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Unshackling our Mental Bondage: Unlearning Truths, Relearning Reality

We need to examine more the relationships between women’s subjugation and suppression; and patriarchy, capitalism and sexuality. In this way women can be able to unshackle the emotional and mental bondage that tie them to oppression and place barriers on loving and caring for the self. This came up in Harare, Zimbabwe at a recent lunchtime conversation between Zimbabwean women and Professor Sylvia Tamale. Over the last forty years, the women’s movement of Africa has trod well-worn ideological political and ideological paths aimed at emancipation of women. However these efforts over so many years have neither made a dent on patriarchy, nor on capitalism. As women, we seem to have continuously ignored or sidestepped what seem to be the biggest hindrances to our emancipation: patriarchy - the dominance, power and control over resources; and capitalism – private or corporate ownership of capital goods and investments determined by private decision, prices, production and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. Capitalism and patriarchy have a direct link to how women are kept under men’s control, and in service of men.

Professor Tamale had three main points to hook the conversation on. First, she lamented the women’s movement in Africa’s work on transformational and positive change, which has not made any difference on patriarchy and capitalism. Her second point was that as women, there is need to stop and engage with the process of unlearning and relearning, as we are still informed by the same prejudices and stereotypes. “We need to look within the deeply embedded “truths” about who we are as women and our relationships with others”, she stated. She also said there is need for us to start questioning the knowledge we have always taken for the truth but is not working. Her third point was for the women’s rights movement to include confronting sexuality as central to beginning the process of unlearning and relearning. This she stated in the context of the deeply embedded homophobia that has ravaged society, and results in organizations working on women’s rights excluding the rights of lesbian, bisexual, and trans (LBT) women from the rights agenda. We also need to note that for many women’s rights organizations, their work if any with women engaged in sex work usually is about rescue, completely ignoring the sex worker rights.

Over the years we have learnt and accepted many things that keep women in subjugation and suppression. We have accepted patriarchy as a way of life that defines how we live. Patriarchy has defined capitalism; and patriarchy has defined how we should be as women, including our sexuality which seems to have in many ways taken negative connotations, being defined mostly by pain and disease and morality. We have learnt that we are only defined as complete as long as we are defined by a male presence in our lives, particularly an intimate partner as we enter adult lives. The control has been such that we are ashamed to talk about women’s sexuality as defined by pleasure. Those who have dared do so have been shunned by wider society, and many women in general have been conditioned into also giving the subject and women who dare speak out about it a wide berth.

The control of women’s pleasure keeps them subjugated. Everything to control women has been shrouded in “morality”, with some examples as prostitution, adultery, and abortion. These have been effectively used in the public sphere – politics and market economics; and the private sphere – domestic and family. There has been an effort to keep women domesticated. This domestication in itself has implications on the on the control of and economic power – capitalism. Another issue that came up was how society, under patriarchal control, has abused religion by redefining ethos of the various religions in a way that instills fear and therefore entrenching further subjugation and oppression of women.

From the discussions, and on reflection, there can be no distinct separation between patriarchy and capitalism. It is indeed food for thought – and action – as we seek to make the world a better place for our sisters, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters; and in turn make it a better place for all humanity.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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