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On social media, it’s women who carry the burden of shame

by kenya-tribune

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My background in sociology created a habit that is now second nature to me, which is to people-watch.

During my college days, while doing an internship, I would enjoy my lunch hour outdoors by eating a packed lunch while seated on a bench in the park, watching busy people hurry past.

This was in the city centre, and there were always certain moments that captured your attention: The long-time friends so engrossed in a story that nobody else around them exists, or those who just bump into each other and are happily surprised.

You could easily pick out who the students on internship were, who were the homeless, who always had the enthusiasm to ask for help from the next person after they were rudely rejected…

Social media is also people-watching but from a distance.

Speaking of social media… Last weekend, an influential person put up a tweet saying that there was a young man giving out false information that he was managing that person’s brand. He said he had never met the young man and was following up the issue legally. Little did we know that it would lead to an avalanche of accusations almost instantly about the same man.

Several celebrities began to mention how they had also encountered the same issue with this particular individual, asked him to take down the false information, and had their requests ignored. Most of these complaints were from women, by the way. But what was more astonishing, was when a young lady shared an elaborate personal tweet on how he had conned her.

This trended for a good two days, to the point where he was called for an interview and asked on radio whether the accusations were true; he actually admitted to faking his achievements.

Fascinatingly, the conversation quickly shifted to, “What’s so wrong if he did all these things?” “Don’t politicians make all sorts of promises to us, which they keep, and yet they continue to live in wealth and peace?” “He has apologised, so what more can we ask from the guy?”

The conversation then began to circle about the young woman. Twitterati started to poke holes into her story: “Is she really a university student?” “Where does she get her money from, anyway?”; “She is a slay queen, the guy couldn’t afford her anymore and now she is bitter about the whole thing…”

Whether any of this was true or justified by inconsistencies in her story, the point is that suddenly, he was no longer the issue, while she was emerging as the villain of the piece.

There was one case in particular that really drew my attention. It happened in Kohistan in Pakistan in 2012, when young men and women were killed due to a cellphone video that circulated widely. This was a very grainy video that showed several young women laughing and clapping to music, dressed for a party or a wedding, while there was a young man dancing apparently in the same room.

“Honour killings” take place when family members kill their own children because according to tradition, they have shamed the family by their actions.

What happened in this case was apparently on the direct orders of the local tribal council. The video began to circulate well after the event. When faces were recognised in the grainy footage, those involved were imprisoned for weeks and tortured by their own families. The five young women had boiling hot water poured on them before they were killed. The young man and his brothers were also killed.

And all this took place inside a home. Women in the area don’t walk around the community unescorted. Many fear being recorded anywhere saying anything or doing anything. So they’d rather stay surrounded by four walls, to ensure they do not bring shame to the family, because it is only women who seem to carry the burden of shame.

Similarly, in the corridors of social media in Kenya, it is women who carry the burden of shame and they get slaughtered online for it. There were some women who came to her defence online but most were afraid to to say anything because you may be attacked, your personal information dug up and rumours spread that can destroy a reputation in a matter of minutes.

For women, what they do is never forgotten, but men can perpetrate all sorts of atrocities and get elected Governor. I salute the women out there who still speak the truth on social media, even though they get so badly bashed for it.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW

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