At a crowded bus station, a young woman is brutalised by a crowd of thoughtless thugs. She is stripped of whatever little she is garbed with and cast naked into the streets. Her crime; her dress, or the lack thereof. The violation struck at the core of her dignity and self-worth.
Outside the law, when someone successfully asserts a right to lord over you, they in fact decree you a lesser being. Being dehumanised like she was is atrocious. The reaction was swift, emphatic and dramatic. Virtually naked women stormed the streets on Saturday, asserting their “right” to wear what they like. Personal autonomy within the confines of the law underpins the right to human dignity. Should the atrocity go unpunished, her abuse would be societally ratified. Her defenselessness will be reinforced in herself and in her assailants. Her wounds would be hard to heal. All eyes are on the police and the DPP.
Regrettably it is not the first incident of its kind. We have been down this road before. It is true that our present condition is a challenge. The future, all the more. Prosecutions can punish the crime but cannot fix a broken society endemic with violence against women. The problem is more systemic than penal. It requires a systemic solution. I was arguing with friends the other day that the “I wear what I like campaign” is misguided. It is not about the right to wear what one likes. One has a right to be nude and we are in fact nude at least once a day. #
The question is whether we have a right to publish our nudity as part of the supposed right. It is whether the right is absolute and if not, its reasonable limitations. Pornography cannot be unlawful in digital and print media and be lawful in the streets. The streets are shared space occupied by all, including children. I would not quarrel with anyone’s right to be naked or barely clothed at a nudist park. There can be no absolute right of dress in the streets. It is not a gender question. The campaign is ill-conceived.
The question is as to who should set the extents of reasonableness. No singular person has that right. Hence, no one has a right to judge. It is one of public sensibilities. That’s why there are laws for public decency. There is no excuse for what the poor woman underwent. Cases of public indecency – if this was such a case - are reported to the police. They are not resolved through thuggery.
But lest we forget, we are not dealing with reasonable people. We are dealing with a section of the bus rank crowd. One not unaccustomed to all things wrong. We are dealing with pickpockets, illegal currency traders, drug peddlers, traffic offenders, robbers and
I doubt that women partook in the assault. The problem is with the men. Attention need be directed towards molding the present and future boy child as a national project. Otherwise violence against women, in all its ugly expressions, will be with us for a while. I have conducted countless murder prosecutions, mostly passion killings. Only one was committed by a woman. Of the hundreds of inquest dockets, only a few suicides concerned women. There is something society is doing right with the girl child. Women have ample un-utilised opportunity for violence against men. There is no softer target than a man knocked out by coetal lassitude. I rest my case.
We can build more prisons in anticipation of impending waves of the now-infant passion killers or we can design a national program to make the boy child a better person. We need to define, teach and model values of manhood. I am reminded of Clarence Darrow’s submissions in Mercy for Leopold and Loeb; “…somewhere in the infinite processes that go into the making of the boy or the man, something slipped”.
Society is not modelling positive values for the boy child. Its influence is in conflict with already inadequate or missing parental effort. There is no heroism through manly virtue. Boy children are bombarded with bad examples of men and stories of rape, murder, assault, threat to kill, male brutality and gender based violence.
Maybe we should reintroduce initiation schools. Government and traditional leaders could partner in that effort. Our future could well be in our past. Maybe we should learn from countries with the lower incidences of gender based violence. Maybe we should legislate against traditions and practices that give men a misguided sense of superiority and ownership over women. All said and done, we must investigate and address the stage of development where we missed the all critical engagement with the boy child? Its fate is inextricably linked with that of the girl child.
The stance of the semi-nude women who marched last Saturday was dramatic, but I doubt that it will be of any transformative consequence. Soon, the memory of the march will fade and the violence might just return in a worse off form, just as it did in this case.