(Editor’s Note: the first section of this article is written by Levi Kabwato)
AROUND THE WORLD, Empathy is in short supply. Our ability to move past tragedy and forget them is quite alarming. The hashtags on social media have not made things easier as well. You can simply hashtag your message and feel you have done enough so you can move on with your life. Perhaps this should be fine, if you consider that a lot more goes ignored because, well, most people just do not have the time or strength to devote to every problem of the world.
Surely, however, there are things that can be done at a local level. There are various actions that can be taken in order to deal with social ills and other malaise in the pursuit of justice. It does not have to be earth-shattering – just simple expressions of Empathy that reveal what our African-ness is all about – Ubuntu/Umunthu.
I am because you are.
Where has the compassion gone? Where is the dignity? Where is the humanity? Granted, we are all living busy lives and are pre-occupied with our own aspirations and so on, but, when was the last time you had time for a stranger? When was the last time you put yourself in another’s shoes, to feel their pain and to make it better for them?
Central to the act of de-sensitisation is usually the State; an apparatus that has both the propensity to oppress as much as it has to advance the principles of Ubuntu.
Yet, as I was reminded this past week as feedback for last week’s entry poured in, we can – and need to – go past State-sanctioned actions and visit the very core of our strength: Humanity.
The entry on how some of laws in Malawi uphold rape culture touched a nerve and caused introspection. I am glad that the conversation continues, even outside the confines these column inches. Yes, we are all hyenas but, we can undo our behaviour and begin to undo challenge traits that promote ills such as sexual violence against women and children, girls and boys alike. The hyena laughs at its victims. We must not.
Martha Chilongoshi, an activist from Zambia, reminds us this week that the problems of injustice towards women and children who are victims of sexual violence is not only a Malawian one, but is common in Zambia too.
This is her entry:
Systems that oppress the poor and marginalised are not unique to Malawi, Zambia has successfully created a society that upholds injustices by constantly enforcing inequality in power relations between girls and boys from an early age which in essence, translates into unequal power relations between men and women at all levels of society.
Cultural and traditional practices persist in people’s attitudes, beliefs and values, creating harmful notions on the relationship between men and women. Even more, our society has created a deep sense of entitlement by most men when it comes to women, we have a socio-cultural system that reinforces and entrenches patriarchal relations and in Zambia, this is reflected most clearly through countless gender based violence cases.
To have a society in 2016, that still embraces sexual and gender based violence through practices such as sexual cleansing and initiation ceremonies that indoctrinate young girls to be submissive to male domination is appalling to say the least. While culture and other social factors do not amount to violence in themselves, attitudes based on culture provoke and perpetuate situations that lead to sexual, physical and emotional violence and offenders often get away with it because of inadequate laws to protect the interests of women and children.
The problem of inequality is deeply entrenched in social and cultural beliefs and in turn, contributes to the grave lack of enforcement of the law when women are abused and when young girls are raped. Our oppressive system is further enhanced by a lack of stiff penalties on crimes such as rape, defilement, child abuse and gender based violence against women. A case in point to put into perspective how bad things are in Zambia, is a man who was convicted in 2014 for the rape of a 14 year old girl and sentenced to 18 years in prison, yet was pardoned after serving one year of his sentence and subsequently appointed as an ambassador in the fight against gender based violence.
The scenario above indicates that Zambia currently struggles with recognising that violence against women and children is a fundamental violation of human rights and that it is simply not acceptable to let behaviours and attitudes that reinforce notions of violence prevail. The extent of violence against women and children justifies the need for immediate corrective action and legal interventions. Families too have a huge role to play by not keeping silent about injustices happening right in their homes and acting very shocked when it’s aired on the news, that’s just hypocritical and reinforces the reality that we are all hyenas indeed.