‘Yes I’m Seodi White, divorced so get over it JB’

Yes I mean Joyce Banda.  The Head of State. On one of her campaign tours in Nkhatabay on Sunday 21st July, the President put aside her presidential mantle and engaged in a Nankungwi (female cultural counsellor) mode and gave advice to all women in Malawi not to misinterpret gender by being rude to their husbands, saying that she is respectful and deferent to her husband Richard Banda and he is the one who is responsible for her success (oookay- now we know!).

She did not stop there. She went on lambasting activists whom in her mind go about villages in Malawi and telling women to be rude to their husbands in the name of gender. Because these so called activists say this because they don’t have husbands themselves.

The President told the ululating crowd: “when these activists come to you and tell you to be rude to your husbands ask them where is your husband?… Because these so called activists some of them have been divorced three times and they mustn’t lie to you!!.”

Seodi White
Seodi White

So basically the substance of the issue raised is that according to President of the Republic of Malawi MRS (Joyce Banda women can be categorised in two:

  • Divorced Women: Bad
  • Married Women:  Good, better, best.

Now this is very interesting for me. Because I have been an activist for 16 years now.  And yes; get this: I am happily divorce and therefore happily single. I have been divorced for 10 years. I’m successful, I raise a child single handily, I work hard, I work out, I have great friends and make significant contribution to the development of my country as a socio-legal activist and I influence public opinion. Juggling the above is empowering, exciting; satisfying as it is very hard, sometimes right down dangerous.

Of course in the eyes of Joyce Banda I am bad because I’m divorced! And she is good because she is married. Right?

Further,  I have yet to witness any activists getting donor support to tell women to be rude to spouses. How does one raise funding for such? Now Madam Prez: get real okay?

Further; in my life as a friend, cousin, sister, mother, activist, and leader I have come across many types of women: single, widowed, happily married, unhappily married, divorced, professional women, market women; the list is endless. And therefore I do understand one thing: women are not a homogenous group by whom the best standard setting of womanhood is marriage. We are (as women that is) heterogeneous. We represent many categories.

Take me for example: a divorced professional woman (yep get over it Joyce!!), single parent, lawyer activist, researcher. There are so many layers to being a woman. Being a leader and an activist I know this for sure there is so many categories of women each one with their own unique story.

Many women divorced, single, widowed etc come knocking on my door, they phone me, they text me; they email me. I also meet them in the villages oh yes dare I say of Nkhatabay and many other villages.  Each one of us – me and them- have something to share about our lives which are woven in our identity as single or divorced or widowed. Our stories enmeshed in our various identities make us happy or sad. Stories about children; or for others it’s the men in their lives, for others it’s their tomato business and for others it’s their high flying careers and so the dance of life continues. There are also other stories such as those of domestic violence, for others it’s the bad state of their finances; or a bad marriage, or an unruly child and others it their HIV positive status. These are asd stories enmeshed in identities. And once again the dance of life continues.

A good leader (and here I don’t mean a great leader) should understand the differences and the struggles women have and embrace them and not create a preference of one category of a women over another. The danger of Utopianising and glorifying  marriage as the epitome or the pinnacle of womanhood and of success is that it discriminates against women, it puts pressure on girls to ran to marriage as opposed to continue with their education  and this is more significant in a country whereby  child marriages are very high. 57% of girls between the ages of 13 and 18 are married or in some form of marital union. Further to this the Presidential obsession with marriage as the only acceptable status demonises any other category of women.

But then I ask myself why do I get surprised that Joyce doesn’t like divorced women like me? I know the answer: because deep down inside her and despite her talk of her past life as an activist Joyce believes that due to her married status she is better than the rest of the women who are not like her. Because if truth be told if indeed she had been a genuine activist then she  would understand the whole concept of the heterogeneity of women. That heterogeneity is the essence of womanhood and should be celebrated. That Utopianisation of marriage as the only institution in a deeply patriarchal state such as Malawi is very dangerous its reinforces the subordination of women.

Actually the President herself is a divorced woman like me. She was divorced from her first husband from whom she had three children before she married the current husband. So what is the issue here?  Is the president embarrassed with her divorced status that she projects this embarrassment in other women like me who did not marry after our first marriages broke down?

So here is it Madam President:  Seodi White is a happily divorce woman and I have been divorce for 10 years and I don’t want to marry agin!! Never ever!! So there. Live with it and get over it!

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