Monday, January 28, 2008

Kenya: protest dress

In July 2007, I met Kenyan journalist and activist Philo Ikonya when we were both delegates to the International PEN congress in Dakar, Senegal. I was lucky enough to capture her radiance in dress and physical presence in this photo which was then used in posters for her campaign at the end of 2007 when she stood for parliament to try and bring women into the political life of the country. She says the poster is now, 'still in many homes and in many places fading and torn and weather beaten...'
In the violent aftermath of the election, she has now chosen an apt form of personal protest at the lack of dialogue. As a signal of humility and in mourning for Kenya and its rising toll of dead and displaced, she is wearing a sackcloth.
She says: 'I need to express myself through what I am wearing, and to pass on that message, the sack cloth is very powerful. I shall continue dressing like this and urging other people to dress like this for as long as we do not have peace in Kenya; as long as we do not have justice and reform.' See the full story on the BBC.
Philo is a woman who dares to change the world. As I hear news from Kenya at a great, sad, distance, I'll look for hope in the courage of Philo and women like her who press for transformation through dialogue, and find ways of bringing women's voices into the debate.
And in her own words...

Where are my socks?

My kerchiefs white glare,
You must know where they are,
Where are my socks?
My shoes must shine reflecting the tie pin
My buttons in a row you know,
Are tight enough to keep my beer belly in,
And other things that matter.
You must make sure,
Nothing is out of place.
I sneeze, they stare.
Salute the leader,
Salute the breeder,
And don’t share this power.
Mami, stare at your shoes till Sunday,
When you might wear them if no rain.
Socks, kerchiefs and pins you store,
In your stitches one by one this pain,
From left to right patience under pins,
That make your skirt hold along,
Stitch tight enough to keep soul in.
To keep little flesh tucked in.
You sneeze, they run,
You try to keep intestines tied,
And the blood from dripping down.

Cry for change.
Sing for change.
Lace up a shoe, for change,
Stitch for change,
Pin for change,
Sock for change,
Skirt for change,
Button up, for change,
Tie in change,
Bleed for change!
Before their very eyes.
Salute change and wear it,
Like a hat and in your gait,
This is indeed is power.

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