• In the last two months, female protests have had a share of the media limelight as women stripped to make their voice heard in what they claimed was as a result of not being taken seriously.

    Hence, the agitated women resorted to naked protests in hope that they would be listened to. When the media lifted these protests to the rest of the world, the calls by these women were heard, and some acted upon.

    But these actions raise the questions; should women strip to have their voices heard? Are such actions justified, or necessary? And how effective are they?

    To answer these questions, let us look at the use of the naked protests especially among women in Africa.

    Last month, Uganda’s academic Dr Stella Nyanzi brought Makerere University to a near standstill and set a discourse on the social media when she stripped to protest being locked out of office.

    The cold-war started when the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) locked Dr Nyanzi out of her office claiming she had refused to teach MISR’s doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) students, yet she had in 2012 committed to teaching them.

    On her part, Dr Nyanzi, however, argued that her contract did not include teaching. He said she was protesting director Prof Mahmood Mamdani’s “high-handedness” and “oppression”, and undressing was a last resort. The naked protest worked. The keys were handed back to her. She was, however, later suspended.

    “Following the unfortunate incident of stripping by Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a member of Staff at MISR, the Appointments Board has held a meeting and considered the situation as well as the report of the Committee set up by the Vice Chancellor. The board has resolved to suspend Dr. Stella Nyanzi from Makerere University with immediate effect, pending investigations,” read part of a statement issued by the chairman of Makerere University Appointments board Mr Bruce Balaba Kabaasa.

    Rhodes University female students disrobe against sexual violence

    It is disheartening that female students resorted to disrobing due to increased rape cases in the Rhodes University.

    The half-naked students formed a human chain on campus after searching residencies for alleged sexual violators.

    They were met by police who used pepper spray and stun guns to disperse them with some  of them being arrested in last month’s protests.

    The protests were ignited when a list of alleged campus rapists was leaked on social media by a group of students angered by the assaults. Using the hashtags #RUReferencelist (connoting the eleven supposed rapists named on Facebook) and #nakedprotest were trending on Twitter in South Africa.

    Last year, women were forced to hold naked protests after the Minister for Internal Affairs Aronda Nyakairima and the Minister for Lands Daudi Migereko, visited the Amuru and Adjumani districts in Uganda, to demarcate controversial land.

    “We were born in this land, where will we the elderly mothers go to. Why is the government targeting our land, why why…?” they shouted in unison and as others wailed unceasingly at the top of their voices.

    It is reported that Mr Migereko broke down in tears as he witnessed what he and his team had done to the elderly women. In the end, the naked women protesters won the day, and the land was not demarcated.

    Why naked protests

    The history of naked protests dates back to 1929 in Nigeria when the women were protesting against the white colonizers and local chiefs’ compliance, through body activism, which can be referred today as topless protests.

    Some 87 years later, and the method has continued to take shape in Africa and according to OkayAfrica’s Maryam Kazeem, naked protests is "arguably one of the most powerful manifestations of naked protest over the past century." The 1929 protests left dozens of women dead during the two-month war, in which women used their bodies as a powerful way to counter sexism, imperialism and oppression.

    In 1992, a group of women among them being the late Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai, held a sit-in protest in a park in Nairobi demanding the release of their sons who had been detained as political prisoners. In the demonstration, police descended on them and beat the protesting women.

    The naked protests were viewed as a curse against the government of Daniel Moi and the ruling party.

    The power of naked protests especially that of elderly women is taken seriously and many African men would not want going down this road with female protesters as it is viewed as a curse- a means of taking back the life that women gave to their children.

    In many African communities, when elderly women and mothers strip in public, the issue is taken as the ultimate curse and men who look at such women are said to go mad, impotent, blind, or die.

    According to Anthropologist Terisa Turner, women result to such measures when it is extremely necessary. By undressing women, tell the world that they are taking back the life they gave people especially men who are almost always at loggerheads with the angry women. Through pregnancy, childbirth, and nurturing women are seen as the life-givers. By disrobing in front of men old enough to be their sons and grandsons, a mother symbolically is taking back the life that she gave, and so in a way pronouncing death to the subjects.

    "It's about bringing forth life and denying life through social ostracism, which is a kind of social execution. Men who are exposed are viewed as dead. No one will cook for them, marry them, enter into any kind of contract with them or buy anything from them, " Turner says.

    The naked protest might have been invented in the African culture to deal with the patriarchal communities at the time when women were just viewed as a man’s property. In the 20th century, should women who have fought for equal rights over the years, still disrobe to be heard? Are there not any measures that can be taken to avoid embarrassing our mothers, sisters and wives? Should we always wait to act after naked protests?


    Image credit: Isaac Kasamani