By Yvonne E. Mwende
Happy New Year 2020!
Frohes Neues Jahr 2020!
Yep, it’s a new year. Time flies. To begin this New Year, I thought to pen a reflective piece about my agency in the space of advocacy, especially on women’s advancement. Sounds off beat uh? “I thought I Am My Bodyguard was about equipping women and children with self-defense skills?” You ask. Well… yes and more… You see for the longest time I have been aware of the injustices and inequalities that plague the world, especially women and I have faced as a girl/woman, some form of assault or the other which has consciously or unconsciously informed my work prior to I Am My Bodyguard and currently.
When I was nine years old, in class four, Mr. Wangiah was my class teacher. Among other subjects, he taught English, although I cannot remember his lessons, I remember his character. Every so often, Mr. Wangiah would dismiss the class for break and call in a girl who he would successful grope or attempt to grope, save for two girls in the class of 25 pupils; one with spina bifida and the other whose parents died of HIV/Aids related complications.
That period informed my first ever attempt at organising. The girls in my class began to meet in the field after he unbuttoned one of the girls’ dresses. In our nine-year-old minds we came up with the perfect plan, right there in the field. Each time he called any of us girls during break, we would all count to ten then storm in opening desks, opening books, causing a fracas, pretending to look for one thing or the other. One day, I think he sniffed us and told us to all leave save for the girl who he pretended to be tutoring. I had us all refuse to leave. We stood put. We had the numbers. That was my first lesson which I would later relearn during the I Am My Bodyguard training — that when confronted, a perpetrator loses his/her grip.
We later learnt he had upped and left. We told the Deputy Principal what he had been up to and she said we had an overactive imagination. To this day, I sometimes hope she rots in hell. Lesson two, there will always be those who aggravate abuse by their ignorance. Something else that was unfortunate is that prior to informing the Deputy Principal none of us told anyone about Mr. Wangiah, we all lulled in to silence.
Other ‘injustices’ have occurred as well. The male passenger who pretended to be scratching his leg only to ran his hand up and down my leg. I almost bit off his head. Or the one who attempted to dry hump me in a matatu. I remember reading an article about a girl who had gone to watch a movie with her elder sister. She was seated next to a man who ended up groping her for the entire movie. She was too scared to alert her sister who was sitting just next to her. Sadly, women and girls continue to suffer in silence paralyzed by fear. Lesson three, always defend yourself and call out for help. Perpetrators fear aggression, they hope that their prey will cower in silence.
These experiences have informed my zeal and tenacity to speak up for myself and for those around me who are yet to find their voices. Every so often I encounter people who will ask me how we expect an 11 year old to fend off an adult aggressor and my answer has always been in the words of author Alice Walker, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”