While growing up, it was evident that life was pretty hard for my mothers, sisters, cousins and female relatives in general. They did pretty much everything while our job was to play and come and ask for food (like most men do today). Ought of some sort of guilt, and mom's rules of her house, we would try to help our sisters fetch water, go to the market for groceries and the mill. However, it was minimal. Compared to them, we not only had the time to play dream beyond looming marriage, chores and life of homemaking. We could dream to be athletes, artists and even presidents. As my eyes opened, I realized that my family was a bit better compared to many others - my father was a pacifist who never even beat any of us in a society where kids were thrashed for sport (the most that he could do was shout or refuse to eat). In some places, there were quarrels and beatings. The fact that one unacceptable situation, evil, could be better than the other is mindbending. In the diaspora, Kenya, things that were generally better because most dads were in South Sudan fighting. Still, you had these young boys who thought themselves, men of the house, when the dads were away.
Not to mention, I witnessed young girls married off by force, some to husbands they had never seen or rich grandparents with cattle and in need of younger girls to ensure that they are immortalized even if they cease to breathe on the wedding night. Boys who transformed into men in diaspora (USA, Canada and Australia) thought that the best girls were those respectful, submissive and expert homemakers that could be found deep in the villages by the Nile. According to them, all one needed was a couple of thousands of dollars and voila, they have wives that they had never seen and could mould and wield as they see fit (or until the host countries intercepted). Some young girls were taken to their homes fainted. In their new homes, they suffered silently, still holding on to the idea that their people meant well, that it was for the common good. In a society where the individual is intricately linked to others, everything was for the good of the family, clan, tribe and so on. In a society where even Jesus Christ is yet to dethrone cattle, the mighty, long-horned bulls of the Jieng, wellbeing and prosperity are entangled with cattle. As I observed them, I was angry but powerless. I could only imagine what they were feeling and experiencing. "If I, the oppressor, however ignorant of that I might, is this enraged, what about them?" I asked. I guess I would never know their truest feelings.
When my elder sister's marriage came, she went contrary to my father and uncles and eloped with a man he loved. My father was enraged (he had plans for each of us, and had a person, a family in mind for my sister) and knowing that he might revoke the whole thing, I jumped on an ageing motorcycle and rode to Narus from Kapoeta to say NO. I told my father that we do not need the cattle and marriage by a wealthy man that my sister might have never seen. No, I am not the good guy. I was not doing my sister a favour. In a way, it was the only way I could live with myself (remember, the cattle from her marriage are mine for marriage). I did not want to one day marry (if an angel convinces me) from her unhappiness. When my cousins got married later, I called them, teaming, "did you want this?" To my joy, most had chosen their husbands. I told one of my cousins that if he dares to mistreat you, come back home.
As always, there is a silver lining. In Kapenguaria, Kenya, our neighbour, a no-nonsense lady, toughened and muscled by the farm, would thrash her lazy and owned-by-alcohol-changa'a-husband every night to our merriness. Though it shouldn't have been the case, we thought it was a very refreshing anomaly.
I took these formative observations and experiences with me wherever I went. In 2018, I decided that I would research them further and see if I could turn them into artistic material that would help my community talk about culture and gender - a topic postponed for so long to the suffering of many. On the one hand, at least in my view, the Jieng culture is pretty egalitarian and consensus-based, especially if you are a man. If you are a woman, it is close to the opposite. Husbands beat their wives at will. Though women run the subsistence economy, they have no say in the village power structures - like the council of elders. I could go on. Though things are changing a bit in the urban areas, most of us have taken these structures with us everywhere we've gone. I was disturbed. As much as I love my culture (not too much to harm others for it) I want some of the ethos extended to my sisters, mothers and all women. Based on the little existing literature, I am trying to understand how my culture ended up like this, especially when women run everything, albeit without recognition. How did we get here? If anyone has any material for pre-colonial, pre-Christianity Jieng and Nilotic societies, please share it with me.
I have started working on a series of short stories - might be another book, a sort of another intimate fictional meditation grounded on observed reality - to explore the intersection of gender and culture among my beloved people and cultures (including our neighbours).
Gender-based violence, in my view, is the pinnacle. As much as we, as a society should address it urgently, we focus on addressing the unseen structures that have allowed men (I understand that it is either way, but where I am from, it's mostly one way) to abuse women with no impunity. We need to rethink marriage, family, homemaking, work and most importantly, governance and politics. It is 2021 and some men are still looking for submissive homemakers and broodmares for partners; some women are looking for cash cows to milk to buy them the world and happiness for partners. The fact that such thinking still exists is evidence to urgently address the subterranean forces that lead to the last stage, gender-based violence.
For the next month, I ask all my friends, especially all my brothers, to join me, pausing and reflecting on how we, as individuals, are contributing to such a society. I invite you to discuss and challenge some of these subtle norms and if you witness gender-based violence, especially against women (and any form of gender-based discrimination), and you keep quiet, SHAME ON YOU.
I am SAYING NO to Gender-based Violence. #Enough!
P.S Sorry Maradona, I love you but not hijack this campaign