bride price/dowry mostly in African societies. How justified is the fact that society still demand men to ‘pay’ to get a woman either through cash, cows, cars, plasma televisions and other hefty demands that are being charged by the bride’s parents.
The argument being that this custom is as old as humanity itself and is culturally embedded in our societies. However, the truth of the matter is that, all these payments will lead to gender based violence. Evidence is abound of communities were bride price has become a source of ‘conflict’ under the famous statement that I ‘bought you’. As much as the society trivializes and sweeps such statements under the carpet, this is a reality of our times that is unfortunately occurring just under the nose of feminist activists who are scattered like sheep across the globe.
Why does the society believe in ‘selling humankind’? Is love pronounced in paying huge sums of money to the bride’s family? One might be forgiven for arguing that what matters is the mutual trading of the heart between the two. Then, why does marriage come with a huge price to pay, with women being viewed as objects or gadgets to be traded? After paying such huge sums are the rural women in a position to exercise their conjugal rights? All your guesses are as good as mine. Do cows and Mercedes Benz and suits cement relationship between families, one will tend to wonder. And is the whole process of paying bride price democratic or it’s a give and take, where there is no room for collective bargaining, appeal or sentiments.
Marriage by Accident
We might argue and argue until chickens come home to roost, but many issues remain unaddressed in the contemporary gender debate. Indeed the ‘story’ of marriage is indeed a bad story with a bad ending in most societies, especially in the so called developing countries.Why?If people marry for the wrong reasons or are not able to justify or know the reasons why they marry or get married, the world then seems to be going nowhere. Many trivial and narrow justifications on why people marry seem to be gaining weight in the day. To African men, most of the times, the justification for marrying is to get a helping hand or to have children.
Whether this argument holds much water is a subject of debate that is ominously missing in the gender literature. Juxtaposing the African scenario with that in the so called ‘developed’ countries, we often see many marriages without children. This is mostly out of a conscious decision and not by biological default. So do people really marry so as to reproduce, that is to bear as many children as the proverbial sand in the sea?
Such arguments are problematic and misleading as much as they are simplistic, cold and frozen across time and space. Through extensive research on this subject, it emerged very clearly that the idea of marrying to have a helper seems to have a home in most societies. It has been argued that even biblically it is implicitly stated. However, be it as it may, the world seem to be divided on the reasons why marriages do happen. A worrying scenario is the fact that the rural women is then reduced into being and doing everything ranging from cooking, farming, care work etc. as she is said to have been married to help her husband’s family. Even under the raging monster of domestic violence, women defy all odds in their pursuit to stay put.
More often, we hear the phrase ‘I will stay for my ‘children’. This will then clearly reinforce the argument that the women got married for the sake of children. Is marriage therefore, an associational life, an institution to bear children, to have sex, happiness, companionship or to have a helping hand in the journey of life. As one tries to open the Pandora Box, it becomes very clear that women’s rights are being trampled upon due to many other factors that society has chosen to be silent about. Unfortunately these are the very issues that should be at the core and marrow of the gender debate.
The more we become silent about it, and the more we fear to tread on these areas, gender based violence will continue to bear its ugly head and permeate to the very core of our societies. It is because of all our failures to diagnose and interrogate the underlying issues beneath the politics of sex, gender and marriage, that we all stand guilt to be judged for failing to pursue the emancipation of the marginalized women to its logical conclusion. Is it because of their sex, that women should not express their love to men? Who said men are the only ones vested with the right to propose love to women? Why not the other way round? So shall women bottle their emotions and die inside just because of our culture (s).
If it is our culture that denies women their right to choose and the freedom to speak out their minds, great is the sin of our culture. The time is nigh to remove the veneer of tokenism in women’s emancipation, which we seem to have all touted much about, whilst doing nothing in the broadest sense of the stretch of the phrase itself. We seem all guilty also for camouflaging the real problems either through our feminism scholarship and movements!!!!! Let’s all come out of the comfort zones of elite gender conferences and identify with the real suffering woman in the remotest rural area! The time is now or Never….Let’s move from rhetoric to action.