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Seeds of Change

Understanding Male Privilege: with Wozani Thabede

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Wozani Thabede

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.

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Let Us End This Violence

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[1]. 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.

 

We serve a flawed system Continue reading “Let Us End This Violence”

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Value Every Life: #3 Things

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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.

Of Change

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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”

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Have You Seen Them?

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I have seen them.

I have seen men dowsed in petrol with burning tires on their necks, condemned to die in the violent manifestations of xenophobia.

I have seen them beg for mercy, cry at the feet of their captors, searching for the smallest ounce of compassion, the slightest showings of remorse. Continue reading “Have You Seen Them?”

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Not Yet Uhuru

These are the ideas I still hold fast to. One day I will be in a position to directly influence the fulfilment of these hopes. We must rebuild our beloved continent.

SEEDS OF CHANGE

Independence is not just political freedom or a new identity, its a mindset and adherence to a system that facilitates complete self-realization. The very definition of independence entails the assumption of a state where an individual, party or society is able to determine their present and control the outcome of their future.

The mistake we often make is to think that independence is merely an external manifestation characterised by reclaiming land, taking companies and penning favourable laws. These may grant justification for people to take up arms and may sway the direction of a people’s vote, but if the protagonists don’t understand the concept of independence, then in the end we’re fighting against ourselves.

Its easy to fight a neighbor but it hurts to shoot a brother, when the perpetrator of your oppression takes a kindred face, the fight for freedom becomes an act to remove one’s own eye. The…

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The Garbage Collector

I had a chance to visit one of the world’s most progressive cities the great ‘New York’. NYC really lived up to its billing as the capital city of the world,

the concrete jungle whose streets will make you feel brand new and whose lights will inspire you

as one artist penned.

The high-rise buildings make one wish they had a longer neck or higher-heeled shoes to properly take in the environment and now I appreciate why ladies love their stilettos!. Their roads were brilliant (by that I mean no portholes), the people mind their own business and everyone walks with this confident step that to me says “we run the world!”.

Now there’s one thing that particularly caught my attention from the whole NYC experience, and that was the exquisite taste of their garbage. I know that’s an uncanny combination but that’s exactly what I saw. I bumped into elegant couches strewn outside apartments, designer clothes and strong kitchen sinks. I saw vibrant teddy bears, neat book-shelves and a whole assortment of delectable items all thrown away and waiting to be collected for destruction.

I was unsettled by this unusual sight which to me had the appearance of household goods carefully packaged for a family moving in or moving out. It didn’t strike me as garbage, it wasn’t worth trashing according to my definition of rubbish. So this led me to the question,

what is garbage? and what lesson does a people’s garbage have to tell us?

Is garbage a sign of excess and over purchasing beyond a people’s ability to consume?, Is it perhaps a natural result of the process of change as experienced by these same people?, Is it a reflection of changed preferences and the preparation of a place for occupation by newer, more preferred goods?

I think all the definitions fit the bill, and I’d like to draw focus to the last one because I believe that’s where the greatest lesson lies. I see garbage as showing a people’s preparation for change in a progressive direction.

The more the garbage, the more the change, the greater the progress.

What I saw in their garbage piles was an explanation for the level of progress I saw in this city. To me it meant that New Yorkers are good at letting go and moving on, which made sense in view of the innovations birthed in this city. In all honesty, we draw a great deal of direction from this metropolis, largely because they’re accustomed to leading the world to undiscovered heights.

You can’t take a step forward without taking your foot from where it was and putting it where you want it to go. It’s the same principle with garbage, you can’t receive the fullness of what you want without fully releasing yourself from what you have that you don’t need anymore.

You see there’s a double-plus side to all this, letting go is in principle a step of faith. You let go of the old experience in anticipation of being satisfied with the new experience even if you haven’t opened the box yet. You begin to expect the best from what you’re yet to experience so much so that when you do, you have no choice but to enjoy it because you have to, there’s no turning back.

What if we took this principle and applied it to the way we face each day… You let go of yesterday (trash it) and receive today with open arms because you know it’s all you have in your power to enjoy. Take your learnt lessons and bits of wisdom and enjoy the present like the ‘present’ it’s meant to be.

A people’s ability to stick to the garbage collectors time-table also determines their level of prosperity. In my view, we need to forgo the poverty-ridden notion that says ‘one man’s garbage is another man’s gold’ the bottom line is that

trash is trash

If that individual found it timely to let that thing go, don’t get caught up in their past as they move on to a future that will give them greater authority over you.

Don’t be afraid to throw stuff away (and you can do that in various ways including donating to charity), its a life principle that opens the doors to change in your life. You might be holding on to that old television when your skills and other resources can be combined to produce a great deal more wealth for you. When you let go, you create an empty space that drives you to work to fill it in.

All the worlds greatest inventions were born out of necessity, absence creates that necessity, innovation satisfies it.

You may be surprised, as you wait for the next new thing to come so you can fill your house again, you could get a wind of inspiration and create something yourself, something that the world will come begging for.

A whole new world waits to be discovered, and it’ll take your step of faith to bring it to being – one trash can at a time

Where is the Africa We Fought For?

In 1890, a party of colonialists came into my country to swindle an illiterate misinformed people of their land and sovereignty. They took away their pride, shattered their dreams and condemned their generations to a life of servitude. They saw their love and called it polygamy, beauty and called them unevolved, riches and called them undeserving. They declared themselves to be Kings supreme, heaven-sent ambassadors to wipe away the shame of Africa and give it a taste of their ‘holiness’. They mocked our forefathers so much that they hated themselves and crushed them so hard that they crushed each other to ease the pain. They cast them so far away that they knew they would never find themselves again as a generation.

Over half a century later, we started to pick up the pieces and restore the dignity on their faces again. We saw their hurt, experienced their misery and chose to take a stand and create a new hope for our people. We fought long, we fought hard and we got what we thought we were fighting for, the right to be African.

Today the invisible chains of oppression remain steadfast on the hands, minds and feet of our children. There is no party of colonialists we can raise a gun to and no piece of legal documentation we can craft to restore our power because we are the oppressors, and the mirror gives the clearest image of the African colonialist today.

We perpetrate gross acts of violence against our brothers and sisters, burning their homes, killing their livestock and dismembering their bodies. We stifle their right to vote free from coercion, and we manipulate processes and individuals to give us the ‘power’ that truly belongs to our people. It is us who redirect resources meant for the community for personal gain and we are the ones who scramble for land to increase our already amassed wealth.

Today tears pour out from the eyes of our children as the whip of oppression lashes unbearably on their backs. Their stomachs lie subject to hunger, their blood to the ravaging effects of AIDS, and their minds to an uninspiring education system. Our mothers and babies are dying, our youth lie depressingly jobless and our girls and young women face the devastation of stolen childhoods, dashed hopes and disease.

Can our children forgive us? Can we forgive ourselves?. Where is the Africa we fought for? Where is the priceless gift of freedom we promised our children?. Where is the peace we bought with our blood, the joy we sacrificed for with our tears, and the love we promised to counter the hatred?. Where is the Africa we fought for?

The Waves of Change

Today marks the beginning of the rest of my life – and each morning that I wake up, the same is heralded to me by my conscience. ‘Live each day as if it were your last’ -is my philosophy.

The world is in the state its in now and we continue to watch, to take photos, write stories and share it in doses of idle gossip. We are where we are because you are who you are and I am who I am, two people with power, influence and potential beyond description yet we have failed to take the world to where we want it to be.

On a realist’s scale, we have failed, not because we couldn’t but because we didn’t because we wouldn’t and told those around us that they shouldn’t. We only had desire without will or action, yes we failed, we failed to see ourselves carrying that gun to displace thousands; destroying vegetation, killing animals and turning that child away from school. Its been us all along, you and me, the world.

We failed to realize that peace begins with a vote, the green revolution starts with the tree you plant in your backyard, poverty ends with that child you help send to school and AIDS ends with you getting tested for HIV. It begins and ends with you: life, hope, change – you…

The truth is that its not enough to dream or form mental images of the world we want to see, neither is it enough to paint portraits of the state of the world and trust that those who see it will experience a change of heart. The images will fade to the reality the eyes see and the portrait will only get darker and darker with time.

Great men and women of old told me that ‘the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts’ and that what the mind attends to, it considers, when the mind attends it continually, it believes. And what the mind believes, it eventually does’. They also told me that ‘action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.’

If we don’t stand and act to bring positive change to this world then who will?, if we don’t do it now then when will we? I will not be found waiting and wishing for the tide of change to come, I’ll throw my pebble of action into the ocean and hope that one day, someone somewhere will feel the ripple.

I urge you to cast your pebble in with mine then maybe, just maybe, we’ll create a tide of change and sweep away the AIDS, malaria, poverty, global warming and tears of war. I will attend to this vision continually, I will believe it, I will act, remember my friend – it begins and ends with you!

Taking a step at a time to create the ultimate developmental journey.

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