• November 27th, 2020

'I should be grateful, they say'



I learned I was a girl when, at family reunions, my uncles, after ogling my pubescent 16-year old body, would go on to tell my mother that I was “ripe”. They told her I was ready for marriage, to bear children and to head a household. I learned the hard way, but I should be grateful, they say, because I didn’t learn like Melanie Janse, whose body was found lying naked next to the Western Bypass in 2005.
I learned I was a girl when, after I had declined a boy’s very persistent romantic advances, he asked me whether I was sure that I was heterosexual, because how else could I possibly explain my disinterest in him? I learned the hard way, but I should be grateful – they say that I didn’t learn like Mirjam Nandjato, who was found dead and nearly decapitated in 2014. 
I learned I was a girl when, after I had – yet again – forgotten to do the dishes, my aunt told me that nobody would marry me. I would later come to learn that my value would never be evaluated based on my humanity, but of my womanhood – as if the two are justifiably, fundamentally different. I learned the hard way, but I should be grateful, they say, because I didn’t learn like Annalise Ndakongele who was knifed to death in March 2015. 
I learned I was a girl when, after an uncle had discovered my bookshelf, he warned me that I should not become too well-read, because nobody would marry a smart mouth woman. I would later come to learn that the world relies on my silence – as a woman – to keep moving forward. I learned the hard way, but I should be grateful, they say, because I didn’t learn like Marlene Gatonje, murdered with a stone in 2015.
I learned I was a girl when my driving instructor slipped his hand down the fabric of my shredded jeans and rubbed my thigh as punishment after I had forgotten to pull up the handbrake. I laughed because I was afraid. I learned the hard way, but I should be grateful, they say, because I didn’t learn like Cheryl Ujaha, whose mutilated body was found dumped in bushes in 2018. 
I learned I was a girl when, after an aunt had seen me lead a #ShutItAllDown protest, she called my mother to warn her that no man would be interested in a girl who took up too much space. “Tell her to calm down,” she said to my mother. I learned the hard way, but I should be grateful, they say, because I didn’t learn like Rejoice Shovaleka, stabbed to death while walking home in 2020.  
I learned I was a girl when I finally understood that the world relies on wallpaper women to move forward. It relies on the violent erasure of women and on us to swallow ourselves, our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our communities. It relies on our absence. We seem to be learning the hard way, but I guess we should be grateful, they say, because at least we’re alive to witness our dehumanisation. 
*Bertha Tobias is a #BeFree ambassador, an initiative under the One Economy Foundation tackling issues of GBV among women and children in the country. The movement initiates discussions about sex, alcohol and drug abuse including other issues affecting young people. She recited this poem at the launch of the Problematic Mindset Research report by First Lady Monica Geingos.


Staff Reporter
2020-11-20 11:57:19 | 7 days ago

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