Sunday, January 18, 2015

We learn to read so that we can appreciate many things... Help save the World Museum in Vienna

At a time when the world is closing up in 

many ways despite the global perception

Don't allow Vienna to close its World 

Museum. Sign below


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Attacks on writers stand condemned! In solidarity with France and Yemen ...attacked today, 07/01/2014 and Always!

We understand killings, intimidations and disappearing people to be serious affronts on Freedom of Expression. We of the PEN family say: "No to all injustice!"

The pen is no longer a s ... word
It's a G word... tutututu!
Work by Fadi Abou Hassan Protesting
Paris and Yemen killings today!
I salute you!
I need this too+Fadi Abou Hassan +Al-Amin Kimathi +Abdulrahman Wandati 

Helmuth A. Niederle, President of PEN Austria said: So far, all attempts to limit the freedom of opinion in the history of mankind, failed miserably. Certainly many who have expressed their opinions were murdered, but the idea and the dream of freedom has survived. The assassins are largely forgotten or merely a footnote in history. Those fundamentalists calling themselves muslim will not end differently. They will disappear and their descendants will be ashamed of the committed crimes, and the dream of freedom will continue to rise over the killer with their bloody hands.
What happened today in Paris, tomorrow may also take place in another city. But as always it happens: It is a crime against humanity.

Helmuth A. Niederle, Präsident PEN Austria: Bisher sind alle Versuche, die es in der Geschichte der Menschheit gab, die Freiheit der Meinung einzuschränken, jämmerlich gescheitert. Gewiss viele, die ihre Meinung gesagt haben, wurden ermordet, doch der Gedanke und der Traum der Freiheit hat überlebt. Die Attentäter sind weitgehend vergessen oder bloß eine Fußnote in der Geschichte. Den sich selbst muslim nennenden Fundamentalisten wird es nicht anders ergehen: Sie werden verschwinden und ihre Nachfahren werden sich für die begangenenTaten schämen. Und der Traum der Freiheit wird weiterhin über die Mörder mit den blutigen Händen stehen.
Was heute in Paris geschah, mag morgen auch in einer anderen Stadt stattfinden. Doch wie immer es passiert: Es ist ein Verbrechen wider die  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

No to mediocrity: Yes to creative leadership! Inspired by Slovenian Danica Purg

A little about Prof. Danica Purg's interview.
Twice I have left for Slovenia from Austria, by car and by train and loved it more than thrice. I loved the journey to Bled and the other, by train to Lubjlijana. I was enriched. I have the impression that I learned more than I expected. But some days have passed since that happened. These reflections have been tucked away as I moved back and forth with my pen. The feeling is still there. Speaks volumes about value of the time there!

Prof. Danica Purg. Photo by Helmuth A. Niederle
What is it about November 2014, why was it not September? Just to say that this article has its own lifespan behaving in its own way for its own reasons. For it could have appeared earlier and in Nairobi.
It didn't.

I did not lose it. I was impressed by Danica Purg when she gave a keynote address to PEN members at The Bled School of Management. Creative leadership. Art. Finding out where management meets art. PEN members were there to attend the annual PEN Peace Committee meeting. Did we take all that we could have from the able speaker, achiever Danica?

I thought we lost a chance to learn more and went back knocking at her door for an interview, just to find that she was going to visit Nairobi, Kenya. That was fun! 

My smooth drive from Vienna, through calm areas that long forgot, or did they, the guns of World War 1 and II paid off. In such moments when the drive smoothly moves on, I remember the uncertainty of roads I have been on in many places. I also feel that so much better is possible. There are bright stars all around us, not only in the sky.

            Conversation with Danica Purg 

We dream good and positive results.  In management and business, we want to find meaning in our roles, big or small. 

Danica Purg, from Slovenia is driven by one such dream. The results has been the creation of The Bled School of  Business Management. 

Danica was the President of a meeting of  African Business Schools in Nairobi, under CEEMAN, an association of business schools. 

Danica Purg emphasizes more on arts as  "means to develop more  creative and innovative leaders." The world is hungry for leadership. I met Danica in Bled, Slovenia  at a creative writers' meeting.

She gave the keynote address at the 43rd Writers Annual Writers for Peace Committee, PEN International opened in the peaceful city of Bled. She offers imaginative management as one way out of the world's problems.

The keynote address by Danica was an eye-opener. She would later say that she enjoyed listening to writers so much and was so pleased that they were having their conference in the School whose doors were open to the power of creativity. 

In 'Artful Leadership' edited by Dr. Ian Sutherland and Arnold Walvarens write-ups on creativity address all levels. 'How to get the most from our creative (un) consciousness) is one of them. The main question is the relationship between creativity and innovation, lessons from the arts.

But there is nothing interesting without people that move and act on ideas. Listening to Danica this is obvious. Creativity in business bring in a following. Artists touch the whole scheme of things. She refers to Franca Tiberto's of the Swiss Italian PEN Centre. Franca appealed to writers engage the hearts of their readers deeply. 

Interested in hearing more on creativity and art as leadership I follow her up to find out more. Upon securing an interview time amidst so much, I wanted to know what inspired her to work so hard to make this fine place from which many countries have benefitted.  We were still laughing and exchanging comments about how writers forget their visiting cards -  Internet has not made these redundant- when she began to explain.

"I am inspired by people like you, those who are interested in how things work. I am inspired by people who are thinking broader than their own profession." "My inspiration is sustained by the fact that I am doing something good for my society. My work has meaning." Danica is  focused and her skirt suit matches her moves and as does her closely cropped auburn hair.

"Seeing that writers were keen to come here was a compliment to me. It was bigger than any Financial Times ranking because the rankings are looking to distinguish one between many, some form of unification and we are searching for distinction. One can rank only some things, among them is not uniqueness." 

Danica shares an anecdote about one of her role models whose picture hangs in her office. She invited  Austrian Professor Peter Ferdinand Drucker who invented Management by Objectives back in the fifties  to give a lecture in the Bled School of Management. Drucker answered he could not travel due to old age but would be delighted to give it on satellite and he did. Danica goes on to explain that business schools in these times of immediacy in communication and constant change need to educate people to be different. 

I ask her what her vision is. "I saw that if you want to create change you have to create emotional engagement. We need another type of education. In the 29 years I have worked in this field I have seen many sorts of people. I have seen managers who can never stop, never reflect in their search for more achievement and how that destroys results or even vision."  Good managers have to be observant also of the details outside and around them. To listen to themselves and to others. Engagement also leads to good listening. 

Art she says helps us not to just feel better, and now she refers mainly to music, but also to be better. She refers to how an orchestra works. Everyone has to play their part for it to succeed. The conductor has to draw out the best from everyone. In all music there is conflict and harmony and this is a lesson in change management, she says. She says in these days of fast living, we have to learn from other music including jazz.

She speaks about emotions. They are key in the development of change. They have to be touched before people can change. She emphasizes on these sense: touch, sight and hearing. She speaks about how these help us to feel more and help more. They all have to be used more. She is a friend of visual arts and here she refers to the Colombian artist, Botero, the master of fat figures. 

Botero paints huge rounded figures. She explains how Botero would leave a small spot on his figures, something that only the observant could see. Sometimes it was a little beauty spot. This showed he also had a feeling for the small. She explains how Botero's painting The Dog, does not have the dog as the main feature but is so hidden that it is hard for anyone to find it. She explains about the power of small details. This illustrates how observant a manager has to be.

Danica goes on to explain that looking at his paintings and others inspires her but not for only because of seeing the whole picture but finding the little hidden thing. She points to the small almost invisible small boats in a painting in her office. One might think that they are only specks. Like the little dog in the painting of Botero that one may never find, they could be overlooked, but they are the complete picture. You suddenly see clearly how that applies to leadership. It definitely is about feeling, hearing, seeing the unseen people and the roles they play for the whole to function.

She is certain that we need an education that helps us to appreciate this. Regarding managers she meets who do not believe much in creativity, Danica says, one can only try through a creative environment to help them see the importance of it. This cannot be forced. 

Her experience with each intake is that normally believe in artful leadership from the start. A quarter of them get to embrace the concept as they see it work during their learning. She adds that the other quarter does not normally manage to grasp this and remain very skeptical. Many means are used to train managers on artful leadership and that includes the environment.

Eventually she says many of them comment after a boat ride out in the lake that as they went along listening to music suddenly they were  more open to art. Music is used because it does not normally require a language for it to be enjoyed, especially classical music. It appeals to all senses and fires the imagination. 

One has to answer the question of how they feel as they listen to the music. After sometime, one recognizes a pattern of change. Often she has heard "I shall never again listen to music in the same way," after the experience. Once the pattern of change is recognized as in the music the magic of leadership begins, she says. 

In her international business school there are alumni from all over the world. She names Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt.  She refers to the inspiration she got and gets from writings. One has to move and also to keep up with the times. 

There are many people who are limited by conservative ways of doing things and surprisingly, this includes organizations of creative people which can also become anachronistic. She looked forward to working with PEN on creative leadership. I had expected more from her than the keynote speech and this prompted a return for this interview.


Train ride from Lubljana: Photo by Philo Ikonya, May 2014Short bio of Prof. Danica Purg
Professor Danica Purg is the President of the IEDC-Bled School of Management, Slovenia, and the President of CEEMAN, the association of 219 management development institutions from 54 countries, established with the aim to enhance management development in Central and Eastern Europe. She is also leading the European Leadership Centre (ELC).

Prof. Purg is professor of leadership and effective management at the IEDC-Bled School of Management. Her special field of interest is looking for inspirations for managers from art and other professions. In 2010 prof. Purg received the 2010 Educator of the Year Award by the Academy of International Business (AIB) for her outstanding achievements in international business education. In 2013 Prof. Danica Purg was nominated Chair of PRME (Principles of Responsible Management Education) Steering Committee, the initiative started by UN Global Compact. Prof. Purg is also member of several international advisory boards of well-known business schools, member of European Cultural Parliament (ECP) and President of UN Global Compact Slovenia.

She authored and co-authored several books and numerous articles on leadership issues. In 2004 she edited and jointly wrote with professors Lynn Isabella, Pierre Casse, Paul Claudel and Arnold Walravens the book Leaders and Teams – The Winning Partnership. In 2013 Prof. Purg was the editor of the book Hidden Champions in CEE and Turkey; Carving out a Global Niche (Springer, 2013). She is a frequent guest speaker at European and American universities and international conferences.

Prof. Purg is Fellow of Academy of International Business (AIB), fellow of the International Academy of Management (IAM), Doctor Honoris Causa at Moscow State University of Management, Estonian Business School and MESI - Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics and IT, and honorary professor at Moscow International Higher Business School (MIRBIS). President of the Republic of Slovenia awarded her with the “Honorary Order of Freedom” for her contribution to management development in Slovenia and CEE. By the American Chamber of Commerce Prof. Purg was chosen for a business leader role model of young professionals.

After graduating from the Faculty of Political Science in Ljubljana, she completed her Ph.D. at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade, and extensively studied at Harvard Business School, IMD Lausanne, INSEAD Fontainebleau, Technological University Delft, London University, Sorbonne and at Kalamazoo College, Michigan.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Virtual PEN reads 23 + 23 = 1

Sarita Jenamani lives in Austria and is born in Oriya in
the Indian Union
        23 + 23 =1

   Yes, this refers to the 46 chromosomes in one cell.  In the context of the book, the cell is the cell of memory. "It is individuals, persons who make friendships and contacts and not States," write editors Harald Kollegger and Helmuth A. Niederle in an introductory essay.

Sarita Jenemani is a poet. She has written poems and the article below on  Pen International Women Writers Committee. She is also a contributor to 23 + 23 = 1 published by PEN Austria. The publication was launched on 
 5 March 2014.

Authors were asked to pick an author from a country different from their own and respond. Sarita writes on Benares by Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges. Sarita was born in India.
Sarita Jenemani responds to Jorge Luis Borges
Sarita is keen on the growth of the more women participation in the cell of the memory of world history and writing. Recently shared the story of women writers committee in Vienna where she lives and the structure of one of the world's strongest writer's group: Pen International Women Writers Committee.

Women Writers Committee and Austrian PEN


Sarita Jenemani 

The PEN International Women Writers Committee (PIWWC) currently chaired by Ekbal Baraka of Egypt is one of PEN International's committees. The others are Writers in Prison Committee, Marian Bratsford, Canada, The Linguistics and Translations Committee, Terry Cabras, Spain, and the Peace Committee which meets has a long history of meeting annually in Bled in Slovenia and is currently headed by Tone Persak of Slovenia.

The PIWWC, it is the only PEN Committee that has maintained tradition of being coordinated from different regions of Europe. This means that it is well represented all over the world.

In  The Women Writers Committee was voted into existence at PEN's General Assembly in Vienna in November of 1991. Meredith Tax of American PEN Center served as its first chair. Especially around the time of its inception in 1991, a number of new PEN centers were created through the direct efforts of members of the Women Writers Committee.  The Women Writers Committee (WWC) is being represented in new centers and in the development of new centers. In the years since the creation of the PIWWC, the profile of women within PEN International has been risen markedly.

The WWC continues to support diversity. Frequently women speak through interpreters in Committee meetings, giving the first access to participation by these delegates. The WWC has given a chance to build confidence to these and other delegates who have later been heard in other committees and the General Assembly. Like all the other committees in PEN International, the PIWWC meets every year at the PEN International World Congress. During the period of 1995 to 2007 it has hold regional conferences around the globe. ‘Our voice’, a series of four anthologies were collected and printed by hand by Biblioteca de Textos Universitarios in Salta, Argentina during the period of 2001 to 2008. This was helpful for writers from countries with very weak and discriminatory publishing industries; but in fact it included also submissions from writers of every region including writers with many successful publications.

Following the PEN Congress in Belgrade in 2011, a special section of the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee's website Diversity was opened for writers of the PIWWC in order writers to know each other through their work.

Apart from the above mentioned activities, WWC has never forgotten the core value of PEN. Since its creation the WWC has written appeals on behalf of every case of imprisonment, threat, murder or other provocation that has come to its attention, from Nawa Al Saadawi to Pussy riot.   PEN Austria, the birth place of WWC also constantly worked for the cause of women authors raises its voice against the odds that women and women writers face day by day. Advocating girls' right to education and women’ martyrdom for freedom of opinion PEN Austria dedicated international Women'
s' Day 2013 to support Malala Yusufzai, the young Pakistani blogger from swat valley who was shot by Taliban for her fearless appeal for education to all girls in the valley. President of the P.E.N. Club Austria, Helmuth A. Niederle and well known Kenyan author Philo Ikonya, launched P.E.N. Club Austria's initiative “Time to say No!”. There are many other writers who have involved themselves in speaking up and registering their protest against the cruel attack on Malala. The project dedicates itself to the right to education, an universal human right that fosters and guarantees democracy founded on constitutional legality. This is independent of and not based on or limited by gender.

Time to say No!  This call has received overwhelming response from writers from round the globe in as many as ?? languages.  It is a landmark project of PEN Austria’s campaign for women's right for education. On 7th of March 2013 the work was presented in an press club of Vienna and covered by major print media, electronic media as well as social media making a roaring resonance.

Later, in the year 2013, PEN Austria again raised its voice against the violent clashes between police and opponents of the Islamic-conservative government of Turkey. The response to this call has also been published in the form of a book that comprises poems, proses and letters.  PEN Austria has always reacted quickly and vehemently to the violations of women’s’ as well as against the general human rights.

PEN Austria is duly represented by women in its body that actively respond to the situation that seeks to put curb on human rights. In 2013 Austrian capital Vienna has witnessed a violent deportation of Asylum seekers to their endangered land. Austrian PEN extended its support for the staying right of these distressed asylum seekers on humanitarian ground. PEN board member Ms. Susanne Dobesch and Dorothea Nürnberg addressed this issue in form of a book depicting its diverse aspects.

Whether it is standing for the cause of violation of women writers or providing women a platform to present their opinions and voices, PEN Austria has always raised to occasion. Furthermore, it is constantly cooperating with the like-minded organizations to work together for the rights of women as well as women writers.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Luisa Futoransky´s galaxy: Women's future is present in past

At the reception of the Club Concordia in Vienna the warm and friendly tones of writers chatting fill the air. The little bar is open and coffee is the more popular order as this is mid - morning.

The service is excellent today on 6th March 2014 when they are here to celebrate International Women´s Day before the actual day dawns.
Dorothea Macheiner

As in every year, Austria PEN has made a considerable effort to celebrate women in their own words and presence. 

It is an earth shaking collection of voices they have. Susanne Dobesch, the Secretary General of PEN Austria steers the course introducing all the speakers. In 2013 she wrote this essay "I am Malala" for the launch of Time to Say: No!

This year, Helmuth Niederle, PEN Austria President has edited Macheiner´s novels published by Løcker who display books by various authors. She had already welcomed us in the early morning and asked a few of us to present. I presented "Women as Constitution: The relevant rage" 

There is a day long symposium and the theme is Mulieris Mundi, Women of the World.  

In Vienna the home of many conventions as varied as the Ozone layer, Multilingual extracts and Diplomacy as well as Road Signs is where in 1991 the Women Committee of PEN International formally became a a PEN standing Committee. The idea was mooted in New York in 1986. 
Ishraga Hamid
Among the guests is an international panel consisting Dorothea Macheiner  (Austria)  Diana Raznovich, Ishraga Hamid, Erna Pfeiffer (Austria) , Etela Farkašová  á and Philo Ikonya (Kenya/Norway). 

In 2014, PEN Austria is announcing a new publication: Black Orphea which will be launched in June and which has joined the title of this blog. Two novels by Dorothea Macheiner are launched today. Ishraga´s I am a black Austrian as well as Philo Ikonya´s Invincible Nubia; Adios Lampedusa, will also be launched in June. 

I move around happy to have stirred the rage. It is noticeable for me that a new energy has come into the space. Well, I see a strong woman and I hear her voice. 

I am drawn to listen and introduced to Luisa Futoransky who has just arrived. I can see that she is in her element. Suddenly only the two of us are talking as happens when people are on a break and taking a bite. The other two leave us and are meeting more people. Luisa asks me where I come from. I answer her. To my surprise she begins to talk about Afrika using the pronoun "We". "Well, we got independence but remained in colonial ..." 

She trails off in my mind as I am struck by that fact. I might have been distracted but I have never heard someone who is not from Afrika include herself in a dialogue about Afrika. The "We"  inclusion struck me. I listened and then there was silence. Poetic silence. Maybe then I heard her words from the poet below in Spanish the last few lines of which I translate roughly: 

Recurring rhyme

It hums
it hits the chest
tells of ballads
goodbyes and unions
the maritime walk
bats fly by buzzing
not angels
Who will tell me that 
I do not want to see myself 
in The Shout of Munch ?
To exist passion needs a witness
a passerby
a cannibal
the weapon of autumn is
the uproar of clarity

Munch- The Shout
Rima reincidente
se golpea el pecho
relata baladas
adioses y fusiones
el paseo marítimo
los acordes
los murciélagos pasan rasantes,
no los ángeles.
¿Quién me referirá que no quiero verme
en "el grito" de Munch?
Para existir la pasión exige un testigo
un pasante
la caníbal

arma de otoño es
la estrepitosa lucidez

Later I read her article among many others in the UNESCO Courier and saw that she is always walking in the "We" of women and the world. I am inspired. The "Stars in her personal galaxy" are many women some of whom we have not heard of much. But continents are also in there of course. Women break all sorts of barriers. Society needs them at the helm. The world does. The earth too. 

It is wonderful to see in this "We" something I always dream of. If we who know hardship, rejection and love and exiles of many forms could use the love part to hold hands even if in words the world would change. That discrimination might lead to more solidarity is a dream. That those who experience it might annul other forms of discrimination of any one. With our imagiNATION we can change much.

Here is a woman who has created her universe of thought and is sharing it with voices that were not amplified enough in their time. So that I can say as a Namibian proverb I like quoting goes: The future is behind us the past in front. How does one who has learned to see the future in the past behave? Well this is key for all of us. For there is a tendency to think of the women today and to measure much according to the ones we know only. 

But now in the present, Luisa is pensive. Maybe she is thinking about South Sudan right now. The Central African Republic, Egypt, Tunisia and Nigeria. I have told her I come from Kenya and she looks intensely. Well, we are here about women and in no land can we say women are where they ought to be, and later I hear her speak about FGM quoting the work of Waris Dirie.

And she has known many lands. This has taught her to break stereotypes. Luisa was born in Argentina but left her land in 1976 before the military junta took control. She has lived in the USA, China, Japan and Italy in a span of seven years, before settling in Paris. On this journey of her life she learned to get sustenance from other women´s lives. She sings them still. A hummingbird. Here is an interview ´the itinerary of a hummingbird´

She can list so many but on this day she spoke about Else Lasker- Schüler described as a foreigner in her own land and Janet Frame.
You can read the full story in the Courier link above.

It was moving to hear Futoransky talks about these women. And yes, straight to the breaking of stereotypical ways of looking at women. So many will think they must be either this way or that.
Well, she describes Else in the Courier as " A mix of contrasting characteristic - surrender and arrogance, rebellion and submission". Else was passionately committed to her poetry.

Amazing to hear about how Else overcame so many contradictions and her successes at last. Rejected during the Nazi period and then today having Germany, where she was born and Israel, where she was buried, "each claiming that she is their national poet!" Frame received many awards and was nominated many times for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Very deeply moving is the story of Janet Frame. To cope with rejection and tragic circumstances, to attempt suicide and to find support to live as an author from Frank Sargeson who helped her travel and write is a long journey. Mental illness and stigma to overcome as well as the tedious search for the real diagnosis. Is it schizophrenia or something else? 

Janet was helped in that by Alan Miller a doctor. But she had suffered many electronic shocks for treatment and her internment was to her prison.

What a journey in writing and fighting for Janet Frame. All those obstacles overcome. And yet when she was recognized with awards, she did not forget the women who were also struggling by her side.

A humble background and her two sisters drowning and an epileptic brother. What an amazing sister of Clotel! And what a feeling of being in touch with this galaxy through Luisa Futoransky. A chance to hear many hummingbirds. This reminds me of late Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace Prize winner. "I will be a hummingbird," She said.

Luisa Futoransky was born in Buenos Aires in 1939. She is a poet, journalist, essayist and translator. She is the author of The Duration of the Voyage (Editorial Junction Press, San Diego, USA; 1997). She has written three novels, more than eight poetry books and two book length essay books. Her works have been translated into English, German and French. She lives in Paris. She has received prestigious awards such as French Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and a Grant from the Guggenheim Foundation.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Time to Say:NO! Gang rape prescribed for punishment is not even medieval! It is inhuman!

A Village Council sentenced a girl to gang rape in West Bengal

(Apologies it was not Bangladesh as earlier reported here) Also note that in the link the word 'alleged' is used. We have no source of authentication but we know these things do happen. 

Her case did not get deep media attention and so some have wondered if it is for real.

 In many Village Councils there are no women. When women became chiefs in some villages, rape was punished more severely. It was so in Ndumberi, Kiambu in Kenya. Is a world in which decisions on crimes affecting women a moral world?

Time to say: No! to this village council and a No! from all over the world. For this is lack of wisdom.
A woman and a man love. They are both tied to trees in punishment. Her family, whose parents are exposed to this humiliation are not able to pay the fine for the punishment and she is given to another kind of death. Gang rape in punishment.

Clotel's Sisters join Taslima Nasreen is saying No!

Sheer shock is what one experiences upon hearing the news.
There is no use wishing it is not true. It is. A woman has been sentenced to gang rape in Bangladesh. Why would anyone make up such a story if not true?

Past stories about women caught up in very unjust situations fade into insignificance. How did it happen that not even one person, one man failed to see that this could not be and stand up against such a punishment? 

It beats the mind. A man was disgusted and asked, why would one want or wish to see even their semen mix with other or those organs? How bad can it get?

So stories heard before about punishing women literally fail us. Might there be so many other unreported cases? What if? Will the responsible media follow up this story and find out more. 

Will laws in defence of women and girls, and that is guarding society, be implemented without more pressure? And international pressure at that, for sometimes the lone voice drowned in an environment in which people hear no one else just does not work.

Long struggles

For women have fought for ages even where it is assumed they were silent. 

 Editing Black Orphea- an anthology that is soon to be published-
we read a letter against Female Genital Mutilation written on 25th December 1931. 

The letter from Ngo ya Tuiritu, which means The Girls' Shield is in the volume Women Writing Africa, Eastern Africa a publication of The Feminist Press in New York. It addressed to the Local Native Council South Nyeri is written in Kikuyu. It is a letter opposing Female Genital Mutilation.

It contains the reasons why. 

1. " ...we get astonished because they (men) do not give birth and feel the pain and even some die and others become infertile, and the main cause is circumcision.

2. Because the main cause of the issue of circumcision should not be forced. People caught like sheep; one should be allowed to cut her won way of either agreeing to be circumcised or not without being dictated on one's body. (Kenya now outlaws FGM by law but that is not to say it is not practised)...

6. Now, what we ask from the government, because Gikuyu men have more power than women, is that women be assisted in their complaints by the government to avoid further suppression.
                                                                            The letter was translated by Joseph Kariuki Muriithi

Without protection, the knife would have been turned to a girl who refused to be cut in a film with the condition that she would not be circumcised. The film SAFA is on the life of Waris Dirie of the Desert Flower Foundation in Vienna is well known.  

So far the actor-girl who plays Waris has been protected. And yet, not without some pressure from some even if she acted in a film in which she rejected the cut. 

It is noted that the usual pressure did come up from her grandmother in the past. What does this tell us? This is a terrible custom that not only refuses to die even hard but also resurrects in many communities. Scientists are yet to work out why this happens. This Foundation is based in Vienna. 

In the meantime the government of Norway and other EU countries are spending much money helping women who got cut under this custom to get surgical surgery for restoration. 

These women, mainly from Eritrea and Somalia, do this only if they have support from their families as NRK radio reported last week. And this support is not always given because this custom has very strong guardians in different communities. So powerful are they that it is alive and kicking also in the Central part of Kenya where women started fighting it as early as 1928. 

Although a different topic deserving more space, for Clotel´s Sisters, there is a direct correlation between this custom and male dominance in political positions. Recent comments from some powers in Central Kenya, again used as an example, are supported by many people. This is an advanced place, where single mothers are supposed to walk with their heads down. s

There is always a reason for putting women down and even if FGM culture cheats women that after the cut they become powerful, to the deep individual psyche, it says: Hate the dearest part of you, hate pleasure. For the clitoris is cut to reduce female feelings and stop her apparently from going to other men. The contradiction is that it is men who have insisted in having many wives now and in the past. 

The persistence of FGM and very degrading comments on women sometimes making headlines, reminds me of a grass that used to invade our land and which my Mother was always uprooting. Every time she dug really deep and got the latest shoots out but when we came back to the land, the grass was always back. In time, however, she conquered. 

It is time that women got over and done with this so that sights can be set on other issues. Yes, cultures sometimes do change almost overnight. It depends on the moral authority of those who call for the change. In this case, such a person or spirit lacks.

Or should we say that the many people who speak out about this speak out now and again and are not supported constantly enough by both the media and the political powers and so, it becomes an issue to cover from time to time especially on International Women´s Day. Of course we know this also calls not just for big voices but persistent grassroots work. And there are many women at work to even help girls physically escape from homes that are about to have them mutilated. They are taken to school. It is information on such that is not often heard too.

I dream about the disappearance of this custom in Asia and in Africa as well as other major world cities where immigrants cut their own. One day, gone! Yes, gone! It is not impossible. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Where silence reigns supreme: No First Lady ever told us she was raped, No....

Oprah Winfrey and many other celebs spoke out.
Rape is not confined to the poor, the weak and voiceless. It should never be without voices of the powerful. It cannot be handled by them alone. In our times we let it be that way. Does this matter? Would their voices make a difference? Going public is not all that it takes. It is the truth about what is said.

In the post-poll violence of Kenya in 2007/08, many women were raped. Some of them contracted the HIV/Virus. I was once in the company of nine women from Garissa area who were raped as they looked for firewood. 

They were elderly women with their daughters. They went public and came to Nairobi to speak to media as then social media was not that active. We were proud of them. Their voices mattered as those of women raped at any time. 

In 1991 when a Chicago Tribune writer was asking why celebrities were going public on rape and other forms of abuse, the emphasis was not on rape but on the celebrity. Too bad. But the main thing about the article is that it dwells on the liberation of one and many others that follows such disclosure.
Maya Angelou, renowned poet
No one can fail to notice something. Going by examples of persons like Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, speaking out should help shake our foundations and build our society giving it some dignity.

Besides it beats every rapists haven. "Don't tell anybody! Never open your mouth about this!" Even when they do not say it, they live in the hope that this will never be spoken about. And if it happens in the family, they in silence keep all silent. 

Rapists are not strange mad guys without a face or tradition. Most of them have not done it once or twice. They get a way with it. Rape is not confined to a lost village somewhere in the unknown regions of your country.

If there is any speaking, it is in hushed tones and not allowed to go beyond the walls. So a rapists first defeat is to hear that the person they raped speaking. It is too see Liz* taken out of the pit and surrounded by the world that is asking questions. To hear that the Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr Willy Mutunga, spoke out about this case. That it took such power to deal with it.

I wish some more people with big possibilities could also engage for such cases, even if they were not raped themselves for it is the duty of all. And they should play their part. 

Rape is now continuously discussed in he context of a case in the general discourse. We bring it out more often when a person who has been raped is not found between linen sheets.  Whiteness reigns in those beds. Families keep mum in the middle classes.  We fight more when a case is publicised and this helps. But perhaps we need more honesty. Rape persists and the impunity that goes with it. We are not hearing enough voices of the perpetrators even in lands where they are rehabilitated, telling us why they went that way and why they would train others never to do that.

Faceless we lose. The caged bird dies. Silent we are buried. Where are the voices of the powerful who rape? Who are raped? Will any president stand up? First Lady?

It appears that rape always happens to the unknown, the helpless. This is one of the terrible mistakes we make. That means that rape easily become faceless because we have to create a face for it each time it happens but almost just as often actually, destroy the face after the case is over.

We make cases. And these are important. I know we are in the Sixteen Days of Activism but what are we not doing right? We have been here before. Back and forth. It is 2013, 2015 is round the corner. We said we shall deliver by 2015. Where is the invigoration of movements against violence happening? I have not felt it in Norway. And they tell me daily in the news that violence is taking root here, theft. But both theft and rape are treated as waves that come and go. To fight rape permanent faces, living faces, signs and all are required. If not we create face that come and go, becoming masks of the past. I have never seen this sign anywhere else except in Nairobi where CREAW, pioneered it.

Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images
 Rape continues. People in positions of power and influence are too comfortable to come out on rape. Power must speak truth. Women should never be disempowered when they tell their story. Telling is part of winning. Speaking it out from the point of view of a survivor.

The alternative cannot be that women have to run away from villages, cities and countries. The torture of women such as Liz is painfully eloquent yet. Sixteen- year- old Liz was raped and dumped into a pit latrine by six men in Kenya. There was an uproar, a demonstration and yet... I know.

I know that we buried many little girls before. Defiled and killed. I write about their "tottering little steps".  They could not speak for themselves.  There are many for whom the silence is large and it looms ever larger. Nothing can liberate us from abuse if we do not speak our truth, speak it out. This is not negotiable. It is basic. 

In Kenya, we have also fallen prey to regionalising sexual crimes. I know that in some areas statistics can point to increased levels. We point at that country, that region in that country and so on. The bad news is that sexual abuse is not a problem of some areas or certain groups of people. And the violence that comes with it can be ugly and in large dimensions in any place in the world. 

Every time we hear about one case in a country seen as developed, we take it that this is the odd thing. Yet sociologists tell us all the time that most rape happens in the families and on very familiar ground.

It is just that no powerful men speak out and say: I rape. No First Lady, nor other powerful women say: I was raped. We are grateful to a few media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and poet Maya Angelou for their voices. Their example has influenced and healed many.

Speaking out is not just voicing. It depends on if one is talking about immediate or abuse as a child. It requires some orientation and help at time. The problem is, a girl such as Liz is hit with something terrible that she cannot handle alone. 

From being a happy and free girl, she was turned into someone who would or should fear to face people and speak out. It was wonderful that she got support. She needs help. She needs to know and feel that many people, the world is angry about her rape. 

There are people who take speaking out lightly. It can be cheapened but even so we must find ingenious ways of telling our stories so that they help make a difference. Listening deeply to these stories is vital. 

People are not encouraged to go public if raped. We love stigma issues, secrecy gone wrong. I found on the web a woman whose conscience was tormenting her to go public. She wanted to so badly but then she knew that this could lead to the loss of her job in the United Nations. This is was a tornado  in my direction. 

I return to the point and say that no politician (usually they are male) does speak out on this, unless he is hounded down at the level of accusation and then does his best to avoid the issue completely. No persons of repute have gone there easily, not even those who teach us that it is important to confess our sins. Priests and pastors. 

But this is not only confined to individuals. Powerful societies suddenly stand up as the most pure and they who can never be so base in the world. So that three years ago shocking as it was, the revelations of abuse  in the Catholic Church astounded us.

Can we stop it? Where should this be loudest? Can we really make people suffer more by inventing discrimination against those who speak out on rape today? That a person cannot dare say: I was raped because their payslip will go? That is a new rape.

Levels of violence may differ, but where has there not been rape? Churches, Universities? At the UN? On red carpets? At the White House? any house?

For a long time, someone kept telling me about the, yes, very disturbing revelations from the Catholic Church mainly. After some months, the same person told me how it was obvious that this was not confined to the church only. We spoke about Austria.

Very near you, in you or somewhat connected to you is an abused child, not matter what gender, woman, no matter what age. The cases that are covered by the media are but a pointer to what levels of inhumanity people can fall. We have to come to terms with it, speak out. For the most disturbing thing about abuse in its many forms is not that it is always unknown but that it is covered up, mostly by authorities. And we are not talking about allegations. 

Many people heard about the case of the rape of the medical student who was also killed in Delhi. The media kept the case in focus. Then the vital words began to trickle in. This was not so rare in India, in fact, it was rather the incredible norm. The country's activists spoke about reviewing the Constitution of the country which it was said, was still the law of colonial times. 

Kenya has had legal reforms on sexual violence. Njoki Ndung'u, now a High Court Judge was the face of this reform. And yet, a court dared give six men who violated Liz a punishment that included just cutting grass. It was then the Chief Justice intervened. Why this?

No persons of repute have gone there easily, not even those who teach us that it is important to confess our sins. Priests and pastors. 
Politicians? Hardly.