As I drove past the stretch of market traders at Ruai Shopping center on the outskirts of Nairobi, I wondered what the women traders in the market were discussing about Sharon Otieno, an expectant Rongo University student who was recently found dead under strange circumstances.
They had braved the hot, dry and dusty day in the market. They had defied the stereotypical image of a woman who stays at home waiting for the husband to bring food, clothing and raise school fees for the children. They had defied their counterparts who exchange amorous encounters for money. They were full of self determination and courage to resist the County officers who solicit for bribes and many times destroy their goods. They are determined to live, work and feed their offspring from their own sweat.
The Ruai women are a feminist of kind. They do not shed feminist crocodile tears. They do not fight for equality in the manner that elite women do. Elite women who have influence on the media have come out strongly to condemn the killing of an expectant university student in Western Kenya. They have decried this heinous crime and even called for demonstrations. The market women are discussing the issue while trading and invoking God to have mercy on their children who are pawns to rich men.
The elite women are shedding feminist crocodile tears because they have set the standard for what a modern woman should be. She should be dressed in designer label clothes and wear high heeled shoes and adorn expensive hair with coloured weaves. She should wear artificial nails, trim her eye lashes, use lipstick and perfume. She should make use of skin toning crèmes and complete the exercise with expensive jewellery, handbag and smart phone. They champion the idea of a beautiful woman from the West or one from soap operas.
The elite feminists have perpetuated a manner of consumerism that is fashioned like that of the men. If the men can club, why also not have a girls day out at the pub? If the men can have the forbidden fruit with people who are not their partners, why shouldn’t girls do the same? It is a show of modernity and liberation to do all the things that men do. It is for this reason that polygamy has been legitimized by a bill in parliament.
For young girls to be spared as society, we need to go beyond feminist crocodile tears and act. We need to evolve a brand of feminism that guards the dignity and wellbeing of women. It is time we held conversations about sexuality in our homes and communities. The idea of tolerating multiple sexual relationships with different women without divorcing needs to be interrogated and discouraged. We need to come out with clear rules and regulations on the dos and don’ts regarding matters of sexuality. This will help us clearly define national laws that will apply to all our ethnic communities regarding age of sexual encounter and multiple sexual partners.
The community also needs to evolve clear guidelines on the role of sex and sexual unions. Sex is based on mutual trust as opposed to fetching money and pleasing one gender over the other. Women should learn from the self determination and courage of the ‘mama mboga’ who wears a stern face as she goes about her duties on city streets.
Elite feminist celebrities are always shown on the news celebrating their latest rich catch. This trend setters need to be taken away from our everyday consumption lifestyles. Laws that address male sexuality should also be enacted not in rape but also in normal unions.
The killing of the young girl raises questions on the unity of women in Kenya. How come that it only women who hail from the victim’s home region who are agitated? Isn’t a crime committed against a woman in one place tantamount to abuse of women countrywide?
By Dr Mary Njeri Kinyanjui
Institute of Development Studies, The University of Nairobi.