Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Re-Colonization of Africa by Canadian NGOs?

How acceptable would this be as the first sentence in a blog or article: "Girls are so devalued in parts of Canada that men routinely rape them in the belief that, by assaulting a virgin, they will be cured of HIV/AIDS"? There are so many things wrong with such a sentence it is hard to know where to start. Luckily, I don't think anyone has started an article with that sentence. However, the Canadian Globe and Mail did start an article with almost the same sentence, except it was about Kenya rather than Canada.

Supposing we had some figures for sexual assault in Canada, such as:

  • Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
  • 1 - 2% of "date rape" sexual assaults are reported to the police
  • 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
  • 11% of women have physical injury resulting for sexual assault
  • Only 2 - 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
  • About 50% of sex assaults occur on dates
  • 60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17
  • over 80% of sex crime victims are women
  • 80% of sexual assault incidents occur in the home
  • 17% of girls under 16 have experienced some form of incest
  • 83% of disabled women will be sexual assaulted during their lifetime
  • 15% of sexual assault victims are boys under 16
  • half of all sexual offenders are married or in long term relationships
  • 57% of aboriginal women have been sexually abused
  • 1/5th of all sexual assaults involve a weapon of some sort
  • 80% of assailants are friends and family of the victim
  • 63% of victims suffer physical harm
  • 9% of victims are disfigured from the attack

So, would it be acceptable for the above sentence to state that "girls are so devalued in some parts of Canada that men routinely rape them", and to go on to attribute some kind of belief or beliefs to the perpetrators that accompanies the commission of these assaults? I don't know the answer to the question but I'm guessing that if it appeared in a Kenyan newspaper, Canadians would raise some objection, if Canadians ever read Kenyan newspapers.

I don't think Kenyans would be any less horrified by figures for sexual assault and rape in Kenya than Canadians would be by those figures for Canada. As for gender inequalities, that's another story. Gender inequalities are profound at all levels of society in many countries, including Kenya. Many African countries have a long way to go, and I don't think most would deny that. But gender inequalities run deep and are unlikely to disappear in the course of a few years of setting out lines of demarcation between 'the good' and 'the bad' by concerned Canadians.

The NGO mentioned in the article may well be brilliant and their interventions may be fantastic. But what I find most disturbing is that Canadians could be arriving in Kenya believing the sort of sentence under discussion; or that donors or supporters for the organization believe such things. The matters the NGO proposes addressing are, unquestionably, horiffic and urgent. I am neither doubting the good intentions of, nor the work that they have done and intend to do. Perhaps the organization would even distance itself from the Globe and Mail article, in particular, the first sentence? Maybe neither the executive director, cited in the article, nor anyone else working for the organization has read the article.

The fact that such a sentence can be written by a journalist, probably read by at least one editor and apparently accepted by readers suggests that Kenyan men can be depicted as not quite human; people are dehumanized by being so depicted. Their behavior is depicted as being so wrong that almost any action that could be brought to bear might well be acceptable. Perhaps there is little danger that a reputable NGO will end up treating (or even depicting) people as in some way not quite human. But there is a danger that many Kenyans will strenuously object to the actions of those who find it acceptable to depict them in this way.

[For more about non-sexual HIV transmission and mass male circumcision, see the Don't Get Stuck With HIV site.]


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