MUNIRA HUSSEIN: Changing society perceptions through writing

Kindly introduce yourself to us.
My name is Munira Hussein, a Microbiologist immersed in the world of literature, so I write and edit. I am the author of Unfit for Society, a collection of stories. I have also co-authored English Literacy course books, Grades 1-3 for Longhorn Publishers as well as Secondary School English course books for South Sudan. I am an ardent reader and an advocate of peace, love, unity and understanding, among others.

So Munira, why `Unfit for Society’ ? What is the story behind the book?
The book is a collection of seven stories, one of the stories being Unfit for Society. It was inspired by my childhood and growing up in Marsabit as well as the contrast of my adulthood. It is a compilation of experiences and stories inspired by human actual experiences. Some of the themes covered are radicalisation, early marriages, the tribal clashes that characterized my growing up, early marriages, religious differences, forced marriages, education, among others.

In your book synopsis, there is a line “Until you break cords set aside by the society,you will remain a slave with nothing to call yours. What is your meaning of this line?
Until you break the code set by the society, you will never have a life to call your own basically means that if you limit your abilities to what people say you should or shouldn’t do, you will never reach your full potential because there’s always someone saying why you shouldn’t pursue the things you truly want in your life, unless they’re illegal, in which case you should stick to the societal code.

As a lady from Marsabit, what are the challenges you faced, which inspired you to put it in writing? And how did you overcome?
I had a lot of beautiful experiences but I have also heard a lot of tribal remarks, hatred between people based on the differences in their religions and cultures, domestic violence and suppression of women. I didn’t think much of these issues back then because they felt like a norm but then I started taking a critical look at these issues and I felt bothered by the happenings, so I decided to put them into writing.

I still receive questions on where my husband is, since I am old enough now and my answer has always been ‘I have no idea where he is either. Let me know if you find him.’ Of course with a smile. I guess the major challenge is trying to stay on course and not succumbing to the pressures, so far so good.

The issues or challenges you addressed in your book, are they still similar since when you were a child to when you are now an adult? If not are there any changes? What has triggered the changes?
Unfortunately, most of the issues remain unresolved, we still have tribal clashes and all the other issues addressed. There has been improvement over time since more girls are going to school now. We owe most of the changes to education.

FGM is still practised, in the interiors of Marsabit, it is not even a secret but in the town, it is done privately or the girls are taken to relatives’ homes in the interiors.

How did you decide on the title of the book? Is it coincidental that the last story, Unfit for Society is also the title?
It isn’t a coincidence. Throughout the book, you realize that most characters are unfit because they are either molesting young girls, or committing crimes against humanity, or forcing girls into marriage at the same time, there are characters who feel like the society is unfit for them because it clips their wings and confines them.

You also addressed gayism on the character Uncle Latif. Is this to imply that many people are hiding behind the realm of religion? What’s your take on LGBTQ and religion?
I do not know how many people are hiding behind the veil of religion but in the conversations I have had with people, I must conclude that there are a good number.

My take on religion, influenced by the books I have read and the things I have seen happen to ‘religious people’ is that religion seeks to control and sometimes not in a good way, so even when you are part of it, you need to understand exactly why you are in it so that you are not manipulated.

So, how was the reception of the book by the society?
It was the first book launch ever, in Marsabit, so there was a lot of excitement. I was a bit scared because the book is a little controversial to the beliefs of the society, so I received a few backlashes here and there but generally, there was a lot of support and love. It’s been a beautiful experience.

If you were in a position to take measures, how would you want this FGM issue tackled in Marsabit? What would you do to curb it, other than just enlightening the society. What other form of support would you need?
The issue starts with the young girls because they look forward to it, they’re excited about it and discuss with their age mates, how much they look forward to it, so they never feel like victims even when the world is talking about them as victims. I think we can start by having a conversation about this, with the potential victims especially in schools. Then it can trickle down to the families, and then drastic measures can be put in place to stop it.

From your book, has there been a change in perception of your society? And do they consider you a hero or a villain for writing against the practices?
It’s been an inspiration to young people, especially those in high schools. I know most people are thrilled by the fact that I wrote a book but we haven’t really discussed what the content means. I hope we get to do that.

So, Munira what is your vision for the Marsabit girls and how can they set free from the bounds of the society?
Education is a great start but we also need to educate them not just for the purpose of the papers but to restore value and change how they perceive themselves as girls and women, how to set their own timelines and not fall prey to the timelines set by the society, how to dream more and be more without the fear of how the larger society might view them, how to achieve and not feel the need to shrink their dreams in order to be accepted, how to gain the courage to pursue their own lives’ dreams. I will mentor and hopefully impact enough girls.

So, can writing be a tool to change the society?
It can be. The major challenge is that the people at the grassroots are illiterate and it is important for us to translate some of the works and present it to them.

Munira Hussein
Courtesy: Munira Hussein
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