Opinionista Xhanti Payi 11 August 2014

My sister, a woman

I never thought of my sister as a woman, growing up. But now that we are older, the painful truth has sunk in and it seems urgent to find a way to protect her – even if it means educating one man at a time.

I’ve grown up with one biological sibling. As anyone with a younger sibling knows, it’s tough.

You worry about and care for them even though they are demanding and irritating. Because you are the older one, you feel an almost instinctive sense of protection and love.

When mom was away working, I cooked for her and did her hair.

There was no woman in her in any of the imagery or construction of women in our society. She didn’t know how to cook or wash and iron clothes. She just knew to go to school, come back, eat, play and watch TV.

And when we she grew older, she amassed a personality. Brave and unconstrained, and in my view, stubborn and immature.

Still I saw no signs of a woman.

Every decision she’s made has grown her personality as an independent and spirited person. Travelling the world and ignoring any plea to “get a degree.”

So still no sign of a woman, just my sister – who has her own mind and ideas about who she is and what she wants for herself.

So over the years, when I think about the celebration of Women’s Day, I’ve never thought about my sister. She’s not a woman; she’s just my bubbly, happy, frustrating, loving, adorable, irresponsible, courageous, supportive, beautiful sister. I have – perhaps wrongly – ignored her status in society, and focused on who I saw and what she is to me.

This year it has struck me with a sudden shock that my sister is a woman.

It occurred to me that one day she may fall in love with the wrong guy who may mistreat and even kill her.

Or that one day, on her way home, she may be assaulted, abducted, raped or even burnt alive.

That one day, in the pursuit of her dreams, a male superior may take advantage of her desire to succeed and make something of herself – and sexually harass her. And with all that, who would believe she is susceptible to misused male power?

All these things are not possible and probable because she is my sister. Not even because she’s a human being or any of her particular traits or characteristics. They are possible because she is a woman.

There has never been any cause for me to celebrate my sister as a woman. Why should I attribute any of her wonderful characteristics to just being a woman? Never have I even thought that when I am frustrated with her, it’s because she’s a woman.

She’s just been herself.

Now, as I awake to the collision between what she is and where she is in the world, I feel pangs of distress at what could happen to her – not because she’s my sister or she’s a person. Just because she’s a woman.

As a man, I don’t have any way to protect her from being a woman. What would that entail?

But I suspect I interact daily with the man who could possibly cause her harm. Hell, when I danced and yelled “These bitches ain’t loyal”, I cheered on the potential abuser of my sister. That is the guy who would demand her loyalty to him and not herself. Demand her conformity to his ways of being. My sister has no sense of conformity and that places her right in the path of danger.

It is not simplistic or far-fetched. We see it every day and hear of it in news and media discussions.

At the same time I’m confident that the bright-eyed, ambitious young men who cross my path, and with whom I interact with the aim to assist and empower, will need no woman to conform or prove loyalty to them. They will have no need to own women as a sense of power.

I want to do something to add to their confidence and humanity through education, empowerment and simple encouragement. In so doing, I’d like to believe I’ve removed one potential woman abuser or killer from our streets.

If one man thinks I’m good and I hold women in esteem, he may be moved to do the same. That is one man taken off the path of destruction to women. Simplistic maybe, but it’s one way to see it and do something about it.

Anything I can do to contribute to the building of healthy, confident, and ambitious men of self worth, I’m happy to do and I have to do.

This is because it’s a contribution to the protection and well-being of women.

And my sister IS a woman. DM

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