When women speak [Review]




The Brainstorm blog, by Michael Onsando and Brenda Wambui, won the best political blog in the Kenyan Blog Awards 2014 and sees itself as a place “to think deeply, eloquently and critically about Kenya and its relation to the world, from within Kenya.” Beginning in March last year they started producing a quarterly e-journal with the first issue opening up the topic of Kenyan feminisms (the plural being intentional).

The overall impression of When Women Speak is very powerful. The writing is fresh, eloquent and carefully researched, giving multiple perspectives on the oppression of women in modern Kenya. From the ambivalent role of mothers in inequality, to the shocking daily reality of sexual harassment on the streets of Kenya (and this was written 7 months before the infamous attacks that spawned the #MyDressMyChoice furore), to the effect of political violence and the penal system – the catalogue of oppression against women is truly terrible. To read it as a man was a humbling, sobering and troubling experience.

Historians of feminism talk about the four waves and there are traces of each of these in When Women Speak. The frequent language of ‘patriarchy’ is rooted in the second wave and the term ‘cis-gendered’ (which occurs 3 times) comes from the late third wave (cf. Emma Watson’s recent reference to a gender spectrum) while the whole journal could be said to be characteristic of the digital fourth wave. But the overwhelming impression I got from When Women Speak was of the straightforward concern of first wave feminism – to speak up against the oppression, assault and the humiliation of women.

That the Nairobi Governor slaps the Women’s Representative and nothing happens, that polygamy (but strangely not polyandry) is newly legalised in the 21st century, that a woman can’t walk down a road without fearing abuse and assault  – all this should make us furious.

So while I could chose to argue from a biblical standpoint with the definition of patriarchy implicit here and with the LBGT ideology coming through at one or two points, I want to stand in overwhelming sympathy with the basic analysis that Brainstorm has brought out here – that our society is still deeply sick, that women are still being terribly abused, and that women are perfectly capable of expressing all this very clearly and incisively.

This is why, as Alan Purser has put it so clearly in an article reproduced in Conversation Magazine:

In many societies around the world it is the biblical teaching of egalitarianism that most urgently needs to be heard and, when propounded, proves to be sharply counter-cultural.

As Purser goes on to argue, this doesn’t mean that we weaken the Bible’s clear (and wonderful) teaching on difference and complementarity between the genders but at the same time we must carry on emphasising loud and clear the revolutionary and unique message of the Bible that in creation and salvation men and women are completely and utterly equal in status, value and dignity.

Further reading:

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