In December 2012 I met Lisa*, a jovial lady determined to get the most out of life. It was at a birthday party thrown for a younger brother and I, for his 18th and my 21st. We all had fun that night, celebrating life through dance, song and generous helpings of food. It’s been a number of years since then, but it’s a memory I’ve kept to remember Lisa by. Following a similar party a few months ago, she was raped, murdered and dumped in a cemetery by an unknown assailant.
Lisa is not alone, globally up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime, and women aged 15-44 are at greater risk of experiencing rape and domestic violence than they are cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. The bulk of these offences against women are perpetrated by men, out of control, and seeking control through domination of women’s bodies. Women are daily turned into commodities for the exercise of power by men, through brutal and subtle violence in this ‘male dominated’ world.
#HeForShe I want to take a moment to recognize the silent change-makers; the ‘ones’. The individuals who fight the hardest battles with no recognition, no mention or retweet.
We may shout about gender equality but they live it, we may jump and wave for attention but they stand unmoved, unflinching in their love and respect for women and girls. Continue reading “The silent men”→
There were many who came before you
Who decided that the world they were born into
Was not going to be the one they would die in
Ones who dared to dream of another future
And woke up every day to realize those dreams
They didn’t need to be told their dreams were valid
I pray that this is the world you will be born into
One in which you’re able to chart your own course
Without seeking the permission of others
I pray that you will not know of days when
Compartmentalized along with our identities
When the dignity, integrity and autonomy
Of our bodies which house us
Was up for negotiation
I pray that you will not know of
Violence, abuse and discrimination
At the hands of
Those meant to protect you
Your parents/teachers/partner/police or employers And perhaps worst of all, by the society…
Of the euphoric wantings of freedom numbed by the self-serving propaganda of obdurate men.
Of what a people are not willing to take because of what they are not prepared to give up. Continue reading “Of Change”→
Mukondi, they did not tell you? in the morning you will be hungry again.
That the pot is empty before it is full and that it is full before it is empty.
That you will work for your pay only so you can pay for your work.
That from the lives of your children will yield the pain of your death.
That Chikomba, your friend who was the witness at your marriage, will be the cause of your divorce. Continue reading “Mukondi”→
My name is Yemurai Nyoni and I’m a young man aged 23 from Zimbabwe. At many points in my brief history as an activist for women and girls health I have been asked one question, “Why do you care?” My family, friends and colleagues have asked me to explain why I’m so passionate about changing the development status of women and girls, particularly as a young African man. To be honest in my society it’s unusual for a young man to look out for the interests of women, it’s simply unmanly and seen as a sign of weakness. I don’t really know how I landed in this space but I’m very confident of the reasons why I decided to stay.
IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD
In the words of Her Excellency Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission
Women form half of the world population and give birth to the other half.
My name is Lorence Kabesele and I am a 23 year old young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I believe that my virginity makes me special because it’s the first form of richness that God gave me and I’ll share it with the man who will marry me, a man who will always respect and love me. I also value the fact that I am a woman and that makes be very valuable. I am strong, and I use this strength to make a difference in the lives of other people.
I believe that I have rights as a young woman which must be respected, and that I can work as well as men do. I also agree with the statement that says ‘To educate a woman is to educate a nation’. The proof of this is in the work I do as the Program Coordinator of Youth Club and MDGs in Kinshasa, an organization focused on empowering young people, especially young women.
Unfortunately, I live in an environment where discrimination against women is a general norm. This is mostly because of the wars we entered into as a country and the prevailing social norms which disempower women. In most parts of DRC, girls are given less opportunities to go to school as compared to boys because their education is not considered as being of importance. As a result of this, most young women do not measure up to the intellectual capacity and educational qualifications of young men which makes it difficult for them to get good jobs.
Although the environment in my country doesn’t support women’s development that much, I believe that I can still stand up and fight for this to change. I am inspired by two powerful women; Cristina Elisabet Fernández Kirchner because she’s the first woman President in Argentina, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf because she’s the first female President in Africa as she leads the nation of Liberia.
As I work hard to change the lives of young women in DRC and in Africa, there are three things that are important to me in helping me succeed. The first is willingness and determination to take on challenges. The second is hope because without hope I can’t believe in myself or the work I do. The final and most significant thing is hard work which is necessary for any change to take place. The state of the world tomorrow lies in our hands to day as young people, if we don’t work hard today then what kind of world will we live in, in the next 20 years?.
For now as an individual, I’m preparing myself for my future and one important decision for me is marriage. I always say that we don’t enter into marriage just to have children but more importantly to help each other develop by sharing advice and providing different forms of support. I also believe that I have a big role to play in building a strong home by providing finances and moulding our children socially and academically. I am convinced that I have to power to build a strong home, a powerful nation and a prosperous future for fellow young women.
When I think of what motivates me to take on each day, I remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, Do not follow where a path leads, instead go where there is no path and leave a trail . l know l haven’t reached the destination of my trail and that’s what motivates me to take on each day.
I rise up each day with the knowledge that l was born to make history and one of my dreams is to change this world and make it better. Whenever l don’t feel like getting up, l just remind myself that my work isn’t over yet and that if l quit now l will never succeed. I also think of all the people that l am supposed to be helping and that gives me all the strength l need to get up.
I believe that It only takes the action of one person to change the world and l have decided to not be one of those people who sit and complain but do nothing to change things. I am a world-changer and in my quest to achieve this I need to wake up and take on each day as it comes.
Having such an approach to life doesn’t mean I don’t encounter challenges that threaten to halt my success. I do face obstacles and when I do I always try to keep my mind in a positive space. This makes it easier for me to face my challenges because whenever something goes wrong l look for the advantages that exist in the challenge. l also believe that experiencing failure is a necessary part of success because it helps strengthen your determination to succeed and encourages you to work harder.
As a survival strategy in the face of adversity, l also try to surround myself with people who impact positively in my life. These people include my close friends; who instead of leaving me to lie down after an attack, help me to get back up, stronger and ready to take on the next challenge. As a life motto I’ve told myself that ‘no matter what happens, I’ll keep moving forward because there’s no point in mourning over something you can’t change, it will only hinder you from striving and realizing your success.
Watch this award-winning documentary film of a young Zimbabwean woman who overcame rape and is working to transform the lives of young people in her country.
Its a story of pain, betrayal and heartache as an innocent girl finds her life at risk due to the inconsiderate decisions of close family members.
Its sad that stories like these are continually recreated through the erroneous ways our traditions endorse. Laws may exist, schools may be built and health services provided but if our social fabric isn’t changed then all these will amount to nothing.
We need societies that protect the rights and well-being of women at all costs with no alternative. We can’t afford to sell-out the innumerable potential that our girls have, for a one-year ticket out of poverty as was the case with Tecla. Such decisions have a devastating effect on the development of young women and we need to point them out as the selfish decisions they really are.
The amazing strength of Tecla’s story is hinged on how she overcame the trauma of her experience and found strength to create a new story for herself, a story of hope…
As The Zulugirl, the obstacles I face have neither faces nor human embodiment and yet they have put up quite the fight to thwart my efforts but to no avail. The hindrances to all my endeavours were conceived long before I was born and have become the norm. When they said, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” they weren’t kidding. As an artist, the biggest barrier I have faced by far is the old-fashioned school of thought that my parents and many other parents in Zimbabwe, have that, “Art is not an occupation, it’s a hobby.”
I write poetry and prose, dance, act but fine art is my first love. You’d think art is what I’m majoring in at tertiary level but not quite, after I left school I knew exactly what I wanted to do – go to art school. Long story short, my mother just asked me, “What are you gonna do with art in Zimbabwe?” and the next thing I knew I was studying Journalism and Media studies. I am one of the lucky few who have managed to compromise because journalism allows me to use all my talents. I get paid to do what I love.
My lecturer once told us, “The funny thing about journalism classes is that majority of the students are female but the people that actually practice this journalism are male.” I didn’t understand him much then but I do now. Thank you gender stereotype for being an invincible obstacle, you stand undefeated claiming the dreams of many (except me but nice try though).
My father has a policy, “If the sun sets and you aren’t in my house, don’t come back unless you can time travel.” Literally, if I get to the gate and it’s so dark that I can’t see my palm lines it means I am late and homeless. Since art is a ‘hobby’ I go to work until 5pm and after that I need to work on my ‘hobby’ and that makes me break curfew. I truly believe that you need to make time for the things you love doing but daddy believes in children being home on time so the hobby has suffered terribly from negligence. If I’d been a boy however, I could stay out until whenever and it doesn’t even have to be work related. Ask my brother when he walks in at 3am.
And then there were myths. These are the worst kind of stupidity. This is what happens when boredom meets a philanthropist with an IQ of a child. Many women have sold out their dreams for the ring-chase. I will never be fooled into believing that my whole life has been a build-up to being ‘Thembie – The Homemaker.’ Most girls have the Disney princesses ideology that she must stay in her father’s house until such a time her prince (who turns out to be a creep) comes and whisks her off to wedded bliss. As a descended of Tshaka Zulu I am royal by blood and not by association, I am a rare breed, a true warrior princess I’m gonna save my prince from fake barbies that bleach their skin brighter than their future.
When I graduate next year, I wanna travel and see everything on my list, actually use my degree, build the brand that is The Zulugirl and then sell-out to marriage at 30. Pre-conceived ideas have been a worthy opponent that has won many but I am….The Zulugirl
A couple of weeks back I shared a commitment to forgo privileges that I had enjoyed by virtue of being a man. A few days after posting that statement, a female friend of mine asked me what I meant by it. I had ideas of what male privilege was and I told her, but as we spoke I realised that there is so much more freedom and security I enjoy in the world because I’m a man, which is enjoyed at the expense of women. Eager to learn more about this I had a longer conversation with an inspiring woman, Wozani Thabede, who runs a successful consultancy firm, with a law degree in tow and a passion for women’s empowerment. This is a snippet of our conversation:
Q: Wozani, would you say there’s a difference between you and a man on the streets?
Wozani: “Yes there is, people see women as visual beings. When I’m walking on the streets I’m being judged by the way I look and the way I’m dressed; what my hair looks like, what my handbag looks like. Whereas for a man, I believe people look at a man and they see a man. If they are judging it may be a race thing but apart from that I think a man is just looked at as a man.”
Q: If you had a chance to change things, especially the challenges you face in being judged by the way you look, what would you change?
Wozani: “Well, I want to be able to walk on the streets and not feel the differences between me and a man. I want to be able to do certain things that men can do on the streets. Take for example, I wouldn’t walk at night alone, but a man can easily do that.
So many times I’ve had male friends or colleagues be like: “I’ll accompany you to this place or that place” maybe as a source of protection, but its something I’d like to be able to just do without having to rely on someone because if there isn’t a man readily available to help me do something, then it makes it difficult”.
Q: When you find yourself having to rely on other people to get certain things done, how does it make you feel?
Wozani: “Do you know what the saddest thing is; it doesn’t make me feel any type of way anyway because I’ve accepted it, it’s my way of life. I don’t know if that’s good or bad but I think it’s sad”.
Q: What would it take for you to feel safe on the streets?
Wozani: “Changing the current perception of a woman, as being the weaker sex, as helpless and hopeless; addressing that would change things 100%”
Q: How would you do that, how would you change minds?
Wozani: “I think men need to understand the position we are in as women. They need to value us, they need to see us as equals and that would certainly go a long way”.
Q: Earlier you mentioned how you’d like to walk on your own at night, what is so unsafe about the night for a woman?
Wozani: “You can get robbed, you can get raped, especially rape…you just feel vulnerable”.
Q: What is it about manhood and how we teach manhood, that makes some men rape, violate and rob people?
Wozani: “I think there’s the element that men have been portrayed as the stronger sex, or as the more powerful sex; so some men want to validate themselves through these acts. There’s an element of male perpetrators of violence against women wanting to demonstrate power; they feel inadequate, which is funny because these are the things they tend to want women to feel. They feel like they are weak, so it’s an element of wanting power”.
Q: Does this mean that some men don’t have power unless they use violence in trying to control other people?
Wozani: “First of all, I think it’s important for men and women as well to understand the differences that God, I’m Christian so I’ll refer to God, or even if you don’t want to refer to God, to understand the differences that are between men and women.
So now if they don’t understand these differences, like men that view women as a weaker sex; when you have women that know and understand who they are, why they were created and are strong, then it tends to intimidate these men. So this is where I think the differences are between men and women I’m talking about need to be really addressed. If a woman is strong and open minded it doesn’t mean to say she’s trying to intimidate you, but we women are equally as strong, and have the ability to be as equally independent as men. This shouldn’t be a threat, it should be a blessing because we can work together”.
Q: What would you say are the differences between men and women? What strengths do women have that men do not have, or that they share with men and what weaknesses do men have that women don’t have?
Wozani: “I think man by make was designed to lead, to protect and provide. He was designed to be a covering. Ultimately women were also designed to lead, they were designed to be care givers, to be nurturers; If you give a woman a seed she will make life out of it, so we’re designed to birth things. Now, what men or what people don’t understand is these differences. So if I’m designed to provide as a man and I’m designed to nurture as a woman, both of them are provision, you’re providing something.
It’s not to say that these elements I’ve mentioned in a man can’t be found in a woman and vice-versa but then I think they have been so separated and divided that no one is allowed to cross the other line. For instance, I grew up with brothers that were told not to cry because ‘men don’t cry’. They were told “You’re being too soft, you need to be a man” and I myself have been told that “You’re not a man and you don’t do that, you don’t go that far”. As an example, not too long ago someone said to me “It’s not advisable for a woman to buy a house before she’s married because that intimidates a man”, so why can’t I start to think about provision for my family as a woman when a man can?
I think those are the differences we have created for men and women and they are blurred a lot. If anyone crosses the blurred line they are ridiculed for trying to lose their identity, and then scenarios where people think they are not strong enough, or they are inadequate, come to play because they are demonstrating the characteristics they are told to not demonstrate”.
Q: What kind of man wouldn’t be intimidated by a woman who buys a house before she gets married?
Wozani: “I think it would take a confident man, I think confidence is everything. A man who is confident that assets, or my assets are not going to come in the way. A man that is confident that at some point in his future he is going to achieve over and above what he has now. A man that is confident that he is going somewhere and that where he is now is not where he’s going to be for the rest of his life”.
Q: Does this means the nature of men’s attraction to women should change and vice-versa, with women less concerned with men’s role as protectors and men less concerned with women as carers?
Wozani: “No. I previously mentioned the differences that were there when we were created. What I’m saying is that we should not use these differences to create injustice, division or to create a stronger and a weaker sex. I’m saying we should embrace them, embrace the differences, embrace the strengths of both sexes and use them to build better communities, better families and better nations”.
Q: What does injustice look like, what does the misuse of that balance between men and women look like?
Wozani: “What injustice is, is if I am a nurturer as a woman and if society has said I’m going to be the primary caregiver of children because I am a nurturer…then injustice is that I don’t have the same privileges that the man has purely because for example if I go on maternity leave I’m not paid the same as what a man is going to be paid when he’s at work; but I am creating a future, I am creating the future of that company, so that difference should not be used to create injustice in me being out of work and out of money. This is an injustice because I would be doing something that I was created to do and not being supported to do it.
Another example maybe would be in the workplace; people view the woman as soft, so they tend to not want to give them positions of leadership. Apart from being viewed as soft, generally they are not treated equally as men because people say, “One time she’s going to decide to have children and never come back”, or maybe “Due to her nature she’s going to embrace things that are not right or necessary in the business because she’s an ‘embracer’”. So that’s what I mean by injustice”
Q: Has the environment we’re in forced you to take up fights you otherwise would not have had to take up if you were viewed as equal to men?
Wozani: “I’ll be honest with you, it’s taken me a long while to get to where I am. The first few times I encountered stereotypes, I backed down and I really fed into the system of society and at some point even thought that ‘maybe the task wasn’t for me’. When I did decide to go for it, I worked extra, extra hard… It didn’t help being young, and unfortunately it doesn’t help being old sometimes as well for a woman so you just don’t know when its the right time, if there is ever one. And yes I can certainly say I had to work super hard to prove that I can do the same work that a man can do”.
Q: What would a fair world for men and women look like for you?
Wozani: “The interesting thing is I actually don’t know. I think the lines in everything have been blurred so much that I don’t even know what would look good and what wouldn’t. To try and answer that though; I’d like everybody to get recognised for the work that they do regardless of where it is or who they are. I’d like strength to be recognised regardless of what area or what element of it there is, and I think that would make a perfect world for a woman. And by recognition I mean should get paid for, rewarded and seen as hard work.”
For any man who’s ever wondered about male privilege, this is a good introduction. I’ll be collaborating with influential women like Wozani to share a series of posters on male privilege using the hashtags. #uPSIDEdOWNwORLD and #SeedsofChange. Look out for updates on the blog and on social media and don’t forget to let us know what you think in the comments section below. A big thank you to Wozani for taking time to let us into the dynamics of #MalePrivilege.
As we celebrate Independence Day in Zimbabwe, I’ve thought to celebrate 36 named and unnamed women that have brought the nation to where it is today:
Ida Mtongana: One of the countless women that provided hospitality to the freedom fighters and helped sustain the liberation war efforts. In her words she says, “we knew that they stayed in the bush and we were the only people who could feed and help them and we were determined to help in any way that we could. … We were never afraid of the freedom fighters. We were just determined to do what we could” (Kaler, Amy & Staunton, 1993: 177-8).
Danish Girori: One of the many mothers that gave their sons and daughters to the struggle and never got them back. In her words she says, “It is better when one’s loved ones die and you have buried them. You can comfort yourself in the knowledge that the dead are at rest. But with my son it is different, because I do not even really know where he is” (ibid: 267).
Juliet Makande: One of the many young women fighters that experienced sexual abuse during the liberation war at the hands of male comrades (ibid: 49). These are the stories we never tell.
Nehanda Nyasikana: One of the earliest motivators of the insurrection, and the earliest martyrs of the cause.
The women that joined the liberation war in order to assert their equality as human beings.
The women that joined the liberation war in order to uplift themselves and access opportunities to be educated.
Margaret Dongo: One of the female combatants that carried the ammunition that drove the revolution and went the distance in their involvement in the struggle.
Sally Mugabe: The first female national liberation war hero recognized as such and buried at the National Heroes’ Acre, countering male dominance and preparing the way for the recognition of more female heroes.
The female ex-combatants living in poverty today, in a country they fought to bring to being and not compensated for the important roles they played, aside from those that held guns and led politically.
The female ex-combatants that were rejected by their spouses upon return and labeled as murderers.
The silent female ex-combatants tortured today by memories of sleepless nights in the bush, experiences of rape, hunger, thirst and the daily threat to their lives during the struggle.
The women that gave up a valuable and irreplaceable chunk of their lives to fight for the country. Forsaking their livelihoods, dreams and families to fight for the country.
Tichaona Freedom Nyamubaya: One of the few women that had the courage to talk about the war, it’s challenges and the costs born by women in bringing freedom to the country.
The women that took up professional work roles in the struggle, as teachers, nurses, operations managers and other responsibilities for the efficient management of the struggle.
The women that served as instructors for military training, preparing soldiers for war.
Sheba Tavarwisa: The only woman appointed to the ZANLA High Command, although she was denied National Hero status.
Joyce Mujuru: The first woman chosen to be a member of the ZANU PF Politburo.
The female combatants that had babies whilst in military camp and suffered immense challenges in meeting their needs and those of their children, and faced further challenges in being reintegrated in conservative societies when they returned with their children.
The female fighters with dignity denied, without access to sanitary ware during the struggle.
The daughters of ex-combatants that never got to meet or know their fathers.
Miss F. Siziba: A senior secretary in the ZAPU delegation and the only female Patriotic Front delegate to the historic Lancaster House Agreement.
Victoria Chitepo and Naomi Nhiwatiwa: Two of the first three female cabinet Ministers in the post-independence government.
Ruth Chinamano: One of the first 8 female parliamentarians voted into the House of Parliament, in the post-independence government.
The female fighters that were maimed for life and are living with a disability today because of the liberation war.
The female fighters that died without celebration or mention, before and after independence.
Mama Mafuyana: One of the women that served as nationalists in their own right, driving and supporting progress in the quest for independence alongside their husbands.
The women that served as informants for the guerrilla fighters, monitoring the movements of Rhodesian forces and their secrets.
The women that spread the word about the war and encouraged young men and women to join the fight for freedom.
The women that stayed behind to look after families, to tend livestock and cultivate the land when their husbands and older children left to join the war effort.
The female fighters that were forced to marry people they didn’t love because they were pregnant by them.
The women that suffered torture at the hands of Rhodesian forces and lost their homes, crops and security as a result of raids by these forces.
The women that joined industry, the civil service, entrepreneurial work and the service industry to help drive the post-independence economy.
The women that taught and continue to teach their children of the sacrifices women made to bring the nation of Zimbabwe into being.
The women that took up activism post-independence as part of civil society, in driving efforts towards gender equality.
Women leading change in Zimbabwe today, doing phenomenal work in business, politics, civil society, the arts and other development fields.
Young women and girls fighting their own liberation struggles today, as they strive to go to school, avoid unplanned pregnancies, seek respect from society and drive their own empowerment.
Let’s not lose sight of the value of women in the nation’s struggle for independence; and of the experiences they sowed into the grounds of liberation.
Kaler, A. and Staunton, I., 1993. Mothers of the Revolution.
“Africa Reign… represents a movement with these values; a reflection of the strength of the youth of our continent and a chance to reconstruct the perception of what it means to be African” Read more in the post:
Yemurai Nyoni is a 25-year-old Zimbabwean activist, who expects to influence global governance within the next 15 years through equipping young leaders and creating and supporting spaces for youth to exercise their leadership. As a leader in his country, he helped build and eventually led a national network of over 1200 young leaders working on sexual and reproductive health in Zimbabwe. His experience as an activist has seen him serve in a number of leadership positions nationally, regionally and globally. He also provides constant mentorship support and voluntary consultancy for young leaders in the African region who lead organizations in their countries.
Yemurai cares about women and girls because they’re largely at the receiving end of bad social policy, the repercussions of war, and the impact of drought and disease. According to the World Bank, women account for 61 percent of those living with HIV and young women are three times more…
My name is Ashel Dube and I am a young woman aged 19. I live in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and I am a proud young African woman.
Failure, disappointment and defeat are three potent words, different in meaning but united in effect. I overcome their destructive power by realizing that as a young African woman it is my duty to be at war with myself and to achieve success in what I do. I have come to understand that I should never give up because no one else can fulfill my destiny for me.
I believe the biggest threat to my success is if I accept defeat in the face of failure and disappointment. I know I have failed a test at school once, twice, three times or more. I have failed to be there for someone when they needed me the most. In short I have experienced failure one too many times to know what it is and what it feels like. In a similar way, I have felt disappointment and the sadness that comes when something has not happened or something does not occur as I expect.
However, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I had allowed failure and disappointment to make me believe that I couldn’t achieve success, that I should stop trying and just give up. You see, defeat will come into my life if I allow it; if I let my hope die down, if I make myself believe I am a disgrace to mankind and if I tell myself it is impossible. Instead, I have chosen to see the blessing in disguise in my failure and understand that the Living God allowed this to happen for a reason.
How I’ve overcome failure and disappointment has also been through understanding that I have to go through failure and be disappointed in life. After experiencing disappointment, I am in a position to identify the next step to take and what I need to change so that I don’t go through the same disappointment again. I appreciate the learning value of failure and disappointment but I do not let it defeat me. I pick myself up, remember the reason behind my attempt in the first place then change what I feel led me to the process and try again.
You can take this process as the same process you go through when you lose a loved one. You accept that they are gone, once you do that you are able to grieve and after grieving you try to avoid falling apart emotionally and then try to move on.
The future of women in the world is currently in danger simply because as young women, when we fail and get disappointed, we accept defeat. Don’t get me wrong, disappointment and failure are to be expected in everyone’s life but the problem comes when we accept defeat and vow to leave what we wanted to do for the next person. We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of the next generation, the success we desire should be ours to live and experience.
So I say to all the young African women and girls: appreciate the learning value of failure and allow yourself to go through the normal feeling of disappointment. Acceptance of defeat is what I do not want for you, so deny defeat and instead continue to try to make a success out of your first failure. So let’s rise up as women and not let defeat deprive us from achieving success.
Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the real issues affecting our lives that have been silenced by a lack of attention from those who influence public opinion. A clear example of this is that in today’s world not every death is viewed as equal in value nor in attention deserved. It seems to matter more who you are and what you mean to people with the greatest influence. It appears as though some ‘die more’ than others even though all who die are dead and have been equally robbed of the ability to live longer. In contrast, I believe that if we are to build an equal world then every death must be treated with equal gravity; every life must be seen to count and those who tell the story of death must tell it from the lens of appreciating an equal value of existence.
Yesterday, the death of 11 people at the hands of terrorists in France moved several Heads of State to action, whilst the death of thousands in Nigeria at the same time received very minimal global attention. These are the signs of global inequalities in the value given to human life. I argue that the death of a Prime Minister in the United Kingdom is as significant as the death of a 3 month old baby who dies of polio in Niger. In my view, each life represents unlimited unrealised potential, hence the gravity of death should not be ascribed to the remembrance of one’s contribution to humanity but to what greatness could have been achieved if one’s life was fully lived. Building on the analogy of the 3 month old baby and the Prime Minster; the baby, for all intents and purposes, could have lived a more meaningful and beneficial life than the greatest man or woman on earth. So we mourn for both for we never know whose life would have been worth more; both still had potential for goodness and ‘badness’, both died equal; robbed of the ability to achieve their full potential. Hence each death carries equal weight.
Furthermore, we have allowed ourselves to be swayed away from reality to pay attention to lesser evils whilst real killers escape with little mention. Terrorism is evil and war is terrible but HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and the complications of pregnancy and child birth have taken more lives that all terrorist attacks or wars combined. The ‘hard’ casualties of terrorism and war pale in comparison with the ‘soft’ and yet more devastating impacts of unchecked diseases. Diseases and other health complications may be less glamorous to approach or read about in newspapers but they should be our primary concern. Sadly, our governments spend disproportionate amounts of funds to secure weapons and build armies against foreign threats who never really come, whilst paying little budgetary attention to the graver domestic threats of disease, poverty and lack of education. This must stop.
In a similar vain, the world has glamourised certain kinds of violence and neglected the real perverse kinds of violence. States in the United Nations spend more money, time and political energy preventing interstate and intrastate wars; but pay comparatively less attention to the more serious and widespread threat of violence that occurs within the home, between men and women, boys and girls, as well as parents and their children. I believe violence in the home is the single greatest threat to world peace; for as it is allowed to grow it matures into the selfish civil wars and interstate wars the world is forced to endure. Violence as a culture is birthed and affirmed through non-intervention in the home; hence to counter global violence we must target its roots by challenging its legitimacy in the home. When people are able to respect each other in the most intimate of settings, and to value each other as individuals; there is no limit to how far the collective blanket of peace will reach.
It all comes down to the value ascribed to a ‘single’ human life and the appreciation that every human being is first of all, a global citizen; regardless of their position, location, race, sex, religion, age or other differences. Before we divided ourselves into nations with boundaries, or created classes based on the roles people contributed to society; we were essentially one people. Each one subscribed and still subscribes to a somewhat universal notion of the pursuit of happiness. It is that hope that defines our oneness; it is what dismisses all plurality and restores the inherent dignity that each life deserves. Americans are not better than Europeans, Europeans are not better than Asians, Asians are not better than Africans…; people created these differences and it is people who can deconstruct them.
We have the power to dismantle the differences in the value of human life and to construct a world where every life is viewed as equal. There are practical ways to do this, once we have first of all won the battle in our minds. I will highlight three of these solutions, which are in no way exhaustive.
The first is that existing accountability mechanisms must be strengthened to constantly assess the global burden and distribution of deaths and allocate maximum resources to averting future preventable deaths through a global commission of enquiry. All development related resources must be pooled and distributed according to the priority areas identified by such a commission. These commissions of enquiry must be decentralised to the lowest administrative levels and their recommendations supported through pooled resources. Governments must be assessed according to their levels of success in averting preventable deaths and citizens empowered to monitor government performance. Government budgets and development plans must be primarily assessed by ascertaining the the number of deaths averted/ lives saved by every policy. People must be at the centre of policy making; every job created, building constructed, fiscal adjustment or education policy must be based and measured on the foundational principle of saving lives and adding value to human existence.
The second is that there must be fundamental reforms to the global media industry to ensure fair representation of issues without bias. Stories must be told fairly, without the fabricated importance created to ‘sell’ a story to an audience and meet profit targets. Deliberate efforts must be made to introduce more global News Agencies to eliminate some of the bias associated with the existing monopolies of the Associated Press and Reuters. Without such reforms, the true stories of inequality and the real value of each human life regardless of geographic location will remain hidden and distorted when visible; because of profit-centred motives. There needs to be a deliberate balance created between private and public funded media institutions within countries and globally for such reforms to be possible; and this needs political will and people-centred financing.
Thirdly, institutes of education worldwide must integrate content on equality of people and the unifying aspects of the pursuit of happiness that binds us all together into their curriculum. Images of success, education, power, excellence and other positive social aspirations must be presented in a global context free from prejudice on any lines of difference. Children must be taught about the beginning of all humanity in order to understand that every difference that exists in the world today has been constructed by people and hence can be deconstructed by people. Our children and their children need to be raised with the understanding that all men and women are born equal, and that the limits of nationality mean nothing in view of the fundamental unity of humanity.
In closing, to build a better world, every life must be valued. Everyone deserves to live and no one is more deserving of life; for to each one on earth is given one life which is taken by one physical death. What I’ve tried to say in this piece is that we must begin to see the challenges of the world by looking at their root causes, and focusing on the challenges faced by one individual at a time. Pay no attention to the prejudice and false priorities constructed by most of the media and politicians; look instead with an eye that sees each life as equal and each preventable death as undeserved for all. We are the audience and its time we told the writers the true story of human existence, a story of equality.