There are several countries in the world where women are outright hated. We are seen as the source of disease, temptresses, evil witches and other lovely terms.
There are still more countries however where, women are not necessarily hated, just disregarded. Their thoughts, opinions and words are of less value to those of men. Their bodies are seen as objects for the taking, and their lives suitable only for child-bearing and husband-bearing.
Some will argue that this is just cultural, and that when women are treated poorly it is not “fair” to judge said treatment by Western standards. After all, its just culture, to shut women up, speak over them, ignore them, beat them and rape them.
While deep in my heart I remain an African, I am a born and bred Westerner in many ways. In Trinidad, women are formidable, loved and while under-estimated, I think we have still gone further than just being disregarded. Working in Africa, needless to say, with this Western background of mine, often makes for some fireworks and tough situations.
Recently, I was loudly berated by a group of men and one woman, for asking the question “Why”, in response to a problem we were trying to resolve at the office. Trying to be solution oriented, I was trying to get at what the problem was exactly, so we could fix it, and move on. Instead of being responded to courteously or even remotely professionally, I was literally ( figuratively) jumped on, by everyone around. Without going into the wonderful details, there was shouting, screaming, laughter and ridicule.
It became clear, that I wasn’t going to get a response, not because my question wasn’t valid, but because I was a woman. And a young, foreign woman at that, who shouldn’t dare to even speak.
This became especially clear, when later on, an older man came in and asked the same question and he was responded to very clearly, with an actually sensible answer.
The experience got me to thinking, well, maybe I just need to develop my shouting voice. Or maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut as per my usual policy. But mostly, wow, I just experienced what women here are brainwashed into accepting from their childhoods and I’m not quite sure how to swallow it.
In misogynistic cultures like Congo, it is often not just the outright violence and battery that breaks women down and keeps them there, but rather, it is the consistent shutting up, disregard and disdain that soon has them believing lies about themselves, that they are not worth anything, that their thoughts are worthless and that the correct response to anything a man has to say to them, is to smile coyly and keep their eyes averted, even if what is being said is unacceptable and intolerable by most standards.
This culture, this oppression, is perhaps the most difficult thing to witness in the DRC. More so even than many of the other atrocities that take place here, because the oppression, the maltreatment, the psychological slavery, is so pervasive and all-encompassing that it is accepted unquestioningly as culture.
To what extent do we accept and try to preserve cultural practices, without ever questioning whether it is in fact a matter of history and culture, or the tragic outcome of centuries-long brutality, a legacy of skewed gender roles and the acceptance of such.