Stigma, blame means African women wary to say #MeToo

Activist Rosebell Kagumire said criticisms against Ugandan female lawmaker Sylvia Rwabwogo, who was a victim of sexual harassment, showed the country was not ready for #MeToo. (AFP)
Updated 05 October 2018
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Stigma, blame means African women wary to say #MeToo

  • Fiercely patriarchal societies and religious and traditional views on the role of women means even complaining about domestic violence is an uphill battle
  • Most workplaces do not even have mechanisms to deal with sexual harassment complaints

NAIROBI: The #MeToo campaign has given mostly Western women confidence to speak up about violence at the hands of men, but in Africa women say stigma and victim-blaming still keep many silent.
Fiercely patriarchal societies and religious and traditional views on the role of women means even complaining about domestic violence is an uphill battle, let alone bringing down abusive men in power, activists say.
In Kenya, a confident and bubbly 40-year-old psychologist — who, tellingly, asked to remain anonymous — said she was stunned when a former boyfriend slapped her in the face in front of his family.
Their reaction was that he had a “hot temper.”
Later, much to her surprise, five of her close friends revealed they too had been abused in relationships.
“If even that is ‘normal’ and we don’t talk about it, how does the #MeToo movement... how do we interact with that?” she asked.
Like others interviewed by AFP, she said the #MeToo movement had prompted more discussions about women’s rights and sharing stories of sexual assault, but mostly in private WhatsApp groups or Facebook chats rather than publicly.
“The issues definitely affect (us) but the blame is always shifted back onto the woman, that it is her fault, her dressing, her speech or she needs to be taught a lesson because she is too strong,” said the psychologist.
“It’s not only men, but women who are thinking that way.”
Nevertheless, in the year since #MeToo went viral, there have been cases in which women have spoken up or refused to be silenced.
In March in Uganda, angry women took to Twitter to call for the resignation of MP Onesmus Twinamasiko who gave a television interview encouraging men to beat their wives to “discipline” them.
“Yeah, you need to do a little beating, it shows the love even,” he said.
He later apologized, but did not face any consequences.
His view is not uncommon in Uganda. A government report published in 2016 showed that one in five female Ugandans between the age of 14 and 49 had reported physical or sexual violence within a 12-month period.
When female lawmaker Sylvia Rwabwogo pressed charges against a man who stalked and harassed her for eight months leading to his jailing in June for two years, she faced a backlash of criticism and mockery from Ugandans sympathizing with the “lovestruck” student.
“The fact we can attack an MP who has been a victim of sexual harassment ... instead of asking ourselves what is wrong here, we are not yet there,” said activist Rosebell Kagumire.
As discussions about male abuse of power trickle through, an increasing number of reports have emerged of university lecturers in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria coercing female students into having sex with them for higher marks.
In Uganda this led to several suspensions this year, while in Sierra Leone 71 people — including teachers and pupils — were arrested last month for “exam malpractice.”
“One of my science teachers demanded sex for a favorable grade after our final exams a year ago,” a second-year student at the Freetown Teachers College said on condition of anonymity.
A secondary school pupil, named Elizabeth, said she had faced several sexual advances but “never complained about it for fear of reprisals from teachers.”
A report on the safety of girls and young women released this week by Plan International listed Johannesburg, Kampala, Lima, Nairobi and Bamako as the top five most risky cities in the world for sexual assault and rape.
Kampala was the most dangerous for kidnap and murder, and Kampala and Nairobi were fifth and sixth respectively in terms of risk of sexual harassment.
Wangechi Wachira, head of the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) in Kenya, said that while the #MeToo movement resonated with women, many were unwilling to follow through with complaints due to an unsympathetic justice system, lack of support and burden of proof being on the victim.
“The whole system that needs to be supporting you is trying to traumatize you more,” she said.
Most workplaces do not even have mechanisms to deal with sexual harassment complaints, she added.
Monica Godiva Akullo, a Ugandan lawyer and activist, pointed out that many of the challenges faced by African women were global, despite the #MeToo movement coming from “rich, famous women.”
She referred to the case of US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whose alleged sexual assault victim Christine Blasey Ford was mocked by President Donald Trump himself at a political rally.
“From Uganda to the US, our societies still don’t believe women,” she said.


The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

Updated 21 April 2019
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The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

  • Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output
  • Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations

PARIS: Forget how many carats — how ethical is your gold? As high-end consumers demand to know the origin of their treasures, some jewellers are ensuring they use responsibly sourced, eco-friendly or recycled gold.
Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output, and the Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations.
The Geneva-based firm, which makes the Palme d’Or trophy for the Cannes Film Festival, says it now uses only verified suppliers of gold that meet strict standards to minimize negative environmental impacts of mining the precious metal.
Among the many certificates and standards claiming to codify “responsible” goldmining, two labels stand out.
They are “fairmined” gold — a label certified by a Colombian NGO — and the more widely known “fairtrade” label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar.
Both support artisanal mines that seek to preserve the environment in terms of extraction methods, along with decent working conditions and wages for the miners.
Such production remains limited — just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output by comparison totals around 3,300 tons.
Concerned jewellers are keen to ensure they can trace the source of their entire supply to an ethical production cycle and to firms certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council, which has developed norms for the entire supply chain.
RJC members must adhere to tough standards governing ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.
The French luxury group Kering, which says it has bought more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci brands, has committed to 100 percent use of “ethical” gold by 2020.
“We are trying to maximize the proportion of Fairmined and Fairtrade gold — but their modest production is in great demand so the bulk of our sourcing remains recycled gold, (which is) certified ‘RJC Chain of Custody’,” says Claire Piroddi, sustainability manager for Kering’s jewelry and watches.
Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is “about 10 to 12 percent more expensive. But recycled gold barely generates any additional cost premium,” Piroddi told AFP, since it was already refined for a previous life in the form of jewelry or part of a high-tech product.
Going a step further, using only precious metal from electronic or industrial waste is an original idea developed by Courbet, a brand launched just last spring.
“We do not want to promote mining extraction or use recently extracted gold, so we sought suppliers who recycle gold used in graphics cards or computer processors. That’s because we know today that more than half of gold’s available reserves have already been extracted,” says Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Courbet’s co-founder and artistic director.
She says the brand’s watchwords are ethical and environmental consciousness.
“In a mine, a ton of terrain might contain five grams of gold, whereas a ton of electronic waste might generate 200 grams,” Wachtmeister says.
“Clients are also demanding an ecological approach more and more — they are aware of their day-to-day impact and consider the origin of what they wear,” she adds.
“The issue of supply really resonates with the public at large,” adds Thierry Lemaire, director general of Ponce, a jewelry firm that was established in Paris’s fashionable Marais district in 1886.
The company is RJC-certified and uses only recycled gold.
“There is a logic to that — if we want to do our work well, then let’s go the whole hog and respect nature. That can be done today because the entire chain has become standardised.
“Studios such as ours that work for major names on Place Vendome are all certified,” Lemaire says, referring to an upscale square in Paris.
He represents the fifth generation of family firm Ponce, which produces 45,000 gold rings a year from recycled gold.
Working in a pungent atmosphere of heated metal, refiners sit hunched over polishing machines, a large leather hide slung over their knees to catch the tiniest shaving.
“Every Friday, we have a great clearout and go over the workshop with a fine-tooth comb to pick up little bits of (gold) dust and shavings,” Lemaire says.
“Nothing is lost, it’s a truly virtuous chain.”