By Rohey Samba
A friend of my husband asked him whether we were divorced recently. Appalled, he replied in the negative and prodded as to why such a question. The dude shrugged and alluded to my loaded articles on Standard Newspaper. Apparently, he has been reading my articles and drawing conclusions about the status of my life. Well, isn’t that the same as, or even worse than, ascribing artists to the characters they play on the television screen? Like really…
Because I am almost constitutionally unable to flag idiocy, I will initiate this very difficult conversation once and for all.
A Small Country
The Gambia is a small country; both in size and in the mindsets of its people. In here, I am not being political, though I have many things to say about our politics. This is not the column for it. I refer rather to the day-to-day dealings of people and the way moth hills are formed from mountains in our society. Eventually any moral infraction, whether real or imagined, is a matter of calumny within our circles. The holier-than-thou attitude of persons is baffling. So is the viability of specific gossip for self-serving purposes. The reactive responses other than communicative engagements on issues that matter have perpetuated a non-tolerant medium in our society that has all but stippled acquired maturity for change. In a nutshell, change is a long way away in our new Gambia. All signs of it, point towards cautious optimism.
I have little worries. As a writer, my worst fear is self-aggrandizement. In effect, the foulest deal breaker for me is over-sharing, by talking about me. In many ways, we are the heroines of our own stories. That’s why we choose to write anyways. Nonetheless I find writing about me as performative rather than persuasive. I prefer the latter to the former. Thus I choose to bring to bear my relevant experiences as a writer and a keen observer of men particularly in the field that focuses on normalized and structural violence against women and their role in spreading gender inequality in The Gambia. What better topics to start with in this respect than polygamy and divorce. Women in The Gambia and all around Africa in particular, regularly experience these. Yet a few women are brave enough to write about its implications, leaving men to take a lead role on the narrative of their lives. I write to create a balance, and to give the woman’s perspective on the issues that affect her the most!
Why Sister Speak
There has never been a preamble to the column I dub SisterSpeak. My mistake. My inclination was that explaining about a column would dampen the wit and limit its ambit. I should have explored a more knowledgeable perspective, as indeed this has backfired. Like all socially conscious individuals, my work as a writer is certainly informed by my collective experiences and observations as a Gambian woman, which in turn informs my advocacy in this column.
The focus of SisterSpeak, is largely meant to foster peace between the sexes, through meaningful proselytization of a woman’s perspective on issues at hand, thus its name. It speaks to the question of gender and sex and seeks to expand on the structural violence against women, which has produced a lot of social suffering. Many studies have concluded for instance that gender inequality, plays a major role in predicting migration. With the exploding ‘back-way’ syndrome experienced in The Gambia over the past few years, the role of civic engagement and enlightenment as they pertain to women and peace cannot be overemphasized.
Structural violence is defined by Winter and Leighton in their book Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Century published in 2001, as the violence of injustice and inequity; “embedded in ubiquitous social structures and normalized by stable institutions and regular experience”. At this moment in time, The ‘New’ Gambia is synonymous with quid pro quo politics and tribalism. If the truth is to be told, I care for neither of the two beyond repressed indignation.
The political impasse which occurred from December 2016 to February 2017, demonstrates to Gambians that peace is not a natural state of affairs but rather a matter of political and cultural influence that must be safeguarded at all costs. The unhailed heroes of this development are of course, Gambian women. Aside from the historic intervention of our current Vice President, Madam Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, in bringing the opposition leaders under one umbrella espoused in that monumental MoU signed barely two months before the 1 December election, Gambian women have strived relentlessly from the onset of the impasse to prevent the fighting folly of their sons and husbands in the aftermath of Jammeh’s refusal to step down. Not to mention, they voted the most for change to happen, and consequently seated President Barrow in his current position.
In effect, whenever social cohesion/harmony is threatened, women have strived to prevent violence and the outbreak of social calamity in our societies. Even with respect to human relations and tribal harmony, women have played an instrumental role by the exogamous nature of their marriages to men of other tribes, classes, races etc. In spite of symbolic violence perpetuated against them, i.e. the socio-cultural mechanisms of unequal power and domination that exist within their interpersonal relationships with their male counterparts, women have continued to play a major role in peace by their exercising humility, patience and persuasiveness, attributes that are generally conferred to womankind.
Nevertheless, sex and gender are different in all aspects. Whilst sex alludes to the reproductive organ one is born with, whether male or female; gender is learnt behavior that shapes our respective roles as male and female peoples of the world. What is learnt behavior can be unlearned. Thus whilst the outcomes of structural and symbolic violence against women, whether by marginalization, constraining their capabilities or agency, assaulting their dignities etc., are experienced individually, their ricocheting effects expose the linkages between personal problems faced by women and societal problems at large.
The scope of my writing in this column thus defies neat categorization as it is meant to forge transformative responses to relational, specific and natural processes that influence women’s responses to the social problems that they are faced with every given day. SisterSpeak, is the way a sister speaks to her fellow sister, or at least, the way she expresses herself truthfully, without the guise of subterfuge or the persuasion of traditional roles in order to ensure social harmony.
It is also a supplicant for her to speak up and speak to her oppressor(s), real or presumed, within a social system and/or cultural structure against discrimination based on gender, patriarchy, caste etc. SisterSpeak will therefore deal with a whole gamut of taboo issues such as sex, marriage, philandering, polygamy, divorce, polyamory, health issues, death, inheritance, menstruation, sexual harassment in the workplace etc. These will be treated in the context of our local features, which generally impinge on broad scale economic, cultural, political, social and religious stratifications of our society.
3 Types of women
I define women in 3 categories. We have the married woman, the single woman and the childless woman in between them. Each of these women would be given their voice in this column in due course. It is the peak of naivety to expect that all women would respond in the same way to a given situation. My two daughters are a case in point. They are as different as day and night. Whilst one is exquisitely sensitive to social clues, the other maintains an observational and emotional distance from anyone who is not family. Whilst the first loves to play with gadgets, the other loves to play with dolls and hairs etc. There cannot be a rhyming appellation for both girls growing into young women. Each of them is an individual on her own right, and they may grow up worlds apart even though they are of one mother and father, and share the common bond of womanhood.
To date, the increased societal burden of modern life dictates that people irrespective of their gender, must find their passion and acquire skills to build a peaceful and sustainable world. Women are not expected to be conformists to institutionalized injustice and/or exclusion which in turn create contexts of humiliation, stigmatization, shame, violation of self-integrity and respect among others. Thus the analytical gaze of this column will continue to look beyond the individual characteristics of women, to the interpersonal relations between women and women, nesting on broader social contexts to promote social harmony, prevent strive and bring change to the new Gambia.
That all may live in unity, freedom and peace each day…
(Rohey Samba is an award winning Gambia writer and author of 3 books, with experience working as a Media Analyst, Press and Public Outreach Assistant for the EU Election Observation Mission in The Gambia National Assembly Elections, 2017. She owns a publishing company and works as a maritime specialist, specializing in maritime safety and environmental administration at Gambia Maritime Administration.)