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So this happened. I was asked to speak on a career panel for Peace Corp Zamba’s first urban-based Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), which is a worldwide ignition to foster the global movement of gender equality and youth empowerment. This particular Camp GLOW was for 30 high achieving secondary school girls from compounds in Lusaka. I was supposed to talk to these young women (aged 15-17) about what my job is, benefits, challenges etc but also give them some career/life advice.

As you’re probably aware by now, empowering young girls and women gives me life. I find it so important, not only because of the empowering and inspirational women I know, but because I think it’s hard being a girl, those of us who have made it through to womanhood owe it to our younger selves and those coming up behind us, to light the way for them. So I was more than happy to attend.

No validation needed

The event was kind of like a speed dating session. I sat and every 5 minutes a group of 6 young girls came to sit with me and ask me questions. The problem (or the good thing for them) was that most of these girls already knew they wanted to be doctors or accountants. Funny how things haven’t changed in the last 50 or so years.

To be honest, they weren’t at all interested in what I did – ok one was – and they kept calling me a journalist, sigh. But I didn’t lose my temper with them – I have no problem with journalists, I may have been trained as one, but I’m not a journalist. Frustrated by the inability to ask me questions that challenged me – yes, I know, I was there for them, not for myself but I figured if I had to answer one more time what challenges I face in my work I was going to walk out of the room! – so instead I opened it up for them to ask me any question that interested them, not necessarily about my career. The young girl next to me was eager to ask ‘Why are you not married?

The question floored me.

I’m not used to people asking me why I’m not married – except for the men trying to hit on me. And I paused for a second. The truth? I told her.

In my twenties I was focused on my career, I never thought about marriage. Maybe this had to do with my father insisting I didn’t date while in secondary/high school so that I didn’t lose sight of my goals. Or it could just have been that deep down I knew that if I got into a serious relationship, I might be forced to compromise on my goals and dreams.

Now that I’m realizing my dreams, I think it’s more I simply haven’t found the right man – certainly not one that has asked the question, and I’m not the type of woman who’d ask a man.

And that’s how the day ended; me, uninspired by the young girls because of their lack of energy. But I don’t entirely blame them. There were some pretty amazing and inspiring women on the panel, powerful and super successful some of them were. But I don’t think the young girls truly understood the magnitude of these women so didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity they had to meet one on one with these women (myself included if I have to be honest).

Anyway, I tweeted my thoughts on the session and ended with the question the young girl asked me – I honestly thought it was amusing. When I read all the replies to that tweet, I was a little shocked, maybe even a bit disappointed that I had caused such a reaction. A lot of people, mainly women, thought it was sad that this girl trumped all questions to ask about marriage.

It got me thinking, why do we think it’s so wrong for women to want to get married above everything else? Does marriage, and aspiring to get married make you less of a woman? Did the feminist movement and now the girls’ empowerment movement get out of sync?

Perhaps I misunderstood it, but I thought the point of the feminist movement was to allow women to have choices to be what they wanted to be and to do what they wanted to do, freedom from judgment. And now, us women want to judge another woman for wanting to choose marriage over a high-powered career? If she’s getting an education and then chooses to get married is that so wrong?

What if her husband is a good match for her who supports her to be a better person than she is now, and if her partner is helping her reach those career goals, should she want to pursue them?

Empowered and married

Does being empowered mean you have to shun marriage and be a #BOSS only? We should be teaching young girls that marriage is an option, but one of many options and all are ok, as long as it makes them happy. I think that’s the most important thing – being happy, by your choices you make, not choices forced on you. It’s like now being empowered is making it difficult to just be a girl and be happy and like pink, and like cooking, and all the things that used to be gender specific to a girl. Now you’re the cool, empowered role model if you’re an engineer or a geek or something that used to be male dominated.

I remember one of the last words of advice a few of the women on the panel gave was ‘don’t be one of those women who just wants to look for a rich man to take care of her and buy her Brazilian weaves’. I didn’t say anything but thought to myself, ‘yes, make your own money so that you can look for a rich man to partner with you so you can both be doubly rich and buy Peruvian hair because who still wears Brazilian hair anyway?’ LOL. (sidebar:  money really isn’t that important ehem)

Serious talk though, must we be the women to judge the other woman? They are some women that I can judge (don’t get upset that people call you a ‘ho if you behave like a ‘ho), but these are girls getting ready to go into the world, there’s so much they are already going to be judged for, why should we add to that stress?

At the end of the day, like I told the girls, no matter what they choose to do, they are queens and no one can take that away from them, as long as they remember it and embrace it.

Being back in Zambia, the land of MCP (multiple concurrent partnership), there isn’t a day that goes by when there isn’t some conversation of extra-martial relationships, mainly from the men’s point of view. Rarely do people discuss a wife’s infidelity – I guess because, though it is becoming more common, it is still pretty rare.

Men who have ‘other wives’ (mistresses, girlfriends, side-plates, ATMs (assistants to madam), small house, whatever you choose to call them) is quite common in Zambia, to a point of seeming to be expected and accepted. But people still comment on it, so maybe it’s not as accepted as people think. Though married men get away with it, while the wives are the victims and the other women are the sluts, home wreckers, and even on some occasions assaulted by the wives – there has been the public case of the woman who had the other woman murdered and a couple of cases of acid thrown on the mistress’ face.

My personal opinion of this is that wives are not victims, they choose to be if they want to be, but they are not by default victims and women need to stop this mentality. I know what you’re thinking, it’s easy for me to say this because I’m not married. True. But I also hope that if i get married I wouldn’t accept my husband being unfaithful to me.

The men get away scott free. Women blame the other woman, and in some cases the other woman can and should be blamed, because there are some evil women who knowingly go after other people’s husbands. But a lot of married men actively pursue these other women – because they know they can. Sure there is the onus on the other woman to say no to these men, but why should she?

If a single woman, wants to just have fun and not settle down with someone, why is it her problem who the man is? Of course if the said woman falls in love with the man, who obviously won’t leave his way (do they ever?), then she really is up sh*t’s creak and shouldn’t be in that relationship.

I’m not at all defending the other woman, I’m just saying that as a married woman, it was you and your husband who made those vows and if a man isn’t honouring them then put up or shut up. It’s like any other areas of our lives, you don’t like your job, stop whining about it and quit; you don’t like being fat, go on a diet or accept it, etc. But don’t get fooled, you aren’t a victim, we get treated the way we allow ourselves to be treated. I’ll concede that our culture doesn’t really tolerate divorce and we do have traditional says that express the fact that a man’s infidelity won’t break the house, but when your happiness and health (hello, HIV is alive and well) are at stake, then where does culture and tradition get you? As one of my girlfriend’s said, I’d rather be single and happy, then married, alone, and unhappy. Anyway, I’m not that ingrained with my culture, so again, maybe for me it’s easier said than done.

Women have to learn to be empowered, the other day one of these health programme managers told us that the concept of being faithful to one person wasn’t really understood here, because being faithful meant you financially provided for the person and the kids. And herein lies the problem. Until women are financially independent and respected they can’t make the best decisions for themselves. But then again, some of these women are financially independent and they still stay in faithless marriages. As for the whole ‘we’re doing it for the kids’ excuse, sorry but that is all it is, an excuse. We learn about relationships first and foremost from our parents, so what are you teaching your kids? All you’re doing is perpetuating the cycle.

Ok, now I feel like I’m getting self-righteous and high and mighty so i’ll leave it here (and look for my pet cats! lol). It is only my opinion and as a single woman, I guess it is easier for me to say this than if I really was in the situation…