In Support of Shailja Patel: A Call to Grief for Caroline Mutoko

Why was the world I know, a part of which I have dedicated my life and breath, a world that Shailja Patel is persistently interested in changing indifferent when she cried that her body was assaulted? Why is my voice where it is? What happened at PEN Kenya and PEN International that nobody would answer letters regarding a member saying that she has been assaulted by a member? Why was the PEN Kenya President unable to answer a single letter from a former concerned member on the matter?

Is silence and simply no answer to letters that seek to inform or find out ways of dealing with these matters to be shelved in silence? Surely not. Does it make sense to applaud a Snowden and then do this? Why then, are we defending, or why am I defending freedom of expression on local and international podia? Do organisations not breathe with their former parts or members? Not that anybody would have said guilty as charged immediately, we were prepared to wait. But not to silence a voice that expresses pain of assault.

We know how to wait for court cases police and all. But this immediate mistrust of the victim who cries and support of those whom we know is questionable. How do we treat women who voice out abuse? How much are we hiding? If we are indifferent? Do we then have any moral authority to defend anybody against any oppressive regime? Any prisoner? Why did we not have a policy in place, not for condemning but at least for listening with openness to one who cries foul?

I had to assess all my voicing and I have retreated into silence and deep self-examination for going this way, nothing can hold. Not our work, not our word, not our cohesion against the oppression of women or anybody. The first oppression of expression in the body of a woman, begins with the restriction of her body, in abuse, in mutilation of any form, in those dos and don’ts that make her think from childhood, that she had to keep silent because if she speaks out, everyone will ridicule her, not listen or call upon friends to laugh and question. Taunt. Whereas from law all we ask of is justice, from society we must ask, especially for women, for an urgent response to their first reaction to abuse whether we think it is real or imagined.

The fact that we want to believe they only imagined is far outweighed by experience which shows most women will not speak out. The fact that we are quick to believe that women only, or often, imagine abuse speaks volumes about our own indifference and understanding of power relations. A measure of the health of our society is in how we reach out to the vulnerable, a standard measure of our civility. Nobody can convince me today, no matter the seeming loudness of activist women and of feminists that women have passed the threshold of being considered non vulnerable. Not in their own families, not at war time. Not in globalisation or big business success, not in the simple market places or rural zones, not in the cities.

This matter as in the matter of all rights is one for the gentleness of eternal vigilance, we need people who hold the candle that burns or the tiny wick in a koroboi, little lamp, waiting for the return of a daughter at night, always with thoughts about her security and integrity. Ever listening deeply, carefully, before waving away even wavering thoughts said in stuttering words.

Aya de Leon

mutokoFeminists are often characterized as angry, but underneath it all, we’re heartbroken. Our hearts break every day for the brutal mistreatment of women and girls. We weep for the lives lost, bones shattered, spirits crushed. Those of us who are black women mourn often. We wail for the unsolved murder of two sex workers in Florida, hog tied and dumped by the side of the road like trash. We sob for the black woman who bested not one but three young male rappers at a new years eve party, and what should have been her victory became her lynching. We grieve for women’s losses and for the indifference the world shows to our losses, and the policies and institutions that pay lip service to concern about us, but consistently allow, reinforce, support, or exploit the brutality against us.

Recently, in this blog series, I have been grieving the…

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