Stop Saying African Women Are Strong!

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A woman carrying a sac. / Linga Linga, Inhambane — Mozambique

The celebration of Mozambican Women’s Day came as the last drop.

I was simply tired of hearing how strong these women were. How they “carried everything on their backs”, how they “carried their children everywhere”, and how they were so “humble”.

It was about 5am when the elder in the house woke us up to fetch the water from the well. That morning, while other women assembled around with their buckets, we shared some insight on kids, marriage, and age.

Finally, one of them walked in front of me as I battled with the bucket on my left hand. She was proud as she could now carry it on her head, (as I spilled half of the water on the ground). I mocked, “see, it’s women like you who make them think we are strong!”

She looked back and said, “we’re not strong — we’re poor”.

The African Women In Your Life

Are probably made of fiction:

You know her as a maid. Sometimes your generosity slips out, and you pat yourself on the back for paying her slightly more than what the minimal wage requires.

You know her as a friend. You hang out with her, but only to show your other friends how local you are.

You know her as a girlfriend. She always has her hair together, so you can boast of how ‘natural’ your ‘girl’ is.

You know her as a sister. You know she’s an artist and you think that’s great, but you feel for her because she’s 27 and still not married.

Romance In The Age Of Reason

We don’t really spend enough time investigating the realities of the African women we know, and in all our anxiety to delve in their complex lives, we decide to conclude that they are simply fierce, strong, and that the best thing for us to do is to simply admire them.

It’s harsh to debate oneself in the middle of the street: did I just see that? What that a man touching a woman inappropriately?

And suddenly:

Oh wow, she just moved on and continued walking nonetheless. Going about her life. What a strong woman!

Life Is Warm Inside The Cave

There are genuine people out there, who genuinely look at these women, with a smile on their faces and think: wow, never mind the glaring social inequality. They are smiling and they must be living in bliss!

Such statements reproduce a dangerous narrative.

The rush to misinterpret and idealize something which we are not ready to accept leads to a perception of bliss that simply does not exist.

To watch a woman clearly suffer from discrimination, all sorts of societal oppressions and lack of opportunity — and call the act of carrying her baby “strength” is just cruelty.

Women who carry their babies are not strong, or extra motherly. Women who carry their babies to the farm, or to sell goods on the streets are not strong, or extra willing. Women who cook, clean, bathe, build, farm, sell, buy and preach are not “strong”. They are women.

And in our society,

women are expected to do everything.

And to carry everything

on their backs.

That’s not strength.

That’s poverty.

stop it.

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These dreams dream of me.

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