“Cameroonian women want equality, not revenge or domination”

It’s a November morning, a contact on Twitter, a discussion that begins. Christophe Guilhou is the French Ambassador to Cameroon. He appreciates my speeches, the position, the nuances I try to bring to the debate. He tells me “55% of Cameroonian women are victims of physical violence, 50% of economic violence.” She tells me, and to come and share my universalist feminism with those who, from north to south, have decided to change things. “You’ll have things to tell you”, he told me. We are in November 2021; I flew in March 2022, I just got back, although a little bit of me stayed there. Christophe Guilhou was right: we had things to say to each other. His struggle is mine.

Viviane was raped when she was 12, and to remember is to run the risk of hearing tears well up. For Raïssa, she was 8 years old. The images that remain of that moment hurt him less than family rejection, this support he will never have because he wanted to talk. He speaks so that things change, they speak so that his followers, from Yaoundé or the rest of Cameroon, those of tomorrow’s generation, do not live this life, do not support this violence.

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And then there is Marlyse who fights against modern slavery, and Madame Baba who fights for the leaders of the people, these men so powerful that they are said to be the true leaders of Cameroon, to accept women among the notables around them. He will soon have convinced fifteen, of several hundred. Madame Baba knows that equality is a long-term struggle, her wrinkles show that she does not have much time left, but she has the will and endurance, and she will train the following.

The taboo of sexual violence

Joachim talks about this country still banning abortion except in a few exceptional cases; this taboo abortion, demonized by religion. Joachim, who runs a medical center in Douala for homosexuals with symptoms of something, AIDS, STDs, discomfort, a disease that will not be treated anywhere else because homosexuality is illegal. At home we find doctors, laboratory technicians, psychologists, shelter liaison officers, human beings, in short.

Sometimes women come looking for an ear to listen to, advice, the possibility of an abortion that does not take them to the cemetery for having been provoked with a needle of weaving, secretly, to shelter from judgments and prohibitions. He is a man but he knows it “Something’s not working”. He explains sexual violence that should not be talked about, still a taboo, still a life-threatening issue. Fighting for freedom is a high risk job here.

Vivian completes: “You don’t necessarily have family support when you stand up for freedom. Some try to intimidate us by asking us what we are getting into, they tell us, “She was raped but she doesn’t care, she’s not your daughter, she’s not your sister, take care. Business!” »

The famous “systemic patriarchy” fantasized by certain French activists acquires its full significance here. »

And then there is female circumcision, which is still practiced in the far north of the country. A woman says: “We must not believe that it is only a matter of male domination, women have their share of responsibility. Excision is a business of women, they are the ones who practice it and sometimes even take advantage of the absence of the husband to do it to their daughter. It is difficult to judge, it is necessary to educate rather. These women, these mothers, have suffered, they don’t see why they should avoid it for their daughters. They believe they are perpetuating traditions, they believe they are doing the right thing. You have to go see these moms, tell them they’re wrong, that’s the job, too.. Listen to Simone de Beauvoir: “Women forge for themselves the chains with which men do not want to burden them.”

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In schools, the e-Base Association teaches children lullabies that sound like a promise of the future, the beginning of tomorrow that they will sing as well as they can: “If you touch my private parts, I’ll tell you … I’ll tell my father, I’ll tell my mother, if you touch my private parts I’ll tell you!” » And what will mothers and fathers say when their child tells them to? Today’s struggle is also there: to teach children equality, respect for the body, ownership of their “private parts”, to achieve a reversed education, for parents to assimilate the rights inherent in every human being in the mouth of their children.

Although matriarchy is an integral part of Cameroon’s history and mentality, although there are still habits and some reflections sometimes and in places, the famous “systemic patriarchy” fantasized by certain French activists acquires its full meaning here. Because if Article 1 of the Constitution of Cameroon establishes the equality of all, traditions organize society much more than any law, its weight crushes the texts as it crumbles useless papers. Lawyers like Alice Nkom know: “Laws exist, but that will not be enough until there is the political will to enforce them.” Girls ’studies remain a divisive issue, as does their work, which does not happen without the consent of the husband. Taking training too far, when you’re a woman, it’s often bad to get married …

“Survivors, as they call themselves, are ridiculed by the radicalism of certain French activists. Wokism makes them smile. They do not understand the war against men. »

The change will not come from the current government, nor from its 89-year-old president, Paul Biya. But youth is a future and a hope: 42% of Cameroonians are under 14, this is the reality of the country against which no patriarchy will ever oppose if education continues. It is the certainty of a Cameroon that will one day be egalitarian … So training minds, sensitizing parents, teaching children, this is the great work of the present.

The “survivors”, as they define themselves, are amused by the radicalism of certain French activists. Wokism makes them smile. They do not understand the war against men. That they want to stop reading “males” bothers them, that gallantry is also perceived as a manifestation of patriarchal oppression. Its urgency is elsewhere, its collective struggle. Hermine explains: “It is together, women and men united, that we will go to freedom. It is a common theme. Equality is the struggle of all, in the interest of all. » Another activist insists: “Freedom is not to take revenge on men, nor to denounce all traditions, it is to reject those that break our equality with them. We don’t want to attack men, we have to convince them. Not everything has to be thrown away, and especially the man ”. Especially not the man …

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We would like to put them face to face with certain French extremist ideas, those that we know weaken the “cause” of the largest number, that of a feminist and nuanced majority … Without having theorized, women in this country have internalized universalism. He is the obvious, the future they want and for which they fight. Will they see equality throughout their lives? Maryse replied: “I wish my descendants could say, ‘My mother fought for freedom and because of her I am a free woman and my children will be free.’ »

Viviane doesn’t care if she doesn’t see the victory with her own eyes: “I fight for my sisters, for the next ones, so that they can continue on their way. Passing the torch to the next generations is already a great victory. ” What stands out is the wisdom of these women, their uncompromising calm, their certainty of the future. Cameroonian women are strong and determined. Cameroonian women want equality, not revenge or domination, and I am sure they will succeed.

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