Africa has come a long way in embracing the fact that women can openly speak about issues that they deeply care about and actually start a revolution that can cause a mind shift in how the society handles and approaches issues centred around women. Gone are the times when the sole role of an African woman was to sit in the house and carry on homely duties as the man goes hunting for the family’s daily bread, Literally.
The African tradition considered this to be a noble duty for a woman to take care of her husband as he came back from hunting, which can be likened to today’s equivalence of a man going out to look for any form of work that can feed his family. Women weren’t allowed to sit down among the council of elders and take part in serious conversations that affected the clan as well as being involved in heavy tasks that were dominantly assigned to or meant to be done by men.
In the traditional African setting, way before civilization, communities were guided by beliefs and traditions. Among these beliefs and practices were taboos that were seen as social and religious customs placing restrictions on particular things, actions and persons. This was more so common among what women can and cannot do, what women can and cannot talk about and where women can and cannot be. It was a taboo for women to openly speak about their sexuality for instance. This is Africa Magazine states that Women were (and are still being) kept from knowing and discussing their sexuality for the same reason Black people were prohibited from reading during slavery – God forbid they ever discover how powerful they are.
Many customs have been woven into cultures, traditions and religions in Africa and across the world which work to suppress a woman’s sexuality – female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and non-consensual sex in marriages et cetera. These outdated customs consign women into subservient roles in society and prevent them from owning their sexuality. Moreover, religion and culture being the major custodians of morality across the continent, its agents and institutions tend to perpetuate the shaming and ridicule of women who dare to challenge the status quo. Openly talking about sexual health in Africa is still a taboo in some cultures.
It’s also in African where in some communities and African countries, it’s a taboo for a woman to challenge the position of a man in the society or go after careers that are mean for men. In The Democratic Republic of Congo, carpentry is a sector only reserved for men and being a woman carpenter there may have people reporting you to the gods.
In Kenya, it’s normal and usual to see a male conductor (Makanga wa Matatu), but the sight of a woman collecting cash in a Matatu makes some group of people feel offended since it’s not a job she isn’t perceived to do. I have seen situations where people literally request for a change of driver if the driver is a woman, yes in Kenya. These are some of the issues which have led to the establishment of organizations in Africa that are championing speaking out against African taboos which seek to suppress women’s rights and access to opportunity. For example, Women Taboos Radio is Africa´s first ever digital, non-profit, media channel that trains vulnerable women (ages of 18 to 35) with Digital Journalism skills to write, discuss, film, publish or broadcast exclusively on their sensitive gender Taboos health, income or culture topics.
Women Taboos Radio goal is to break sensitive gender taboos practices that hurt gender equality progress especially for women, refugees, sexual minorities, asylum seekers or the disabled. Young men, too, are part of our gender taboos media focus.
Past Channels of Expression.
In the past, there were defined protocols on how women were to report issues that they felt affected them. In the African tradition, the usual route would be direct reporting to the council of elders and having that matter be handled by the “grown-ups” in the society, the councils’ decision was final even if it wasn’t in the interest of the women who reported the issue. Then came “civilization” by the white man and more channels came into play on how one can express themselves. One of the most notable things that came along with civilization in Africa was the advent of new channels of communication in the African society i.e. Radio, TV and Mail.
These new channels of communication presented an opportunity for women to speak out about the issues that affected them and in a way, talk about some taboo topics in the African culture, though some channels in Africa still control what women can and cannot say on air. Wangari Mathai, one of Africa’s top icons who championed forestry cover in Africa was a radio and TV enthusiast who used it effectively well to drive her agenda. She appeared in several radio and TV stations like BBC, KBC and CNN.
Most of these new channels were one-way communication in that getting people’s reactions to the story/feature wasn’t possible until the advent of social media.
Millenials driving the Agenda
In this century, one of the forces of people that has risen to the occasion and become a force to reckon with are millenials, a group of people born between 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years. Millennials are sometimes referred to as “echo boomers” due to a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s, and because millennials are often the children of the baby boomers. One of the defining characteristics of this group of people is the willingness to speak out about issues they care about that they feel the society should address. Timing couldn’t have been better given the fact that they were born when new ways of communication were on the rise hence catalysing their voice on these issues and giving them new platforms to express themselves.
Millenials have taken full advantage of the internet to tackle issues affecting them and the people they love. Coupled with the rapid rise of low cost smartphones from the early 2000, conversations on issues such as women’s rights and activism has been on the rise. Social Media has taken this a step higher since it has democratized the freedom to speak out without going through a middleman to express one’s opinion. While women are still underrepresented in media generally, social media encourages a more level playing field, allowing for the voices of women from a wider array of backgrounds and countries, with or without traditional power, to be heard.
Adele Onyango walking the talk on digital
No one has campaigned more about women’s rights and tacked African taboo topics more directly and courageously than Adelle Onyango, she is one of Kenya’s most popular media personalities and one of the multitalented women in Kenya. She is an actress, radio presenter, musician, poet, activist and MC. She was born on 5th February 1989. She started ruling the airwaves when her hit show with Shaffie Weru got so many people talking online and offline since they talk(ed) about key issues and topics that affect the Kenyan millennial.
She completed her higher secondary education from Botswana and studied Journalism and Psychology from United States International University (USIU).She started her career in the world of entertainment. Apart from this, she is the brand representative of Intel Corporation’s campaign named “Intel She Will Connect” campaign. As an empowerment tool, the campaign recruits more women into it via the internet and seeks to tackle issues that affect women not to pursue STEM courses, which is a field that has been considered to be a male dominated area for over a century.
The “Intel She Will Connect” campaign was launched in Africa as part of Intel’s CSR commitment to drive improvements in environmental sustainability, supply chain responsibility, diversity and inclusion, and social impact. It was launched in 2014 with the goal to reduce the gender gap on internet use around the world by addressing women’s lack of awareness and skills. The program began in Sub-Saharan Africa where the gender internet gap was the greatest. The countries identified for the pilot program were Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. The goal was to reach five million young women in the region by 2020.Adelle actively spoke about the campaign in all of her social media platforms where she urged any organization offering digital literacy programmes to girls to reach out in order to work in partnership with Intel. More women from Africa and more so Kenya rode on the #shewillconnect twitter hashtag to talk about the importance of encouraging more women to go online which Adelle later picked up for conversation.
Adele has always used social media to actively campaign for all the causes she has launched in the past and inspired other women to do so such as the “NO MEANS NO” which was also started by Adelle Onyango in the year 2010 to raise voice against rape
Her efforts in using all social media platforms to push her agenda gained international recognition for her efforts in empowering Kenyan women and youth, with her most recent achievement being on the Youth Advisory Board for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s second annual Goalkeeper’s conference.
Adelle Onyango’s campaigns for women’s rights have always been digital first and she has openly spoken about topics and issues that were considered to be taboos e.g. openly talking about rape, reproduction health and women feeling comfortable in their own bodies. By harnessing the power of social media, this trailblazer is engaging women and men in tough conversations and raising awareness about gender equality and women’s rights.
Adelle has also represented Kenya at the 2017 Children’s Global Media Summit, where she officially received the Duchess of Cambridge and chaired two sessions on youth and cyber-bullying, having been bullied on social media by body shaming comments on several occasions. The body shaming not only gave her the strength to go against the haters, she inspired other women to come out and openly talk about this subject openly.
Adelle’s power of social media inspired disclosures and solidarity from women who had been silent about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Her conversations on these topics shows that there has been a shift in culture. What’s happening now, in this moment, it’s a beautiful thing, and it feels really good for people. And I think it’s necessary and needed. But beyond the feelings that we have, we have to have conversations about the systems that are in place that allow suppression of such conversations on digital media to flourish.
Adelle recently quit her lucrative job at Kiss 100 to launch to venture into the NGO world. The initiative is centred around empowering the youth, ensuring proper mental health and gender equality.
We can conclusively state that Social media has played a huge role in raising awareness and spreading campaigns on a variety of issues, social media has no equals since feedback is immediate and can empower the smallest of activists to have more voice in issues they care about. It is proven to be a powerful thing. This networking tool allows individuals to share content, opinions, and thoughts to a global audience in a few minutes.
Social media and women’s rights/issues are interconnected to some extent. Social media can engage women in economic and political life, and allow them to increase their self-expression thus promoting social change
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