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.  http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-05-29/entertainment/9102170974_1_confession-marilyn-van-derbur-atler-victims
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.