Allow me, today, to share with you an article by Maria Popova, from her website, http://www.brainpickings.org. She reports that the source is a poster that ” …. James Michener makes note of (….) which he encounters pinned to a church door while traveling across rural Spain in the late 1960s. Dated July 11, 1943, and laid out by a bishop as a code of conduct for local life, the twelve-point directive bespeaks religion’s persistent, matter-of-factly subjugation of women:”
That quote accompanies the list of 12 Conduct Rules for Women in Rural Spain. The rules are as follows:
- Women shall not appear on the streets of this village with dresses that are too tight in those places which provoke the evil passions of men.
- They must never wear dresses that are too short.
- They must be particularly careful not to wear dresses that are low-cut in front.
- It is shameful for women to walk in the streets with short sleeves.
- Every woman who appears in the streets must wear stockings.
- Women must not wear transparent or network cloth over those parts which decency requires to be covered.
- At the age of twelve girls must begin to wear dresses that reach to the knee, and stockings at all times.
- Little boys must not appear in the streets with their upper legs bare.
- Girls must never walk in out-of-the-way places because to do so is both immoral and dangerous.
- No decent woman or girl is ever seen on a bicycle.
- No decent woman is ever seen wearing trousers.
- What they call in the cities ‘modern dancing’ is strictly forbidden.
The rules will make you laugh, if you are living in rural Spain today or anywhere in Europe or the United States. In those countries, things have changed and the women are free to dress as they please. And they enjoy their freedom.
In the rest of the world, however, the rules persist, except that in many cases they are not written. I know of a pastor or two who would just love to have the text above already prepared ready to pin up on the walls. In Kenya, both city and rural areas have similar unwritten rules. It is the case in many African countries. Someone was telling me that women in Malawi could not wear any kind of trousers until the 1980s, by Presidential decree, probably written.
The worst thing, in Kenya, is that the policing of such “crimes” is left to any male (usually group of males) who want to take up the responsibility. There have been cases in some parts of town where women are publicly stripped for wearing short dresses. It is also a class thing. The women are usually walking in some dingier part of town or taking public transport. Another woman wearing a mini skirt while driving her German car, is left unscathed. Yes, I said driving. Women in Kenya are allowed to drive.
As I think of that last sentence, I realize that Kenya is a country of paradoxes. While on the one hand, we have more than one female presidential candidate in the March 2013 election, there are, on the other hand, women who are trying to escape wife inheritance. We are making progress but that progress may not be reaching every part of the country at the same speed. That’s obvious, if you consider that there are still no roads to reach some of the farthest parts of the country. So how should information reach such areas?
Still, I must admit that in Kenya, in some cases, we are still better than many countries. Saudi Arabian women, for example, are begging for permission to drive. Other Arab women need their husband’s permission to travel and elsewhere, women are ashamed to birth baby girls. While all that is happening, I would say that in Kenya, we have made great strides in the right direction. Women can drive, travel without their husband’s permission and baby girls are not routinely killed for being girls. In fact, after millions of baby girls have been killed in India and China, just for being girls, in a few years’ time, I suspect Kenya will be exporting brides to those countries. That is because people in Kenya have learnt to appreciate girls and girls are born more frequently than boys. Men who wish to have sons in Kenya and keep having daughters, have been known to leave their wives, remarry and try having sons with other women. Not a great decision, but a far cry from killing the girls.
Progress has been made. Women can vote, work, get an education, speak out, own businesses, travel to China for their stock, open an account without the husband’s signature or even knowledge.
There is stagnation in women’s property rights. Matrimonial property is still often in husband’s names. Wife inheritance and female genital mutilation still happen. Though, I’m happy to report that young girls have been know to run away from such practices, seeking refuge in churches and police stations. When the local news shows a young girl who walked 50km to escape FGM, my reaction is always the same: “she knows, she knows”. That means that it is a good thing that she already knows that the practice is not good for her. Information has reached her.
Women’s right to inherit property from their fathers is a new right in the 2010 Constitution and so its implementation is still underway and court cases are already making headlines. The Constitution has also given women a third of the seats in any governmental organ. You might call that affirmative action with all the connotations and debates that the term conjures. But the law says that any government committee, organ, task force, parliament, senate, must have one-third gender balance, which means that if the women are more, then the men must make up one-third of the group. This law protects men as well. God knows that in the future, they will need that clause judging by the way things are going.
Other problems exist such as getting equal pay for equal work. But that is a problem even in richer countries.
When I look at the women’s conduct list above again, I’m just grateful that although such laws exists in the minds of many a man, legally, no court in Kenya can put me away for breaching any of those 12 rules. And if that isn’t progress, what is?