Friday, May 31, 2013

HIS-story We Have had, Time for HER-story

HIS-story we have had, time for HER-story

Friday, 31 May 2013 00:00
Gender Forum Ruth Butaumocho
Zimbabwe Herald

LAST week Africa celebrated 50 years since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity. But the grand affair was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the African Union headquarters, where more than 50 Heads

of State and Government and 41 former presidents joined other world leaders to celebrate the AU’s 50 years of existence.

The delegates wined and dined while congratulating African leaders for keeping their heads afloat in light of insurmountable challenges that have been hogging the continent for some time.

Unlike previous celebrations, this year’s event was rather unique and special because the AU was holding its Golden Jubilee celebrations, under the theme “Pan Africanism and African Renaissance”.

Notably the celebrations are coupled with the honouring of a galaxy of African leaders for the role they played in ushering independence in different countries across the African continent.

Several women — among them renowned author, Doris Lessing — got the accolades for their brevity, integrity and unwavering resolution to ensure that mother Africa could not continue to be devoured by the colonialists, who were bent on stripping it off its humanity, resource base, while denying its people of their birthright.

In her speech to mark the occasion, AU chairwoman, Dr Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, saluted the role both men and women played, but singled out the unparalleled dedication that women showed, despite operating in a patriarchal system that heavily weighed on their back.

As she was calling out the names, I couldn’t help but wonder on the number of female liberators who should have been honoured, but their names were not on the list.

I was really convinced that there were many female liberators whose names should have been there, but strangely enough, did not make it to the final listing.

After sometime it dawned to me why there were such discrepancies, which really had nothing to do with gender but was a result of some historical imbalances that needed to be corrected.

I later realised that there were many female liberators that were not honoured, not because their contributions were insignificant, but their heroic contributions went largely ignored, because much of the past was recorded and presented as “his-story.”

In most communities, countries and some parts of the globe, the male voice and perspective have been dominating the interpretations of the past, which would then focus on the deeds of “great men” and “few outstanding women”, who are believed to have defied the odds, boasting of unmatched heroic records. After all its HIS-story.

In the case of the African continent, women were regarded as helpers, weak on menial chores, and could only fare better in the home and in the fields.

And since most historians were males operating in a patriarchal society, they rarely mentioned African women except in cases were polygamy was at centre stage. As a result of that there were only few cases of women whose contribution to the liberation struggle was considered noteworthy and worth mentioning.

For a long time, gendered historical interpretations of Africa’s story have over and over been highlighting the central position of women as spiritual mediums and herbalist of note.

It is within the same historical construct that narratives of liberation struggles that took place in Africa don’t say much about the role the majority of women played but merely acknowledge their presence except in exceptional cases.

When I try to I imagine the role that females across Africa played in the liberation struggles, I am reminded of the many narratives that my late grandfather, Asiriro, would share with us, of his great exploits during his hunting days in the neighbouring Chamakunguwo and Chipukutu mountains in Chiweshe.

There was, however, one narrative which struck me as rather odd and only fit for an American stuntman, where my grandfather claimed he was followed by a wounded warthog for a good three kilometres, forcing him to seek refuge in my grandma’s kitchen, while the whole village watched in awe at such at an unusual happening.

According to my grandfather, who is now late — May his soul rest in peace — he got in the kitchen and like an experience hunter he was, took a spear behind the door, aimed at the warthog and beheaded the vicious animal in the process, to thunderous applause from the villagers, who were watching from afar.

Later it, however, emerged that it was not my grandfather who killed the warthog, but my grandma, who came to the rescue upon realising that her husband had been paralysed by fear and could not even lift a finger.

It is said that on realising the impending danger of being gored together with her six-month baby — having seen her husband scurrying for cover right behind the door — she took an axe and aimed right at the warthog’s head, killing it instantly.

Without bothering to find out what had happened to her target, she immediately went to the crying child, while my grandfather, who on noticing that she had killed the animal, emerged from the house with the smile of a victor, to thunderous applause from fellow villagers.

Strangely enough my grandmother never bothered to correct the misconception, though she would smile sheepishly whenever my grandfather would go about his heroic exploits of how he beheaded a warthog in front of the whole village.

Women, who by nature, are not a boisterous lot, often take a back seat and let men, take the lead in discussing matters that concern their welfare and survival, and rarely bait an eyelid even if facts are misrepresented.

It is high time that women should learn to tell their narratives, so that they would be documented for future generations and for the good of woman-kind

From Cape to Cairo, African women share a common history, a common vision and face same stumbling blocks regardless of the political boundaries.

That historical disadvantage should be their uniting force, and an energiser to strengthen their cause, for recognitions across the social, political and economic strata.

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