The struggle for equality and equity prevails but the strength of the voices demanding it correlates with the levels of need in the individual’s life. The higher up a person is on the rung of needs, the bolder they are to demand their rights, and the more strength they have to vocalize their entitlement. They may even look down on those on lower rungs from the benefit of their loftier location and wonder why they too are not joining the struggle and demanding their rights.
The response may surprise them as weak voices select their battles to preserve their little strength. Their focus at this point is not on their rights but on their survival. They do feel the oppression and the discrimination. At the back of their minds they can identify with what you say. But their response is based on their location and on the hierarchy of needs:
‘I know I have rights, but I need food right now. Hunger is gnawing at my insides, I cannot think about colorism or equality right now. I need to get some food.’
‘What did you say? Fighting for what? It’s winter here and I have no heating. I need to go and clean a few white people’s houses so that I can get some money for gas. It’s so cold.’
‘Who is superior? Oh, good for them. My baby is ill. There is no hospital near me. I need to start walking to the clinic. It will take me three hours to get there. Sorry I cannot talk to you right now, I am so tired, so worried about my baby.’
‘I know I shouldn’t stay. He hits me every day. But if I leave him where can I go? I have no job, no money, no food, nowhere to take my children. At least here we have food’
‘Oh yes I understand. We need to stand up for equality and of course we will. For now, though we need to finish digging this well. The springs have dried up and we have no water. Yes, we can talk, but later, please move out of the way, we need to dig…’
It’s not that they don’t know about the need to fight for equality. It’s not that they don’t want to fight for equality. There are just too many other things clamouring for their attention right now and they don’t have the mental capacity to add yet another fight to their armload of trouble.
When you talk to men sometimes, you can see that a woman who is educated and has progressed in her life is a challenge they don’t always want to deal with. They prefer to find a ‘humble’ woman who doesn’t challenge their authority by demanding her rights. A ’Westernised’ woman is militant and confrontational, she is not ‘submissive’.
What they don’t realise is that any woman given the right circumstances will fight for what is valuable or important to her. The fighter in her unfortunately is sometimes thwarted by her circumstances.
I have been blessed to have lived in Africa, USA and Europe. Women in all three places have battles they engage in but their battles are shaped by their location on the hierarchy of needs.
The higher up a woman is the more vocal she usually gets and sometimes the more disdain she might express towards her silent, oppressed sister. What she may fail to realize is where her own strength comes from and what causes her sister’s apparent weakness. She fails to realize that her sister’s voice is shushed daily by hunger and preventable sicknesses which redirect her from fighting the loftier, self-actualization battles, to bread and butter issues.
Our attitudes as the privileged women who have had the tenacity and the opportunities to scale the rung on the ladder to higher rungs, should be to lean over and pull our sister up.
We could pay tuition for that orphan girl who has no chance of going to school in her current circumstances, so that the poverty that is her lot is not perpetuated. A miniscule percentage of your salary could be the ladder one little girl uses to climb up from lack of opportunities to a place of hope.
The nearer she gets to you the louder your voice is to her and as she hears, she can also learn to speak your language. Don’t deride her, that adds to her burdens and her silence. Lean over and pull her up.
I am always surprised by how little it takes to feed a family in Africa or to drill a well, or provide medication, to pay tuition so that a child in need can go to school. Compare this to how much we spend on things we end up throwing in the bin here in the Western world.
Let me digress just a little here and bring a scenario to your attention.
I watched a video recently of a lady in Zimbabwe imploring a council official to work on improving the lot of girls. She mentioned that many girls miss out on a week’s education each month because they don’t have sanitary towels and no clean water.
So, imagine you are talking to a young girl in this situation. You are telling her about her right to vote, equality, equal pay and all the very important things you want her to be aware of. As is customarily expected of her, she might sit and listen to what you are saying. But in the process, she crosses her legs and prays that today is not the day she embarrasses herself by getting up, after your speech, and leaving a red stain on your beautifully upholstered chair. She prays that today is not the day she announces her cycle to the world when she gets up and her skirt is blood-stained because she cannot afford to buy sanitary towels; the same stuff so many of us take so much for grated because we can just go to the shop and buy what we need.
So, the young girl looks at you and wonders why you cannot see her pain, her shame, her discomfort. The cramps are blocking your voice. She cannot hear you past them and the trepidation of being stared at and laughed at. Your voice is muffled, she cannot focus on what you are saying. She wonders when you will stop talking so that she can find a private place to try and get herself clean again. Her immediate needs override any interest in or curiosity about anything you are saying. There are more pressing needs preventing her from taking on any new battles, more so those that appear to be far-fetched in her stained view.
As long as there is separation between us and our sisters who are still battling with basic needs, we will never speak the same language.
The gap between us is too great for effective communication to take place. The winds of hunger and thirst, lack of opportunities, cold homes, lack of access to education and medical facilities will continue to blow our words away never allowing them to get to our poor sisters who through no fault of their own are stuck to the lowest rungs on the ladder.
Language evolves. People in a given location speak a language that is different from the next. Each rung on the ladder has its own lingo. But we can bridge those gaps with the love we can extend one to the other.
If we don’t reach down, we will continue to watch the disparity between us grow. We will continue to despise each other or look at each other through suspicious eyes. The commonalities between us are blurred. The cars and mansions overshadow the dirty water and hungry children, creating a divide we cannot bridge.
The higher we go on the ladder, the harder it will be to reach the person at the bottom. If you started from the bottom, then you know what you have had to do to get to where you are. You know the shoulders you were offered to step on and the ones you quashed so that you could become who you now are.
My challenge to us all who have been elevated honestly or by hook or crook, is this:
Before you reach up to scale that next rung, how about turning around just for a moment and look for a sister on the rung below that you can pull up to the next level. Become her enabler.
You don’t need to pull everyone to your level. That is not your calling. You need to do what you are supposed to do. But in the middle of that, give. Much has been given to you, so you are well able to give to another.
Make life a little easier for your sister so that she can now have the voice to fight at the level she is at, so that she too can have the strength to fight and pull herself up to the next level.
Be the one that teaches her a trade she can use to move up and cause those around her to also move up.
As long as the gap between us is so wide, we cannot speak with the same voice. Our focus will continue to be different because our needs will continue to be different as well. You will continue to have the luxury to speak against inequality while she is still seeking the satisfaction that comes from hunger assuaged and thirst sated, a warm home, children that are healthy and able to go to a local school and living where she wants to live not where she has to live.
Farikanayi was born and raised during Zimbabwe’s colonial era. She earned a Bachelor of Science and Teaching Certificate from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University and East Carolina University). She worked in Zimbabwe as a teacher, deputy head and head teacher, then migrated to the UK where she resides with her two sons and two daughters. She obtained a Master of Art degree in Gender Studies and a Master of Arts degree in Social Work from the University of Leeds. Like most immigrants to the UK, Farikanayi became a health care assistant before obtaining her UK teaching qualification. As her children have started leaving home Farikanayi has also started following her own dreams; setting up a business which allows her the flexibility to focus on her main passion which is writing. She has published six books: ‘Sarai-Sarah-Hall of Faith’, ‘The Shells that Shaped my Life’, ‘Hey Sal’, ‘Soak it, in the Word’, ‘Dear Daddy’ and ‘Saved by a Harlot’ and is working on a few more. Church has always had a central role in her life. It has become the brook where she is fed and watered and through it, her family has extended greatly and her physical, spiritual, emotional, financial and relational healing has become a reality.