My hair: style or political decision?

My natural hair is style and a political element. Here is my story.

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball Photos: Kimmo Lehtonen

Weeks ago Miss Universe pageant was held at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe. She is 26-year old, an activist who fights against gender-based violence, and an advocate for natural hair.  She said, ” I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful”. 

These words are not unexpected for many of us as black women. When I was a child, Saturday evenings were dedicated to my hair. I remember it was not a pleasure. I used to get in a bad mood, cried or shouted to wash and untangle my voluminous hair.

This day was chosen because Mom had time to comb and neat my hair for Sunday school. I guess, for her it was also not easy because she had to spend hours doing this same process to me and my other two sisters, regardless  they have “good hair”.

At age twelve, I started another process: relaxing my hair. Yes, my mom was the one who got it done, but eventually it was done by one of my sisters. My scalp is very sensitive, so by the time it was finished applying I had burn all over. I remember sometimes asking my sisters to rinse my hair before the timing was over because it was painful. 

Besides using chemicals on my hair, I remember also using a hot comb. Along came the burnt of scalp, ears and forehead. What a nightmare I lived, all because we were taught that black women have to relax their hair to look good, professional and acceptable in the eyes of society. 

Across oceans and continents, black people had been discriminated during centuries because of their hair, sex, colour and heritage. In South Africa during the apartheid, hair played a role. A pencil test was done. It was past through each person’s hair to determine racial identity. I guess if I was living there during this period of history, I would have been separated from my sisters because of hair texture differences.

Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in her book Americanah, “Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You’re caged in. […] Your hair rules you. […]You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do. If you go natural and take good care of your hair, it won’t fall off like it ́s doing now”. 

Discovering my hair 

At a Caribbean and Latin-American Afro women summit, I met several girls of my age with natural hair. I was startled went I saw those beautiful black hair, volume and style. But I was most amazingly of the pride they have about it. 

Months later I stop relaxing my hair. I went natural. My hair was reborn. I was glad. I had support from other friends and my partner to go natural. But others were not happy with my decision. My mom was shocked when she saw me for the first time. 

A friend of mine Cynthia Davis who relaxed and blowed-dry my hair for years was not pleased with my real look. She said, “ girl you need to come to me”, I said no. Eventually, she got lo like my natural hair and has been motivated to go natural. 

Alicia Clair, the owner of a bakery shop in the lovely village of Pearl Lagoon, south Caribbean of Nicaragua, is completely proud of her natural hair. Sitting at her place and eating coconut sweets, I heard her story of going natural. She said people had reaction phrases like “what are you doing? are you going crazy? do something to your hair”. 

Alicia thinks that black women should challenge themselves to do it. “ […] It’s part of our identity, not perming it feels good, it’s healthy, the hair has life, […] and you do not kill it”. 

I got to confess that going natural was not easy at first. You fight against your hair to clear it out, to moisturize, and style. It is a process. I learned to feel it, to discover it, fall in love with it, and finally to give and receive. It becomes a marriage between you and your hair. 

Afro natural hair is a gift. It ‘s variable so styling can be fun. But besides being a style, it is also political. My hair is part of me and who I am. With it being natural, I want to demonstrate that I am proud of my Afro heritage and that neither me nor any other black woman should be judged because of our hair. 

Females making headline in media

Four outstanding females of the week.

Text: Shirlene Green Newball

This week, as usual the media was full of bad news, but what caught my attention were repetitive faces in almost all the newspapers and social media platforms. They were the faces of four outstanding females from different continents and backgrounds, but with one purpose of making their voices be heard and showing leadership in their respective fields. 

In Finland, we woke up with the news to have the youngest prime minister in the world. Sanna Marin, from the Social Democratic Party won the election on Sunday after Antti Rinne resigned as PM. The government in Finland is a coalition of five parties all headed by women; four of whom are under 35 years old.  

Sanna Marin comes from a humble family in Tampere, the centre of Finland. She was raised by her mother and her female partner and was the first from her family to finish high school and attend university. In 2015, she became a Member of Parliament and rose quickly as she gained confidence and attention.

According to AFP news agency, Marin said: “I have never thought about my age or gender; I think of the reasons I got into politics and those things for which we have won the trust of the electorate.”

Photo: Social Media

I love football and believe that females should also have the same right as males in this field. Megan Rapione was named 2019 Sportsperson of the year by Sports Illustrated Magazine. This magazine has 66 years since its first publication and Megan is the fourth woman to receive this award. She was also named by the Fédération Internationale of Football Association (FIFA) Best Woman Player of the year, two months after the World Cup. 

This brave woman became the voice of many sportswomen on and off the field by demanding equal pay, sexual diversity respect, fight against racism and sexism in football, and also became a hero after scoring at 61stminute the goal against the Netherlands to defeat them 1-0. That gave the United States of America the 2019 World Cup Championship.

I am not a fan of watching Miss Universe pageant, because it is not of my interest. But the following day when I read the news that Zozibini Tunzi from South Africa was the new Miss Universe, I thought it was time for a black woman to have the crown again since it was 8 years ago that Miss Angola, Leila Lopes, won the beauty contest. 

She was raised in Eastern Cape with her two sisters. She has a bachelor’s degree in public relations and image management. One big change in last Sunday night pageant is that she became the first woman to win the title with her natural Afro hair, which was well done. When answering the final question, her last sentence was “it is up to us to keep our planet safe”. 

Photo: Benjamin Askinas/Miss Universe

And this leads us to our fourth personality, Greta Thunberg, who participated this past week in Madrid, Spain, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP25. This teenager started a strike by skipping school on Friday. Instead, she when outside the Swedish parliament building to protest for climate action, which later became a global action known as #FridaysForFuture. 

This week Time magazine chose her as Person of the year 2019.  She is the youngest person to earn this title since this award was first issued in 1927. 

These four females are all below 35 years old, come from different places and environments. Nevertheless, they are creating and moving spaces that had been difficult to achieve years ago. They are all from a different field, which makes it more interesting and diverse for women empowerment and role modelling. 

They were my inspirations for this week, and I am sure that they will continue moving our fight. Their stories and others similar to these, also, can inspire you. 

The viral gender performance

It is not a song to the raper it is a denounce of gender violence from north to south and east to west.

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball Photo: Rosamaria Bolom

“El patriarcado es un juez, que nos juzga por nacer, 

y nuestro castigo, es la violencia que no ves. 

El patriarcado es un juez, que nos juzga por nacer, 

y nuestro castigo, es la violencia que ya ves”.

 “The Patriarchy is a judge, who judges us for being born, 

and our punishment is the violence that you don’t see. 

The patriarchy is a judge, who judges us for being born,

and our punishment is the violence that you see”.

These words and choreography started on the streets of Chile on the 20th of November and spread across the Pacific Ocean to many countries in America and Europe such as Mexico, Peru, Colombia, United States of America, Uruguay, Nicaragua, France, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Finland, Sweden and many others in a week.  

I am sure that you had heard these words over and over on social media during the past week.  These are part of the performance A rapist in your way (Un violador en tu camino) composed by Las Tesis

But who are these women? Las Tesis is a Chilean feminist collective formed years ago by four women from Valparaíso. Sibila Sotomayor and Daffne Valdés are performing artists, Paula Cometa Stange is a designer and, and Lea Cáceres is a costume designer.  

The performances aim to act feminism theories to reach to different audiences colloquially. The first one was done in 2004 based on the book The caliban and the witch (El calibán y la bruja), of scholar Silvia Federicci.  The current performance, A rapist in your way took inspiration from the feminist Rita Segato’s thesis that develops the structure of sexual violence and rape against women as a form of fragile masculinity. 

In an interview given to El Tiempo newspaper,Sotomayor said: “Our interventions last only fifteen minutes, the idea is that it be so, precise, concise, and effective”.

In the second paragraph of the performance, you need to do four squats, which symbolize the squats women are obligated to do after being arrested and naked by the Chilean police. This violation of human rights has also been perpetrated in Nicaragua, which is under an authoritarianism government. A report given by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights describes this type of action (page 64). 

“Es femicidio

Inmunidad para mi asesino

Es la desaparición

Es la violación”.

“It is femicide

It is Impunity for my killer

It is the disappearance

It is rape”.

The last part of the performance refers to part of the Chilean police anthem, which is an irony between words and their actions. 

Over 50 women from several Latin American countries, Finland and other countries also did the viral performance. The cold weather, of course, did not stop us to shout and march once more to denounce rape, femicide, and impunity in cases of gender violence committed by the state or individuals.  This event was organized in two days, so a lot of us rehearsed at home. In my case, I did it on the buses and trams on my way to work. 

If you had not participated in the performance, I invite you to organize it with your friends, adapt it to your context, film, and share it. We need to be heard; no matter what language you speak because we are tired. 

“And it’s not my fault, nor where I was, or how I was dressed”.

“Y la culpa no era mía, ni donde estaba, ni cómo vestía”.

“Syyllinen en oo mä, Ei missä olin, ei mun vaatteet”.

Gender violence stories

From Dubai to Chile women took the streets to demand an end to violence against women. Three stories of violence.

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball Photo by : Kimmo Lehtonen

Santiago, Chile

My phone rang and I saw it was a loving friend calling, so I picked up. On the other side, I heard her sad and weeping voice saying: “He hit me and I had the baby in my hand”. She was referring to her partner and father of her child. I was mad since I also had my experience in my teen.

When I arrived at her house I saw a bruise on her left cheek. We sat down and she told me her outrage violence story. She decided not to press charge against him, which was unacceptable to me, but I knew I had to respect her decision and just let her know that I was there to support her. And so I did. 

Gender-based violence forms can be physical, psychological, sexual, economic, and others carried by individuals and states. Every day hundreds of women and girls around the world live it, so my friend’s case was not an exception.

According, to the Global Study on Homicide 2019: Gender-related killing of women and girls research published in July by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2017, a total of 87,000 women were killed intentionally from which, 50,000 were killed by an intimate partner or relative, meaning that 137 women were killed daily by a family member. This act of killing a woman is known by international organizations, some governments, academic, and women movements, as femicide.

The study also highlights the total women murders by continent; Asia being the continent with the largest number fallowed by Africa and the Americas.

United Nations Research

Since I became an activist, every 25thof November, I participate in manifestations on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Historically, this day is based on 1960, when Dictator Rafael Trujillo assassinated the three Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic.

My friend was at home in her porch when the episode occurred, which confirms that our home is not a safe place for us, but so are the streets, public transportations, and  social media channels. 

Can you imagine that in Granada, Spain, during the manifestation on Monday (25 November) a group of girls was attacked by a man with a knife? This act is insane and ironic. Why did he attack women in a protest against violence?  Is it because of hate speech, superiority or misogyny? What is clear is that someone almost got injured because of these extreme thoughts. 

Currently, the media and the Internet are spaces that lead to a lot of contents of violence against women.  

Do you remember the ridiculous attack Greta Thunberg faced during her visit to the United States of America in September? This teenage activist raising awareness about climate change was attacked tremendously on national television and social media by the right party. The accusations were crazy, from the way she dresses, her hairstyle, her whiteness, etc. 

On the 23rd of September during the broadcast of Fox News, Michael Knowles called her “a mentally ill Swedish child”.

Another ridiculous statement came from Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host who called Greta’s United Nations speech as “chilling”, with a head title saying, “Climate change hysteria is changing our kids”. 

Since social media plays an important role in being informed and active today, my friends and I got caught in this discussion. One of my friends was so tired of answering that it occurred to her we needed a strategy to continue, so she started to tag others in her answers with the purpose of getting support of our statement against the furious women and men attacking Greta and all her supporters. 

Gender-based violence has increased over the years. As women, we all are exposed to attacks any day. So it is not only the on 25thof November that we need to remember this, it is every single day. 

The strategies women create to counteract violence may seem foolish for some people. However, whatever you invent to protect yourself, make sure that it is effective and of great help to you. 

My friend was brave to call me and tell her story, but unfortunately, not every woman does it because they are scared and ashamed. From my experience and my friend’s, it is better to break the silence, look for help, go to a shelter home and press charges. Remember you are not alone and there is always support.