Culture and my survival as a young woman

Nyau Mask for the chewa speaking people in Zambia

Growing up I have always been told I should conform to culture, practices, norms and beliefs. Growing up I have always asked the questions "Why is culture mostly applied to women and not men?" "Why does it affect women more?" "Why does culture favour men and not women?" "Why not both sexes?"

Reality sinks in on how women are subjected to cultural norms and practices that infringe on their rights and free will. On daily basis, I witness how culture places emphasis on how and why men are to be respected and not women. In The Zambian culture when a woman is about to get married, she is subjected to teachings that are to help her run her matrimonial home well and please her husband. I believe what is taught mostly infringes on a woman's right and will. Once she undergoes such rites of passage, a woman is no longer the same. Women are never allowed to demand equal rights or opportunity. Women are told and not taught. A woman is told to stand by her husband and put him first no matter what happens, to stick to her husband even when she is undergoing emotional, physical and psychological abuse. I hear married women say "I was told not to respond when he is airing his views or screaming at me" "not to scream when he hits me or beats me up" "I should just stay quiet" "I am protecting my image as a wife and that of my husband". I ask women "how do you manage to stay quiet?" The response I get is "I was told to put water in my mouth or place a cooking stick on my mouth". They are told a man can cheat and such issues are to be swept under the rug, then a woman is told " ubuchende bwamwaume tabutoba inganda"  meaning "the adultery committed by ones husband can never break a home". The worse part is when a woman is looked at and called a "loose woman" for not conforming to such practices and norms. Yet a man has all the freedom, liberty and will to do whatever he wants and can never be questioned.

Now I wonder,  why are women taught to feed the ego of a man and make him feel superior? Why can't women be taught and told to demand for equal opportunity, equal rights, independence and the opportunity to stand up and speak out? The response I get is it's in our culture to conform to the already existing norms, practices and beliefs.

In our cultural set up a girl is brought up or raised to give priority to what the man wants including putting the male siblings will, education, rights and choices before hers. She is told every girl should know how to cook, do house chores. If not, she can not be afforded the respect she deserves or be seen as a very well brought up girl. The worry is how will she take care of the house if she is married one day. She is not worth to be called a lady or a woman. She needs to aspire to be married, be someone's wife and not be too ambitious take on big opportunities. She is told "umwanakashi ni mu kitchen" meaning "a woman's place is in the kitchen".

A young girl goes through the rite of passage once she reaches puberty and is taught about the cultural practices and norms to conform to and how to take care of herself and the home. Hence young girls lose the faith, will and ambition to take on opportunities and be change makers in life.

As a young woman I worry not just for me but for all the women and young girls who are told there is need to conform to culture, its norms, beliefs and practices so as to be called a real woman. 

I am a proud African young woman, a proud Zambian, but I cannot conform to cultural practices that infringe on my rights and my free will.