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Prejudice Against Women: The Hidden Brain Drain

THE article; Politics and Prejudice: Plight of Zimbabwe Women by Alex Magaisa which appeared in the Zimbabwe Independent (September 12 2008) arouses deep questions for the soul and the entire human family.

It was a detour by Magaisa from his ordinary topics, a detour that forced us into collision with questions we would otherwise avoid, questions of prejudice against women, our society’s daily tendencies that have a genocidal effect of robbing the world of half the gifts of the human race, half the insights of the human race, half the meaning of human life and 100% of the fruits which only the other specie knows how to bear.
The tragedy is deeply engraved in our society in every corner, from the brutality of the work place, where what we produce is more important than what we become, to the oppressive romance of the bedroom, where the family system consumes those it purports to care for, conditioning parties to embrace oppressive romance as the legitimate order of affairs.  This is the place where, even if the law is present, it is as infertile as the members it wishes to defend.
This is forbidden talk because very few of us men are ready to honestly disengage our tyrannical attitudes, even those who during the day are “warrior-human rights defenders”.
Consider this: all that a man knows when he comes home from work is to throw his jacket on the sofa and hungrily goes after his conjugal privileges, with no restraint or thought for the consequences. It is entirely a woman’s business to swallow tonnes of chemicals to deal with whatever is coming.
A friend called me on the phone the other day, fuming that his wife was pregnant. I thought it was a case of infidelity. On further inquiry, he informed me that he was the father, but hey, “it is too early and the other kid is still too young”. I lacked the credentials to advise a married man, but the thought of having him force his beloved wife through an abortion was nothing I could take.  
He was the father and because of a universally accepted bedroom culture, he had enjoyed his conjugal privileges and left the duty of protecting to the woman, who somehow missed it and is now in danger of being forced by that same bedroom culture to further mutilate her body which already is bleeding from the corrosive effects of tonnes of chemicals she has been forced to swallow since she entered that marriage.
And yet the society has conditioned women from an early age to see no evil, hear no evil; to accept a blatantly evil state of affairs as legitimate. It is okay for a woman to undergo sterilisation but when the same procedure is suggested for a man, he fumes that “you want to make me a woman”. Many a woman have found themselves in an undesirable situation after having mutilated their bodies, the marriage refuses to work and she walks into another relationship, which unfortunately cannot take off because she is now unable to give birth.  
Chemistry has developed chemicals mainly for women. Chemicals for men are either unknown, unavailable, expensive or simply unpopular because they call for equal participation by both species in planning. These chemicals, which we force our women to swallow everyday are not made in heaven. They are made by fallible human beings who have admitted that they have negative effects on the human body. In short, they kill, slowly but surely. If much is investigated, because of commerce, much is concealed because the industry is making billions in profits.  The same brutal principles of commerce find their way into the bedroom; what we produce is more important than what we become.
I remember Sally (not her real name), my former student.  She was beautiful as she grew up, the darling of the family.  The moment she entered marriage, she began making sacrifices she never thought she would ever make.  In no time, her once beautiful body began to balloon in reaction to chemicals only God knows where from.  The doctor recommended one chemical after the other.  Her sacred body reacted violently to this invasion, but all for love, she silently bore the pain of self-mutilation.  Fat crowded her kidneys and blocked her arteries.  The doctor said she died because of heart failure.  
Does it matter what it was?  It could be cancer, kidney failure, high blood pressure.  It could be even an unannounced killer, lying quietly in the contours of the female veins, being fed everyday, waiting for the day to strike.
How many husbands do sit and contemplate the murders they commit everyday in the name of love?
I long for the day when the truth will see the light of day.
What am I saying?  Does all prejudice stem from bedroom politics?  No.  But we will do well if we are honest from the word ‘go’, if we are ready as a society to confront a kind of tyranny that lies in a place where the law of the court is sterilised by the law of love.  Then from there, from a unified rear base, we can take the battle to the streets.  Joan Chittister says, “Whatever happens to the heart is the beginning of a true revolution.”  
It follows; what happens to the family sets big things in motion. These traditions have become a taboo to even talk about.  But are they worth breaking?  Can they be broken?
They can be broken and they are worth breaking.  They are breaking everyday.    If we fail, then we continue to loose half the gifts of God to the human family.  Most women are opting out of the family system, because they cannot sacrifice anymore.  Magaisa notes that most women are opting out of public life, because the cost is more than what they can pay.
This is proof that as a society we have succeeded in our failure to look at women not simply as “sexual instruments in a sex hungry world whose interests are more biological than spiritual”.  (Joan Chittister: In Search of Belief)
But the challenges of modernity go beyond the traditional notions of gender oppression.  Most talented women who may as well make a difference in influential boards and in public life are opting for professions weaved around their families because of what Margaret Driscoll terms the “inflexibility” of old professions. The result is what Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an American economist, calls “the hidden brain drain”. This inflexibility is man-made and can surely be dealt with unless the society is convinced that the effects of the hidden brain drain are not that bad.
I am convinced it is everyone’s calling, from the bedroom to the boardroom.  We cannot afford to blame it all on culture or economy.  While Sadc leaders rejected criminalising marital rape, in Rwanda women are making history by taking over the parliament.  The Rwandan precedence means that we can pass over from an era where we fight the fabric to a new era where we have to change the fabric.
According to a study released on September 18 2008 by the UN Development Fund for Women, in the past decade, more women have entered politics than ever, now accounting for 18,4% of parliament members worldwide. Much of the increase was driven by women realising
that they needed to attain power rather than just lobby for change, rightly noted the woman who spoke at the ceremony for the study release.
We are not without hope that we can recover from the genocidal effect of anti-women practices of the past and the present.  Culture is not immune to reform.  If it can be done in Rwanda, it is possible in Zimbabwe.  

By Dzikamai Bere


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