I always wanted an opportunity to do something about it, but I was seemingly helpless. The campaign empowered me to do for others what I could not do for myself growing up—and that is to speak in a way that brings change to life.
Every Thursday for the past three years I have worn black as a way of standing in solidarity with the victims of rape and violence and just saying “YES” to a tomorrow without sexual and gender-based violence. I do not wear black to “speak for the voiceless” because I believe everyone has a voice given the right audience. Rather, I wear black to communicate to the survivors of rape and all forms of violence that they simply need to project their voices and I am—we all are—here to listen to them and help them.
Getting involved in Thursdays in Black has opened my eyes, and I now look at a lot of cultural teachings and expectations with a microscope. For instance, in my country there are several traditions that hinge on simply saying: women should be in the kitchen and not behind a desk, or they should be in the pews and not the pulpit. Some traditions teach that women worship the ground men walk on—and respecting men is not enough. I will go a little further and talk of traditions that teach that women are there to just satisfy the man (husband) sexually and whether they are unwell or not they should satisfy the husband sexually. Some of these traditions give leeway to men to rape their own wives simply because women are not allowed to say “no” when they do not want to have sex or when they cannot.
Sadly, some traditions do not give women an opportunity to have a say in the child spacing or family planning at large but they are always blamed for having several children which is absurd because—do they conceive on their own?
On the other hand, I can count on one hand the men I see in antenatal clinics in the community in which I am currently working because they are not ready to discuss male contraception; in fact, some men do not even know it exists. There are those who just believe women should “battle out” the effects of contraception as much as possible because men should be allowed to enjoy sex for a lifetime and reproduce as much as they want.
I decided to begin having uncomfortable conversations and creating safe spaces to deconstruct so many wrong beliefs, and hopefully emerge into a world without rape and violence.
I call them “uncomfortable conversations” because these are the things about which people are not willing to speak, but they are aware of them—and some are even victims. I believe we can create safe spaces to talk about these things, spaces where people can feel safe, be helped and ultimately project their voices, because in any case no matter how many uncomfortable conversations we have, if victims do not project their voices, we are knocking on doors that will not be opened.
I am not part of this campaign so that I get people standing up and clapping for me but simply so that I can see early marriages come to an end; oppressive marriages end; and defilement, rape and any form of abuse vanish. I am doing this so that the next generation can only read about sexual and gender-based violence in history books. This campaign is for that one girl who is perpetually being abused, has had several abortions and contracted HIV, or for that woman used as a “baby making machine.” It is also for the one who cannot get a promotion because she is female or the one who cannot leave her post but has to work long hours while having her menses. I am also doing it for that abused stepdaughter whose mother has told her to be silent simply because the mother wants to “save” her marriage.
When we talk of creating safe spaces we need to begin to seek to have homes or centers where people who leave toxic relationships can come and be housed and provided with counseling sessions, places where people can come and hopefully begin healing. We need to create spaces where people can be assured of safety from their abusers.
In creating safe spaces we should also begin to have those uncomfortable conversations in our sermons at churches, teachings at schools, and meetings in workplaces so that as those various people go out in the community they spread those messages against sexual and gender-based violence and hopefully survivors of sexual and gender-based violence will feel safe to stand up and speak up.