LOVE HIM OR HATE HIM?
I am not sure how it is in other countries, but young Batswana have a relatively good grasp on popular music in the states. Chris Brown is a favorite of many. Recently I attended a few baby showers. At one of them, a woman mentioned how she LOOOVEEDD Chris Brown. For the purposes of this story, let's call her Sarah. I told Sarah that I wasn't the biggest fan, that I like his music but I don't respect anyone who hits women. It is just how I feel. I have had this conversation with a few women in Botswana. A couple coworkers of mine at Shoshong Clinic said that they have forgiven him--that it is all in the past. Similarly, Sarah said the same thing. But she went a little further, saying that we don't know his side of the story...that we don't know what Rihanna may have done to deserve to be hit.
This conversation was interesting and illuminating to me in many respects. It first shed light on Botswana culture and pointed to something larger about women and the way we treat each other. Thirdly, it helped solidify my views on violence in general.
CULTURE IN BOTSWANA
In addition to the comment about Rihanna, Sarah briefly spoke about her experience. She said "Well, I've been hit, but then you just move on." I interpret that as her version of "grin and bear it." Maybe it is simply a survival mechanism, a way to keep going on. Maybe it's a source of pride--to be able to say you're strong and can move past hardships. Maybe asking for help is not viewed as being strong, or perhaps it's not really an option.
Although Botswana is a "second world," partially-developed country, relationships between men and women are still very traditional. Wives always serve their husbands. Traditionally, at the wedding ceremony, the married women give the new bride advice. Among the instructions of how to be a good wife, the older women tell their younger counterpart never to ask her husband where he has been or when he is coming home. She should also look the other way if he decides to take other partners. And she is instructed that her role is to serve her husband in any way--she needs to cook what he wants to eat and give him sex whenever he wants, regardless of her desires. Admittedly, some relationships of the youth are more equal, but this marriage advice is still given at most traditional weddings. Young educated women have told me that they just nod and keep their head down, but they have no plan to follow the advice. Personally, I hope that the advice changes when my generation becomes the elder women.
I do believe that a more equal view of women and men as partners decreases violence against women and leads to better economic standing for women, and therefore better economic conditions within the country. When children see their mothers as strong role models, they are empowered to do their best. Empowering women empowers the entire country. I hope for this reality for Botswana. That being said, I do not argue that western countries are perfect at this either.
HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER
Although the US and other western countries have made significant strides on economic and social equality for women, are we any better at supporting each other? I am not so sure. Women should be made to feel supported, loved and validated (as should men). And sadly the worst violators of this are oftentimes other women. We see this with women who perform genital mutilation on their daughters, tell them to be subservient to their husbands, claim that other women "deserve" ill treatment because of bad behavior, call other women whores by judging their sexual choices, and oppose a woman's right to family planning and choosing when to have a baby.
When did we lose the ability to support and genuinely love other women? We need to bring that back. When all of our partners die and our children move away, we will only have each other.
This third point may seem obvious, but this whole Chris Brown issue reminds me of something I recently decided: violence is NEVER okay. NEVER. Your girlfriend can scream at you all she wants. Your boyfriend can cheat on you. Your mother can yell at you. Your friend can break your possessions. We should not use violence to "solve" our problems.
As a student of international relations, I always studied wars as failed diplomacy, or even as other means of diplomacy. I never liked it, but I never really thought about war as a crime against humanity in itself. I never considered myself a pacifist. Well, I do now. I have begun to see the Earth and everything/everyone on it as parts of the same living system. We need to be kind to the Earth and kind to each other.
There are a couple quotes from Gandhi that underscore these points:
"However much I may sympathize with and admire worthy motives, I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes."
"Every murder or other injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another is a crime against humanity."