Growing up in rural Nyandarua, it was common to witness visitors, mainly men, come home asking to see my father.
Because there were no mobile phones, one had to walk to their target’s home, sometimes hundreds of miles away. And at our Passenga village home, such visitors were not few, owing to my father’s nature of trade.
Whenever they came calling, one question usually popped up after the greetings. Addressed to my mother, ever at hand to receive guests, the question always took this form: “Are people at home?” And she would promptly answer, if my father was in, “Yes, they are,” and usher them into the house.
The answer to whether “the people are at home”, however, had two versions. My mother would either answer, “Yes they are,” or “No, it is just me and the children; the people are away on (this or that) mission.”
Initially, I did not bother to interrogate the second version of the response. After all, my mother and we, the children, were “people” even in my father’s absence. While it became clear to me that “people” actually meant my father, it did not in any way bother me and my siblings.
But many years down the line, my friends and I have discussed this, some since our university days, many times with amusement. What a similar way and experience in growing up in the village despite the difference in cultures and geography!
What was baffling, we noted, is that the beautiful souls and epitome of honesty and generosity that are our mothers and their friends and peers were actually the ones perpetuating the notion that “people” was a synonym of “man” and could not define women and children.
Unknowingly, they had resigned to the fact that they were not “people” but women and children. As long as the man was not at home, there was “no one” at home. But they meant well.
This continued through my childhood and was accepted, wrongly, as normal. I got through adolescence to high school and on to university without thinking much of it. The perpetuation continues, but I want to believe that the magnitude is less.
However, it hit me that this objectification of the woman was a graver, deeper and wider problem than I thought. It was, and still is, a national, continental and global problem. It is the root of injustices visited upon women and girls all over.
A recent story in a local news website got me thinking. It was on Nairobi News, titled Gambling man surrenders his wife to friend after losing Manchester derby bet.
“A man is all set to lose his wife to his betting partner for an entire week after he lost a bet on which team would win the high-octane Manchester derby on Saturday night,” it read.
“A handwritten agreement between the two gentlemen with each of them pledging to give up his wife to the other for a week in the event of a loss for either Manchester City or Manchester United....”
By all means, it was an illustration of just how, generally, wives are perceived as commodities — and with contempt. Ideally, one would consult their family if, for instance, they intend to dispose of a stool or a television set. But not this woman! She would find herself under another man without warning — just because a team had lost in a match!
That was in Tanzania. Shortly afterwards, the disrespect was brought home. And it was, again, related to football — the recent World Cup in Russia.
Excited fans went to great lengths to express loyalty and support for their favourite teams. It was in this frenzy that the self-declared bull fighter, former Kakamega senator and Ikolomani MP Boni Khalwale, tweeted his support for Brazil ahead of their quarter-final match with Belgium.
That was good. What was not was a quick response from a man who disagreed with Dr Khalwale. He was willing to bet for the Belgians’ victory. He would “give” his wife to the vocal politician, a polygamist, “to add” to those at home. To add insult to injury, the man demanded the gynaecologist’s daughter as a counter-offer. Luckily, Dr Khalwale dismissed the misogynist with the contempt that he deserved.
This trend has to come to an end. How do we expect to grow as a people when we negate the most progressive part of us to object status? Societies that have developed have an integral respect for women. We can never get there by holding women as bets.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene