No Independence Celebrations Until Women's Bodies are Free

women equality Sexuality patriarchy
Tuesday, 20 November, 2012 - 16:06

Africa’s inability to end patriarchy means that years after most African countries gained independence from their colonial powers, women are still not free

The recent sex video scandal involving 20-year old Iris Kaingu in Zambia has shown that patriarchy is alive and well in Africa. Zambian media and social media platforms went abuzz with the news of the conviction and subsequent sentencing of Kaingu for making obscene cinematography films ‘tending to corrupt morals’. The court ordered her to pay about US$1870 or serve nine months in prison.

The court found that between December 2010 and November 2011, Kaingu and her partner recorded themselves having sexual intercourse. The video leaked and made it to the streets of Zambia as vendors sold the 16 minute long DVD for as little as US$2.

I woke up on a quiet morning recently to start my week's work.

I spared a few minutes to peruse through my Facebook feed: cheery folk sharing their sunny good mornings. Others with their ears close to the ground shared early morning news scoops. The several posts celebrating the 48th anniversary of Zambia's Independence from British colonial rule cheered me up. After Zimbabwe's excitement and support of Chipolopolo during their heroic African Cup of Nations win earlier this year, our respective nations have seemed to chime in unison more and more.

A Zambian friend e-mailed suggesting I search for the name Iris Kaingu on the Internet. What I discovered instantly chilled my soul. I read about how Kaingu's life had been turned upside down by the merciless exploitation of her person through a leaked sex tape. I scouted through various news pages for the name of the man involved in the sex tape with Kaingu. As the story unfolded, the mainstream media and courts with held the name of the male involved to the end. Only online media disclosed the name of Kaingu's boyfriend, Nathan Silenga.

My heart simply sank as I tried to find answers to all the ignored questions in the dominant media narratives. Why had the sex tape been leaked? Why did the court and the mainstream media protect the identity of the man in the sex video? Why he was not also brought to justice?

Is this what women's justice looks like in Zambia after 48 years of ‘independence'?

I do not purport to be an expert on Zambian law or politics. But nothing about this court ruling makes sense to me, especially when one considers the permanent and public damage has been done to Kaingu.

I coordinate a web-based platform, Her Zimbabwe, that is followed by almost 2 500 people (on Facebook), 51 percent of whom are young women aged 18-34 years. These young women are discussing, questioning, challenging and rising above the circumstances of their own experiences of oppression as female Zimbabweans. I quickly shared the news of Kaingu on this platform.

Immediately, a swell of collective anger began to grow as we shared our views and opinions on the issue. Contributors to the discussion were appalled, shocked, disgusted and incensed. But even more importantly, they galvanised into action. Amid a flurry of exchanges and ideas, we searched online for solutions. A Facebook page with over 3 000 followers, called ‘Free Iris Kaingu', appeared but seemed insincere and calculated as it featured several advertisements for equipment for sale and not much about Kaingu.

Frustrated by a lack of solutions, one Her Zimbabwe contributor then started an online petition to register our voices in solidarity with Kaingu.

Young Zimbabwean women offered their time and help as the plight of another young African woman reflected their own struggles.

One male contributor interjected as we discussed our plan of action: "Why choose to dwell on this case [the Kaingu case], on the day we are meant to be celebrating freedom from colonial suppression? Are you not happy to have at least leaped from [sic] that hurdle?" he asked.

I wondered what leaps he could say women in this post-colonial era have made when in Zimbabwe our own Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, is entangled in a saga with his ex-wife, Locadia Karimatsenga Tembo, who is demanding US$15 000 monthly maintenance. Word from online media is that Tsvangirai has reached an out of court settlement and paid off US$300 000. Another former lover is reportedly in the courts in a bid to get the right to get a birth certificate that features the Prime Minister's surname for their two year-old son.

I wondered if this male contributor understood that women have not enjoyed the same extent of freedom and citizenship as men have since ‘independence’.

I wondered if he understood that for Zimbabwean women, freedom is a distant dream when so much current legislation is inheritance of colonial laws used to proscribe black women's ownership of their bodies and space. I wondered who is free if Zimbabwean women - more than half the population - still live with the ever-present danger of being arrested for ‘loitering with intent to solicit for prostitution’ when we walk the streets at night.

As women, we will not have an Independence Day until Kaingu's body, as well as our own, are finally free.

- Fungai Machirori is Zimbabwean blogger, journalist and poet. She is the Founder of Her Zimbabwe, a cyber feminist platform. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.

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