Images courtesy of Maitham Basha-Agha
This past Saturday saw one of the most radical, definitive moments in the recent history of feminist movements in Botswana. The #iwearwhatiwant march, sparked by an incident from a week earlier in which a woman was stripped and assaulted at the bus rank for allegedly dressing provocatively took place.
Though not as common as they were ten or even five years ago, the bus rank incident was a spiteful reminder from men of two things: that it is them, not we, who decide what happens to our bodies, and that these decisions can be taken with little to no consequence. What they couldn’t have expected after the public humiliation of a woman who expressed her right to wear whatever she wanted is the mobilization of young women from around Gaborone for a protest that bore its own reminder.
If the might of the law or admonishment from society would not be a consequence for this injustice, then we would. In all our flagrance, we would march through the spaces that patriarchy has tried to make uninhabitable, and we would claim our right to walk wherever we wanted, dressed however we wanted without the fear of violent retaliation.
On my way to the march, I sat beside my cab driver as he ate an orange and picked its vesicles from his teeth with a long, hard fingernail. I was more than a little nervous, I worried for the safety of everyone who would be participating, I hypothesized worst case scenarios, and I wondered whether in the end any of it would make a difference. I was running a full hour late, and on our way to the meeting place we drove into the march. The turnout was incredible; the bravery unmatched. I stared in awe into a crowd of Balanchine bodies, soft bellies, taut bellies, rippling thighs and plump derrières. All revealed, all daring somebody, anybody to do something.
My cab driver, seeing what I was seeing, kissed his teeth and started ranting about the western influenced moral decay taking place among today’s youth. He said he hoped all the women participating would be beaten up. He had no idea that I would be participating too. He had no idea that his “culturally” justified wallowing and call for violence was exactly the thing to bring me face to face with my own long repressed rage. I didn’t feel nervous anymore. I felt empowered. I told him to drop me off at the next stop, and as I got off I let him know the last time I’d ever contact him would be later that day. Not for his services, but to let him know how successful the march was.
I was only able to join the march towards the end, but none of its impact was lost on me. It’s impossible for me to adequately articulate how much it meant to me to see faces that on any other day would be the faces of your abuser staring back helplessly at our resistance. To march at the place where a few years earlier a group of female hawkers had called for my own stripping for being comfortable enough with myself to wear midi length shorts and a pair of heels. In that moment I existed in a space in which language was not enough, if it even existed at all.
One of my favourite essayists, Leslie Jamison once wrote, “…No trauma has discrete edges. Trauma bleeds; out of wounds and across boundaries”. I suppose the same could be said about rage. On that day ours bled out of our bodies and unspooled itself into our surroundings. It terrified our abusers and it created a lasting bond among us all. It was not the apocalyptic moment we all wish could take place and liberate us completely and forever, but it was important. On my way home, I sat beside an elderly woman, beaming from every measurable surface of her body. She told me she’d never seen anything like the #iwearwhatiwant march, and how proud she was. I promised her we were far from done.