Aleya Kassam : For Women who Refuse to Compromise
This is for women who refuse to make space.
It probably confused you that I didn’t lower my gaze when you stared at me. Perhaps that’s because you don’t know who I am. For a long time I didn’t know either until my Kenyan sisters showed me where to look. Plucked from India, my tongue recognised only three generations, and I was filled with envy at those whose homes lay on land that sheltered all their ancestors.
Then one day, on a stage bathed in red light, Sitawa the third Namwalie demanded that we call out her name. And as I danced in the shadows, the nyatiti licking at my soul, my blood reminded me that it could never forget.
Let me tell you who I am.
I am the daughter of women whose fearlessness in their pursuit of justice comes from a place grounded in such deep compassion, that it cannot be cracked by the bullying of mere men.
I am the granddaughter of a woman whose adventurous spirit recognises no limitations, whose appetite for life cannot be dampened by your silly notions of what a woman should do.
I am the granddaughter of a woman whose resilience is matched only by her intimate knowledge of what it is like to have to defend yourself in a world that tells women they don’t exist.
In my veins runs the blood of a long line of women who are not intimidated by men who confuse money with respect. You see your power may lie in paper notes and cement blocks, but mine lies in kindness and truth.
So when we sit together on the woven mikeka in front of death with the scent of incense lacing through the air and you squirm because your legs have no space, I will sit with my spine straight, eyes shut, singing loudly and I will not move.
Because I refuse to make space to ease your discomfort.
This is for women who refuse to keep their mouths shut.
It must be perplexing to you that I have an opinion that I insist on voicing instead of just adopting the one you so kindly shove down my throat. And that I speak out in public the things that will open up our tightly wound up world to undesired scrutiny.
Really, what is all this fuss. Why can’t I just sit pretty.
I get it. You aren’t used to the idea of a woman who refuses to just be beautiful. But I wasn’t raised to be beautiful. I was raised by a man who has never told me I am beautiful, because the way I look doesn’t mean anything to him. Instead he demanded that I equip myself with the knowledge that I would need to help make a difference in the world. That I armed myself with the language to articulate a voice that is too often silenced by a dismissive wave for more samosas.
He understood that women see things in different ways, and it is foolish to dismiss their perspective, because if you ignore what they say about the things you cannot see, you will forever be groping in the dark.
So when you are afforded the privilege of leadership and don’t speak out against injustice and refuse to do what is right, you should remember that gone are the days when our presence exists only to make tea and take minutes.
And since you refuse to do the work that needs to be done to make our world better, we have tied our lessos, tucked in our saris, zipped up our boots and pulled back our hair. Whilst you are busy protecting your little corner, we are out changing the horizon.
Because the revolution will have red lipstick and highlights