Tsitsi Dangarembga, who authored the trilogy that includes Nervous Conditions and This Mournable Body, is a leading feminist voice. Through here work she describes a country where women “suffer disproportionately” and abuse by men is so normal that it barely registers as gender violence.
“Women are still being silenced,” she told AFP at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where she presented the final instalment of the trilogy. “Violence is very much part of the fabric of our society and I believe we have to address this if we want to overcome it.”
Dangarembga has been pushing to introduce the viral #MeToo movement in her home country but her efforts have not borne results. The author has encountered obstacles, such as a lack of funding, the reluctance of families to let their daughters speak out and a lack of support from civil society groups.
“I want to talk about my own story of abuse, which robbed me of eight years of my life. I want to be one of the people in the #MeToo spots.”
She has instead taken to telling the stories of women in desperate circumstances and sometimes impossible positions who are nevertheless not devoid of hope.
Speaking about the trilogy she wrote, Dangarembga said, “This is about your average Zimbabwean woman who is doing nothing special apart from surviving day to day,” she said. “Sometimes one doesn’t do it elegantly, or very morally, but one does manage.”
The #MeToo movement in Africa
The movement, which has garnered a huge following in the Western world, has not brought its ‘salvation’ to the continent, as many had hoped. African societies are intensely patriarchal, with traditional views pitted against women. This also serves to stigmatise, silence and victim-shame the survivors of sexual abuse.
Whereas Western women have been able to share their stories of abuse on platforms that helped create awareness and build supportive communities, interviews by AFP showed that many African women only felt bolstered enough to share their stories in person with friends and, perhaps, family or in close-knit social media groups.
When Ugandan lawmaker Sylvia Rwabwogo pressed charges against a man who stalked and harassed her for eight months, she faced a backlash and mockery from Ugandans, who instead sympathised with the “love struck” student.
“The fact that we can attack an MP who has been a victim of sexual harassment, instead of asking ourselves what is wrong here, shows that we are not there yet,” activist Rosebell Kagumire told Daily Nation at the time.
In Kenya, Wangechi Wachira, the head of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), said in an interview that while the #MeToo movement resonated with women, many were unwilling to follow through with filing charges due to an unsympathetic justice system, a lack of support and the burden of proof being on the victim.
“The whole system that needs to be supporting you is trying to traumatise you more,” she said.
Furthermore, in countries that suffer from political strife, sexual assault is often used as a weapon of war. In such countries, #MeToo is merely a slogan that offers no tangible resources and cannot even begin to highlight the terrors that women in these areas face on a daily basis.
Their silence, most of all, is deafening.