Woke up a woman, woke up in my skin tone, woke up to another journey on the streets of my country
"As a young mixed-race woman raised in a diverse society, I have grown up hearing some of the most brutal, insensitive, and hurtful comments directed at me."
Malawi: It goes without saying that as women, we must constantly find the strength to walk confidently in our own skin and be extremely critical of our movements and words. In a world like ours, a woman's confidence is frequently misconstrued, as is our "freedom of speech."
As a young mixed-race woman raised in a diverse society, I have grown up hearing some of the most brutal, insensitive, and hurtful comments directed at me. Most scenarios in which I was supposed to never react (because reacting would make me selfish, arrogant or proud and to some extreme; racist).
As the narrative goes, " Just because your skin is whiter than most of us, you think you're superior."
No one ever says it like that, but there are words associated with that mindset and actions that frequently follow through on it.
I'd hate to call it primitiveness because I still don't understand how humans can radiate such negativity simply by looking at someone. Being a woman, on the other hand, complicates matters even further.
The fight for equality, equity, respect, love, and unity has been long overdue. This is most likely just one of millions of articles addressing the same issue, but that doesn't make my words any less relevant or unnecessary. I want to speak again and again if that's what it takes to be heard. If that is all it takes to be understood.
Please understand that this is not a pity party! Another woman (a coloured woman) is pouring into the jar of sanity that the world has clearly refused to drink from.
My name is Sumeya. I am from Malawi. That means I was born in Malawi and raised there. I am mixed race, which means that I have multiple genes from various races running through me. I have black, Asian, and white ancestors. All of which wonderfully reflect through me. I frequently perplex people about my origins, but so do many others who look like me and were born Malawian in the same way I was...
I was on the bus (public transportation) a few days ago, going about my usual daily routine. I'd found a spot on the window (it was a warm morning) and was on my way to town. Passengers flocked in and out of the bus as it stopped at various stages to pick up and drop off passengers. On a normal morning, the bus is usually quiet, unless there's some drama going on with the conductor not being very cooperative towards something. This was one of those normal silent journeys, but it did turn sour, and I felt like crawling into my body and letting my tears flow like the wild winter rains.
It felt like I was in a decent marketplace where trade was going well as the bus stopped to carry more people while others dropped. A place where buyers understoodtheir responsibilities and suppliers assured their customers that they were getting the best they could.
I'd lost track of who was getting on and off the bus, but this particular passenger was difficult to ignore.
He was a tall, slender man in his early 30s who had jumped into the bus and was ready to cause a commotion.
He turned to greet me after loudly greeting everyone else on the bus, and that was when I realised he had sat right next to me, making me feel small in my corner and forcing a greeting on me as he did on everyone else.
I responded to his greeting, even though none of it was required; it was as if his greetings contained the vehicle's fuel, and not responding would mean delaying our own journey. He had the arrogant, overconfident authority of a drunk, and his language reeked of a typical Malawian street vendor who had long traded humanity for arrogance and pride.
And then there was me. A woman who detects disrespect from afar and will never tolerate it! He was still screaming random conversations into my ears, making me feel the most uncomfortable because I was closest to him.
The air outside my window had suddenly become dry, I felt like I was suffocating, and as he proceeded to ask another unnecessary question, I realised I was not comfortable with his behaviour and decided to bravely stop the nuisance.
"Please respect yourself; I am not interested in speaking with you.” I must have said.
Little did I know that my words were a landmine waiting to be stepped on and that at this point I had ignited all of the flames that were softly laying in the room.
"Ngati uzungu ndiku lemela ineso ndine olemela wanva! Sindimaopa munthu ine olo Ku polisi utha kukanena." (“If you believe you are superior because you are white or wealthy, remember that I am also wealthy. Nobody, not even the cops, scares me, so if you're offended, you can go report me to anyone. I fear no one").
He started hurling insults at me and attacking my body parts, attacking the conductor who had attempted to protect me.
I had informed the conductor that the man they had picked up was causing a scene and making me feel very uncomfortable.
He stated emphatically that the fact that I am whiter than him does not make me superior! He attacked my appearance and ran through every negative emotion his vocabulary could muster at the time. For a brief moment, I thought he was about to slap me, but I'm sure my guardian angels had moved with me that day.
As he stepped off the bus, the drama intensified, and I didn't follow because he was still screaming and pointing his firm masculine fingers at me.
I was still on the bus, and he was outside.
I realised how helpless I felt as he spoke. How defenceless, how immobile. If I dared to step off that bus, I braced myself for the worst.
Another woman walked out behind me, smiling and saying, "Zovutatu," and then left me alone and terrified in there. Almost as if to say, "handle it on your own; you started it."
The conductor had placed himself between me and my vice. Apologizing to him for a crime that no one committed. No one, except his misogyny, was responsible for this sin.
My breakthrough moment arrived at that point... Other men on the street were screaming at him to stop his nonsense and leave. Others even suggested that if he wanted to fight, he should fight them rather than a woman...
I'm not sure when he became satisfied with his behaviour, but he eventually walked away.
I wondered if his brain had a wire that registered guilt or consciousness. If anything, he felt within himself that I deserved none of it. My femininity had nothing to do with how I reacted towards him. My skin colour was not a crime. That I was speaking to him in the same way that any other human would.
I walked through the streets, feeling depleted of my feminine powers. I felt sorry for myself. For a brief moment, I wished I could crawl into my white feminine body and stay there until it was safe to crawl back into the wild. My home, the streets of Malawi.
But I never regretted standing up for myself when I had the chance.
A call to action:
As I previously stated, this is not a pity party, nor is it a feminist revolution, and I am not fighting against any gender. However, the undeniable fact remains that women are frequently exploited in places where they are supposed to move freely and become the most comfortable version of themselves. This is not to say that you should applaud us as we walk down these streets, take on jobs in male-dominated fields, or choose to speak up about things that make us uncomfortable.
We aren't even supposed to beg for our freedom and the right to express ourselves, but here we are in the twenty-first century, still terrifying women. Making us feel less than ourselves, defenceless, harassing and silencing us!!! We demand that you respect us! We demand our liberty. We demand to be heard, respected, and seen for who we are, without being shamed for it!
As efforts to empower societies on the rights of women and young girls to continue, I ask that these efforts be extended into the wild streets and markets where our brothers and sisters with less education and privilege are found.
Their bitterness appears to be rooted in poverty, ignorance, and primitive mindsets that later spill out into the world around them. These are the same individuals who become fathers, husbands, and potential employees.
If we educate them on women's rights and the sanity that the world is working so hard to bring to the table, maybe (just maybe) we can defeat the harassment and brutality that women face and endure on the streets.
Perhaps by arming these men and women with the right information, we can get closer to breaking the silence.
Let us educate the #Streets, because that is where we find ourselves on a daily basis. Women should never feel unsafe on the streets! Women who dare to speak out should never be in danger! The streets are open to all. They are for everyone. They are for everyone, including Malawians! Every single citizen! Every man and every woman!
We demand the safety of ALL WOMEN on Malawi's streets.