“I feel like meat here.”
– Canadian female friend, anti-sexual assault campaigner, intern at local NGO
I love this country, but a paradise for working women, it isn’t.
Those who know me, know that gender discrimination is something I easily get hot and bothered about. So this time I’m not going to get hot and bothered. I am going to take the journalistic approach and relate some cold, hard facts.
#EverydaySexism Great Lakes style
*When I went to see the ex-prostitutes in the Musaga sewing workshop , two male colleagues asked me, on two separate occasions that day, “Alors, tu les a vues, tes putes?” (“So you’ve seen them then, your whores?”)
*I was told by a Pentecostal male colleague that not only were women not equal to men, but countries where women had equal rights were victims of a Satanic plot to increase the divorce rate.
*A young female Burundian elite athlete, of whom a few androgynous-looking pictures are fluttering around the internet, withdrew from a major competition due to injury. A male blogger found it funny to start a rumour that she had failed a “gender test” and been disqualified like Caster Semenya. A couple of people actually believed it.
*I went to visit some colleagues at a print publication to pick up some phone numbers to cover a prison riot. As I opened the door to leave their newsroom, one of the guys casually reached down and grabbed my ass.
*Two guys around my age who I had known for three days (who did not know each other) sent me very explicit Facebook messages asking me to make love to them. Did they do it to get a rise out of me? because they think white women are easy? or did they actually have feelings for me? I don’t know; I just know that a woman, especially a Burundian woman, would never send those kind of messages to a man.
*Standing in a queue in Rwanda with Colette Braeckman’s L’Homme qui Répare les Femmes under my arm. A guy my age asks what my book is about, and I try to explain that it’s about the rape crisis in eastern Congo and the work that the Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege and his colleagues do to repair these women’s injuries and help get their lives back on track. The guy listens politely and then says, “C’est une histoire du cul, n’est-ce pas?” (“So it’s porn, isn’t it?”)
*A friend is working at a print publication in RD Congo; one of her male colleagues asked her, “How do you like my trousers?” She turned around and he was having a hard-on.
*The same friend has resorted to curling up in her room most nights because inviting a male colleague for a beer or accepting an invitation is often construed as a proposition. I’m lucky that’s not the case in my newsroom.
*I have noticed that my male colleagues here hug women around the hips rather than around the waist or the neck or the shoulders, and are generally much more touch-touch with female colleagues than they would be with female colleagues in a western country…that is, unless they wanted to provoke a lawsuit.
Ladies who have worked abroad, what have your own experiences been like?