Sinothando Ncube

32 years old

Social commentator & writer

Emancipation, empowerment, patriarchal dominance… the list goes on and on. These are words that do not even begin to describe the status of women – especially in an African context. The handling of women as commodities instead of beings by society dates back to time in memorial. Yet, the world wants to make a loud hoo-ha over Boko Haram’s kidnapping of the over 276 girls in Nigeria, calling it many names including terrorism. But, is it really?

Right here in South Africa, in the Shaka Zulu times – where wars were waged against not-so-powerful states given that he had the most powerful army of that age – women were just nothing but a commodity. To start off with, those who were not of Nguni blood could be taken to bed without consent as they were given to soldiers who returned home after winning a battle as a token of appreciation.

During the aforementioned period, women were used as commodities of and for war. When an attacked state/kingdom had been defeated, the hardest affected were women. They were forcefully taken to the winning state against their will – together with livestock, minerals and grain – as part of the victory reward. Upon arrival at the winning kingdom, they were forced to blend in, yet maltreated and regarded as less than human. In short, they were made to be slaves by virtue of their army having lost a battle – and when we talk of slavery in such instances, sexual slavery is not exempted.

However, the defeated state whose asserts including women would have been looted never took the whipping lying down. They launched surprise attacks for the sole purpose of affirmatively repossessing their women before anything else. The attacked would then negotiate around minerals and land of their surprise attackers in exchange for the women being held captive.

Fast forward centuries later, the lines of thinking have not evolved together with the rest of civilization. There are men like the Boko Haram who, in the name of religion, still believe in the kidnapping of powerless women as a means to an end. These are men who still believe that the easiest way to get their way is through the kidnaping and taking advantage of women and young girls. To them, women still fall under the category of what can be used as bate; assets that can be used to trade for what one wants. Commodities. Things. One wonders whether they even begin to realise, let alone understand the impact this has on the lives of those young girls – that, oddly, seem to have the most value in these barbaric cockfights.

They could be uncertain of a lot of things and certain of one. Such acts impose self-doubt and low self-esteem as one is reduced to nothing but an object hence destroying the sense of self-worth. Boko Haram members have already indicated their intentions with these girls and these include selling them as slaves and marrying them. These intentions bring to one’s mind the thought of what they are already doing to them and with them.

They have already decided which religion these girls should belong to. In doing so, they are reinforcing a clear message: Being a woman mean one does not have the power to choose. The sole “crime” of these girls is that they wanting an education when Boko Haram believes girls are just meant to be wives. Patriarchal dominance psychology does not even come close to describing the world view on women that this group has, that women belong nowhere other than the kitchen and bearing children?

On the other hand these girls have been pursuing something greater. They have been chasing after emancipation on a bigger scale, educational emancipation – which would leave to the alleviation of poverty not only to them but to their families and their communities at large. The old adage that says by educating a woman, one is educating a nation is no fallacy. And yet, the reality is that while these boys run around with guns playing Mr Big-shot, it is women who bear the brunt in most African societies; women (our mothers) who make sure that we sleep fed and comfortable, by any means.

As much as the Boko Haram may be displaying terrorist traits, there is more to it than what meets the eye. Their method of catching the world’s attention is not foreign to a lot of ills that society still has to work towards eradicating. Yet, it is a clear indicator of how girls and women are vulnerable even in this age where all is believed to be giving equal opportunities to both genders. Men still view women as asserts and objects. They forget that these women are their mothers, daughters and sisters.

Emancipation, empowerment, patriarchal dominance… TERRORISM? Gender inequality has many faces both here and abroad. We need to start staring into the human face of it and see the pain in the eyes of those at the receiving end: Women.