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Patriarchy: the enemy of selfhood

By Ruth Kimani, Voice Regional Roving Grants Officer- Africa and Sally Akinyi, Hivos East Africa Communications Manager

“My mother‘s divinity was the root of my selfhood. By her refusal to be circumcised, Wandia (1910-1950), did determine her selfhood, womanhood and the destiny of many African people. Her selfhood was the essence of humanity. She was free and sovereign; complete in herself by herself and for herself. From Wandia‘s womanhood streamed the will, wisdom and hope that illuminated her every path.’’

Reverend Timothy Njoya

Women’s selfhood has been historically controlled and even out rightly denied by law, customary practices and cultural stereotypes. Selfhood – a state where a woman re-positions herself outside the context of traditionally set gender and cultural norms- is emerging as a feminist perspective on the right to ‘self’.

Control of women’s sexual autonomy

Having been identified either as inferior versions of men or as their direct opposite, women were historically confined to the margins and peripheries of the private domestic sphere where their voices could be neutralized and even transformed into virtues. This is observed through the automatic relegation to subordinate duties such as the role of an empathetic, supportive wife, vulnerable sexual partner and nurturing mother. Associated with bodies rather than minds, women were tasked with the maintenance of their own bodies and those of others in a gendered division of labor. The division of values along binary gendered lines has historically been associated with the valorisation of the masculine and the stigmatisation of the feminine.

Photo/ Hivos

Masculinity, whose principles were originally associated with vulnerability, human dignity and sensitivity, has been used as an attribute to oppress femininity and propel patriarchy. In this context, we have witnessed women denied the free choice to control their bodies or make decisions pertaining the enjoyment of their sexuality. From denial of abortion rights to extreme forms of sexual violence and abuse such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), women’s right to be has been a pipe dream yet to be achieved.

Besides masculinity, patriarchy has continued to infringe on women’s rights through matters of religion and faith. A new book by Kenyan religious activist Reverend Njoya- a leading frontrunner, and founder of the Equality of Men and Women (MEW) – championing for women’s rights- decimates negative masculinity and patriarchy in all its forms. Known as: Selfhood; divinity of the clitoris, the book provides a perspective on the complete autonomy of women’s bodies and the utmost independence they need in making decisions pertaining to their physical and spiritual well being.

Selfhood: faith, feminism and women’s sexuality

From the book, it is easy to appreciate women’s constant quest for selfhood by interrogating psychological experiences of women in different social and political contexts. By sharing the story of his mother Wandia, Reverend Njoya admires her boldness in refusing to be circumcised in order to pursue education and epitomises how she was able to transcend her racial and gender identity to demystify set norms controlling women.

This book propels the narrative: let’s normalise women’s rights as equal human rights

This further breaks mindsets that have integrated patriarchal norms into the cognitive and emotional structures of women’s experiences and knowledge. We have witnessed women contribute to their own oppression without realising it. And sadly, oppressive norms have also led women to unfortunately question their own sanity and independence to influence society freely.

Women’s true selfhood and independence can equally be achieved by deliberate shifts in the conscious and the unconscious bias of the mind that has been permeated by faith, spiritually and religion. Rev. Njoya argues this in his book by stating that true religion is an anchor of the ideals of true feminism- whose efforts have been key in dismantling patriarchy in all its extreme forms such as Female Genital Mutilation- a violation of human rights. In fact a key excerpt in his book reads,

“Wandia desired to save her clitoris not because of any reason given to the Governors by the Missionary Conference but because the clitoris was cut to serve the diabolical purpose of dehumanizing the girlchild by treating her either as a tabula rasa or material thing. Not a single Missionary mentioned that to circumcise an 8year old girl to make her a wife and mother was child defilement, paedophile, childtrafficking and child abuse.”

True selfhood can only be achieved when patriarchy is dismantled.

About Selfhood

Hivos believes that women and girls should have control over their lives and are able to participate actively in social, political and economic domains. Women’s empowerment is about realizing true equality for men and women.

One of our key approaches in propelling feminism is by partnering with religious allies such as Reverend Timothy Njoya to champion women’s right to dignity and free choice to make decisions about their sexuality without influence from patriarchal cultures.

Selfhood is a book that speaks about women’s right to bodily autonomy particularly in a society where religion has been used to permeate masculinity views against their sexuality.

Through the Voice, Hivos East Africa partnered with Reverend Njoya to influence the narrative around women’s rights by publishing the book: Selfhood. This blog can also be found in the Hivos website here


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