When you pick up a newspaper, or perhaps even peruse a UN or NGO publication, often times the stories that pertain to women are stories of violence, rape and discrimination.
This appears to be especially the case when it comes to women in developing countries, of various religions and cultures. People the world over have become, by in large, at least familiarized with such terms as ‘honor killings,’ ‘bride burning,’ ‘sex slavery’ and perhaps even ‘rape as a tool of war.’
After a quick scan on Google for articles on ‘women in Cameroon,’ I immediately found a press release by the World Organization Against Torture on ‘Violence Against Women’ which stated, “An analyses of the legal and socio-economic and political status of women in Cameroon shows the link between the high levels of violence against women in Cameroon and their low status in all aspects of life.” Another report released by CEDAW writes, “…discriminatory administrative policies, practices, laws, cultural beliefs and attitudes hamper the enjoyment of human rights of women [in Cameroon].”
I have spent much of my professional and academic career thus far very much involved in the issues around violence against women (VAW) – and this is something I have every intention to continue working on and highlighting, as it is a problem of global and epidemic proportions (and not just in the developing world). That being said, since arriving here in Cameroon, and preparing to interview women who have, in large part, strolled past the ‘do not enter’ signs and established their own businesses and networks – I have been asking myself, where are the success stories? Where are the stories about women’s resistance to violent and discriminatory systems? Where are the tales that do NOT tend to portray women, especially African women, as eternal victims under the fist of patriarchy?
That is the kind of story I hope to explore this summer. This does not mean to sugar coat the situation for women, or overlook the traumas some women may have faced. What it does mean is that we shift to look at what women are doing in response, or in spite of the obstacles they face.
These stories are out there. I have recently seen several documentaries tracing what various women, or groups of women, have done to stand up to the violence in their countries – my first thought is of the Liberian women who played a fundamental role in ending the civil war in their country. There are also the mothers of the abducted and disappeared, in countries from Nepal to Argentina, who never stopped asking questions.
These stories exist. And while the majority of the women I will be talking to, surveying and profiling this summer are not necessarily emerging from conflict or enduring daily violence, they are examples of the success stories that are out there and should be told. Women need to know they aren’t alone in their struggles, or their successes. Young women and girls need affirmation that self-sustenance is possible. And the paradigm of the disenfranchised woman, shrouded in her victimhood, needs to have an additional, more nuanced side, which includes those powerful women who run their own businesses, despite a legal and political environment which may render that difficult.
I have only been in Cameroon for one week, but I am already impressed by the accomplishments and strengths of the three women I have had the good fortune to work with this first week. It is these stories too, that deserve to be told, and I look forward to introducing them all to you, my readers.
Posted By Joya Taft-Dick
Posted Jun 19th, 2010