How NOT To Approach the #MyDressMyChoice Conversation

Over the past few days social media has been ablaze with the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice. This was sparked up after a video of a woman being stripped naked by matatu touts went viral. The incident occurred in the middle of central Nairobi on Tuesday November 7th right behind the National Archives at the stop for the Embassava buses. The video has since been taken down but then another popped up on Vimeo of a woman in Mombasa being given the same vile treatment. There have been reports of the same happening on Thika Road and Ngumo, but these have been unconfirmed so far. The event has sparked outrage and a demand for justice from many citizens of Nairobi.

These incidents are not new nor are they isolated. For a while now, matatu touts and boda boda operators have been stripping women that they thought were “inappropriately dressed”. Earlier in the year on Valentines Day, a woman in her early 20’s dressed in a mini-skirt was stripped  naked and paraded for over 30 minutes by boda boda operators in Kimilili Town, Bungoma County. In September of 2013, boda boda operators working at Kisiwa Estate in Thika sub county stripped a woman in the full view of primary school students for the same reason of being indecently dressed. These incidents reached such a critical tipping point that African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet) ran a national campaign dubbed ‘STRIP ME NOT’ targeting boda boda operators, touts and drivers. The training session that was held in Nyeri was to promote inter-gender dialogue to help men and women openly discuss sexual and gender based violence with the aim of preventing and mobilising community action to stop the vice. 

The hashtag #MyDressMyChoice is centered on women who are standing firm in their right to dress as they please without any fear of assault. There have been mixed reactions with some people totally condemning the act while others seek to justify the attack. Blogger Robert Alai posted a tweet where he vowed to personally undress or sponsor the undressing of what he called “scantily dressed women”. He has since deleted the tweet but you can see a screenshot below:

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Opinion or incitement to violence?
Personal opinion or incitement to violence?

The nature of these attacks stems from the entitlement to women’s bodies. For so long women have been viewed as property, extensions of men and not their own independent entities. A woman’s body belongs to her and her alone. For men to strip a woman naked because they disagree on how she dresses is a direct violation of her rights. #MyDressMyChoice has been addressing demanding equal rights to privacy and public safety and debunking ridiculous notions are commonplace in society. However due to the brevity of Twitter posts it has been difficult for the supporters of the hashtag to properly articulate the issues with the opposer’s arguments. Here are some of the arguments that I have observed online and the reasons why they are inaccurate.

“If you dress provocatively and get stripped you deserve it.”

This is a victim blaming argument. You can’t blame someone who has been violated for what the people who violated them did. This argument empowers the abuser while humiliating the victim. The men justify that the woman was indecently dressed thus why they undressed her. What is their excuse for inserting dirty fingers into her womanhood? Isn’t this the same as raping her in public? Instead of focusing on what the victim should or shouldn’t have done, we need to focus on those who humiliated her in public. If you are a man who thinks that women should be stripped in public, or that women should be beaten, or that a woman’s life should be controlled by a fellow human being simply because he is male, you’re the same man who lets politicians strip you in public by lying to you, stealing from you and dictating whom you should vote for and whom you should love or hate.

“Dressing like that is not an African tradition.”

kisumu 2

 

kisumu women

Kikuyu-women
Kikuyu Women, 1908
Kikuyu-men-1920s
Kikuyu Men, 1920’s

 

Kisumu-Market
Kisumu Market, 1910

african traditional dressThese vintage photos are indicative that Africans have been “scantily dressed” for ages. Hiding behind African culture is a lazy argument, especially when the African culture contradicts what you are arguing. Do not use our history as a pretext to justify criminal behaviour.

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“Matatu touts/boda boda operators aren’t reading this so why should they care?”
This argument is steeped in classism. It is vapid to assume that a certain class of people are on social media and that it has absolutely no reach to the so called ‘lower classes.’ With internet accessible and smart phones being sold at throwaway prices and the cheap cost of bundles, almost anyone can gain access to the hashtag, which has been trending for the last two days. Al Jazeera even did a piece on the developing story, so its not only restricted to you and your ‘rich’ friends. This is an issue of national concern that needs to be addressed. These conversations NEED to be had. And lets assume for a second that the matatu touts and boda boda operators do not have access to the internet. Its not always about the people affected. If more people become aware of the situation then there can be more bystander intervention. In the first video a man tried to intervene and was pushed back several times. What if there was one more person? Or three? Or eight? Its also about spreading awareness and encouraging community efforts. Collective inertia does not solve anything, in fact it creates an environment in which such disgusting behaviour is allowed to thrive, unabashed. If you are saying this, YOU are just as bad as the people who stood by and did nothing as a woman was stripped.

“If you don’t want to be stripped in public transport, seek other means/buy a car/take a cab.”

Another classist argument, this reasoning assumes that everyone in the country has hundreds and thousands of shillings at their disposal, and that public transport is just a mild inconvenience. Not everyone has the means to afford the overpriced cabs. It also reinforces the belief that security is a privilege that is accorded to the rich. Why is it only those who use private means are protected? Why is it only those with large bank accounts are entitled to safety? Security is a basic human right that everyone, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, class or age group is entitled to. You need to check your class privilege before uttering such statements, and realise not everyone is as wealthy as you.

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“Real men respect women.”

While this argument is in support of the tag, it is problematic. The reason being, these touts are not apparitions, they are not figments of our imagination, they are real men. They exist. It implies that men aren’t supposed to not abuse women because women have intrinsic rights of their own, but because that’s what a “real man” does. I understand the need to create a buzz around the movement and involve men who will add much needed voices against this topic. As a starting point, as a place from which men can turn to other men & say “don’t do this” – I respect the intent & see the point. However, its diminishes the actual events and sends the problem to an imaginary land where things like these don’t happen. Because any Tom, Dick and Harry can call themselves a ‘real man’ while still perpetuating these acts. The fact is men still disrespect women, they attack them in public, they harass them and so forth.

“It’s not about gender.”

It has EVERYTHING to do with gender. The reason is, it is gender based violence. Women are being stripped by men. This, and other forms of gender based violence, have their roots in gender inequality and in the different power relations between men and women. Statistically men are commonly the perpetrators and women the victims. So this argument is also reductive, as if it is imaginary creatures that do this. Its also a refusal to take responsibility for what your gender is doing to another.

 

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30 comments

  1. Human Reply

    Interesting view, but i could be wrong in saying this.. But i think issue here is lack of respect for personal space and individual liberties. Those same touts who stripped the woman naked, are the same ones who will circumcise a man and wash their colleagues in full public glare. The events are not isolated to only women, but to all humanity that happens to be at the mercy of these marauding crowds.

    Instead of fighting for the touts to stop women from being stripped, how about we fight for collective human rights? How often have you seen a naked man on a mkokoteni being driven around town for one reason or another? Making this issue about Gender is looking at it only from one angle and ignoring all others. Yes women must be respected and yes, women have borne the brunt of such activities, but women rights are human rights. You make a better argument by fighting for human rights.. Equal rights for every human.

    I am no expert on Gender issues but I do hope you see what I am talking about here.

    • Olivia Kidula Post authorReply

      You’re right, you are wrong for saying that.TOTALLY WRONG. I was very tempted to delete your comment and spare others from seeing your views but that borders on censorship so I’ll respond. The plight of women is not the same as the plight of men in the same way the problem of injustice against the rich is not the same as that of injustice against the poor. In theory, fixing the whole system fixes all that. But you can be damn sure one is going to and deserves to get more attention and focus. It is both a human rights and feminist issue. Even in human rights, some issues get priority.

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  3. Miki Reply

    Hi Liv!
    From the title of piece I had hoped you would write more on what you [objectively] think “real” men can and should do – abstracted down to simple things.. We are simple beings, tell us how we can help. Many times has a well-meaning man spoken out in defense of his sisters and daughters being abused in various forms and forums, only to be torn down or castigated for not doing so in the “correct” manner.
    I speak out and act against non-love everywhere I go, but that may not be enough. Teach me. Teach us. Some of us are willing to learn, and willing to extend our hands openly with love over and over, but not many may have my patience. I have caught myself in pits of sad fear, raging at my inability to convey to you, to all women, men, beings, that there is in all of us light and love. Talk to us from that point, teach us with the hope that we will listen with that part of our beings, for some of us will try.

    Miki

    • Olivia Kidula Post authorReply

      I don’t understand why you think I should coddle people into behaving like logical human beings. You want me to speak in softer tones and speak about love? That’s not what I was talking about. This article addresses the talking points of the conversation that are foolish and problematic. You have clearly missed the whole point of my article. You really want to learn? LISTEN TO WOMEN. Don’t tell them how they should explain themselves, or how they should go about their liberation. Stop making this about yourself and what you think and do and pay attention to what women are saying. That’s how we will move forward.

  4. Didi Reply

    And you are only 23??? Good work Olivia. Good points expresssed coherently #Hope #Youth

  5. Maureen Reply

    Thank you Olivia for having a very sober perspective of the real issues surrounding these incidents. I hope the people voted in power not only take the mass action protest as an event that will pass but realize that the issue is too big to be swept under the rug.

  6. Samuel Ireri Reply

    I think the issue here is about total disregard for human rights and intolerance, not just women-rights Olivia. The gentleman(Human) whose input you shot down had a very good point, but you seem to be fixed on one line of thought. The fact that you find it hard to accept his point of view and even formed the idea of deleting his comment just goes to show how far we have to go as a society in realizing a free society where everyone can share their opinions freely and have an intellectual exchange.

    I agree women have bared the blunt of this misgiving on a greater scale compared to their male counterparts according to the statistics available, but are you sure that the statistics collected reflect the true picture of the affairs as they are on the ground? Bearing in mind the fact that men find it hard to speak up whenever they are faced with an injustice, I think the views on gender-based violence as we have them today could be misleading us.

    Nevertheless, I tend to think that GBV will not be overcome on the streets. Even if we do win this, we will have won the battle, but lost the war. Our society is built on the Family as the basic unit. I am of the opinion that we need to go back to that unit and concentrate on bringing up boys and girls who respect one another who will then grow up to become respectable members of the community. Failure to do this will be like treating the symptoms of a disease instead of dealing with the microorganism that causes the disease.

    I hope you will take your time to go through this with an open mind and let others read it as well.

    • Olivia Kidula Post authorReply

      ITS ABOUT WOMEN because WOMEN are being attacked. You lost the right to call it “human rights” when you stopped viewing women as human. When we can’t even walk down the street without being terrified of being stripped for male amusement. I am fixed on this line of thought and I’m going to be rigid about it because its not about all human beings. “Why not call it human rights” because even if we are all human beings its women who are undergoing this oppression. Your need to change the focal point from women’s rights to human rights stems from the male entitlement that tells you that you are the centre of attention in everything.

      People always use the “freedom of expression” excuse after problematic things are said so that they can get away with it. Nope. Not with me. You’re not entitled to every opinion that goes through your mind, you’re entitled to informed opinions. If your opinions are harmful they are invalid and not suitable in areas of intellectual exchange. Even your comment could have been deleted because there is nothing new you have said you’re just voicing out harmful opinions.

      Your article is garbage because you’ve basically written everything I’ve spoken against.

      • Samuel Ireri Reply

        Wow! How mature and civil of you. so, just because my opinion varies slightly with yours makes it garbage?? I’m greatly disappointed Olivia. Very disappointed indeed.

        • Olivia Kidula Post authorReply

          I don’t care for your approval. What I care about is women’s freedoms and an end to gender based violence. You don’t support women’s rights and you make that clear in your article. Good bye and good day.

      • Vivian Reply

        You’re right. When women are the victims, it’s not a “human rights” issue. A man who actually supports women won’t try to remove women from the picture. Women ARE the picture.

  7. Nyanjau Reply

    The pictures say it all. Let no one hide behind the veil of ‘decency’. Decency begins in one’s thoughts not in their actions. Forceful stripping reflects a violent, sexual deviant characteristic in the perpetrators.

  8. berlynedo Reply

    Olivia great article 🙂

    Human, by you logic we should forget that women constitute the other half of the human race that has been immensely suppressed for hundreds of years and denied their rights to freedom and human dignity and fight for universal rights for everyone given the fact that men fall amongst the wealthiest and most privileged people ?.How stupid you sound
    “Instead of fighting for the touts to stop women from being stripped, how about we fight for collective human rights?” so this issue at hand should be fought side by side men’s rights to be allowed to be emotional, alongside the one percent of men that are attacked by other men not women? Instead of tackling this issue of VAW which is an issue that stems primarily form gender inequality with men thinking they have every right to control what ever the hell women do? I hear this bull shit all the time.

    For your information human rights is another term for men’s rights(maintain male supremacy over women) as I have come to realise and many will agree with me. So it is only fair that women take the lead and champion the fight for their rights because most men have always proven to take the side of other men due the fact that they all share a pair of testicles and have a strong desire to maintain male dominance over women.

    Human, since you are no expert on gender don’t tell experts how to fight their fight, just sit quiet and learn.
    This also goes to Samuel Ireri .Samuel you insinuate in your comment you are not sure women have been more oppressed given the fact that men are more likely not to report cases of violence? This is your answer

    -Why do men not wish to give up the tiltle of head of the family?

    -why are women denied property ownership, right to lead starting from the basic family unit, not allowed to marry as many men as they want,sold of to early marriages even as 2,3rd wife , have their bodies, choices esxuality policed and scrutinized at any point in time etc etc etc .

    -Why do men keep denying gender equality? In my experience they are more likely to deny 100% than women. In fact they never even wish to listen to the subject. They hate it.

    The answer is simple” men benefit from sexism 90% more than women”

    What men are allowed to do are things that primarily places them in a position of power unlike women are allowed the freedom to things that has to do with tapping power from men from time to time.Men are allowed to be strong, work and lead. Money is power and enforces leadership which leads to a monopoly of power and control over women .Women are allowed to be weak , sexual objects be provided for by men, & be submissive. Being allowed to be a sex object is again used to control women’s bodies and choices in many ways, and then blame them for the pain caused by men. They who make the money run the show.

    A list of things for you to research on to further understand why we don’t need to generalize every right under human rights:
    -Gender Double standards
    -Culture, religion and gender oppression. This is all for now.

    Yes women’s right is human rights that has never been considered human rights by men/society as Olivia rightly says .Women’s rights cannot be generalized as human rights because the injustice done by patriarchy will be hidden and women will continue to be left behind and be treated unfairly.

    The best way to fight patriarchy is to support women’s rights, Human and Samuel
    Sorry for the much writing. Hope I have not deviated from the point at hand. I just feel the need to fill the ignorant mind with knowledge but I can’t in just one day or in a comment.

    • Human Reply

      Beryl,
      I like the way you articulate your point and i could see the reason why women rights should be addressed in a different forum from human rights. Maybe one day, Olivia can write a blog specifically about this and we can discuss further on this.

      I think the woman was stripped not because she was a woman but due to a decay in the moral fibre of our society. It is the same same hooligans who stripped the woman, who would not hesitate to circumcise or strip naked and wash their fellow man at the drop of a hat. Are these lesser crimes that should not be addressed? I believe every kenyan, regardless of race, gender, social standing or academic qualification should have a right to live, dress and walk wherever they want without fear. I am a believer in personal and individual freedoms and I do know women suffer more under the current system. But what happened to her, is (according to me) not a gender issue, but a serious crime that must be addressed with utmost priority by our police force.

      Maybe I am pedestrian in my thinking, because to me, all of you are humans.. I do not see women or men but humans, each of who is individual in their everyday struggles and each of whom has problems and issues that must be addressed individually. Maybe she was attacked due to her gender, but would it make a difference if it was a man who was attacked? Does the argument change if the victim is a man?

      When we separate humans into groups (race, gender etc), then we subconciously become discriminatory ourselves and may not see the bigger picture. It is the same argument we have with tribalism. Some of us are programmed to automatically see tribe in every single thing that happens around them and forget that each situation must be treated on its own merits and the facts that surround it.

      With all this said, Is it possible to find the woman and support her legally and morally so she can constitute an official complaint? I know she has been robbed of her dignity and she may not want to ever show her face out in public, but she must stand up and we will stand up with her. She needs help and support and encouragement and only by there being consequences to such crimes, will we one day see an end to them.

      • Vivian Reply

        Your diplomatic language doesn’t hide your animosity toward womankind. Why are you trying to take the focus away from the WOMEN who were stripped by talking about MEN who are circumcised and washed in public? Is this what this post about? To a misogynist, yes. To a misogynist, what happens to women is not as important as what happens to men. That’s why you’ll go off-topic to make the discussion about you and others like you. That’s why, by your own admission, you “don’t see women.” It’s not surprising that you don’t see women. That is one of the attributes of a misogynist.

        • Berlyne Reply

          Human, men that are grabbed and circumcized should not be left out in the fight for human rights. The problem with this dress code problem is simply a gender based problem in every way.In my country, Cameroon you find guys who dress with their pants hanging way does, their chests out but no body ever grabs or torment them like they do women. I didn’t know guys in kenya who dress like that are not punished(stripped) before i came across like article http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/masculinity-posing-as-policing-decency/-/440808/2531168/-/ksg7b5z/-/index.htm

          I know that there are women who have internalized these female dress code policing madness which is largely due to the fault of patrairchy. It is a shame that women have to always be treated as if they are not full human beings of thier own.The article says a lot.

          • Berlyne

            Sorry, i speedily posted without proper editing.Hope my message gets across.I m kinda new on word press and don’t know how to edit ,haaaa!

  9. Olivia Kidula Post authorReply

    This is a general comment. If you can see I have been accused of deleting comments and not allowing certain forms of discourse to continue on the article. This is true, and I will explain why I deleted some of the comments. Not every opinion is valid when the subject affects lives. I know the internet has deceived us into thinking we can say whatever we want willy-nilly but that just isn’t true. You don’t have a right to an opinion on someone’s else’s experiences. People approach issues ready to debate and not everything can be debated. Humanity and basic rights are non debatable. And what makes you think the formal rules of debate apply? Where are the debate teams or judge? Which debate rules are you following? What’s the word/time limit before we can make you shut up? You also don’t get to force people to debate with you on real life experiences. If someone says they prefer Fanta to Coke, that’s an opinion, you can debate the merits and demerits.
    But if I tell you that women suffer at the hands of men and we need to support them, that’s not a topic we should even consider debating. IT IS NON DEBATABLE. You can have an opinion BUT you have to deal with the consequences that come with that opinion.If it is sexist, misogynistic, victim-blaming, classist, or in general hurtful to any group of people IT IS NOT VALID. You are NOT entitled to it.

    Before you comment on this post please ask yourself who you are commenting as. Who are you weighing in as? Are you in a position of privilege? And when I say privilege I mean not only male privilege but also class privilege. Whose opinions do you think are more valid, the women who are at risk of being stripped OR the privileged man who doesn’t have any experience in this? Its always the women. Being in a position of privilege means you have a certain set of advantages that the less privileged don’t have and so you should change your approach to matters that concern them because YOU JUST DON’T GET IT. And a lot of men like to jump in to the fray with “men are oppressed TOO” well we’re talking about women so that point is derailing to the conversation at hand.

    You can accuse me of censorship and violating your freedom of expression. But I will not allow you to expressed harmful and biased opinions. We are not entitled to wilfully ignorant opinions, we are entitled to informed opinions and if you can back them up with facts then the better. I did my research before I wrote this article, and these incidents are not isolated. You can click the links, they work. This post tries to break things down into bite sized chunks so that you can understand what women are going through and how certain arguments compound their suffering. But I’ve seen a lot of the men who choose to respond to the article want to center themselves and how THEY feel about it and how THEY think I should approach the topic. Unfortunately this is NOT ABOUT YOU. This is the story of women being harassed by men in the street for wearing the clothes they want to wear. How are you turning “I can wear what I want” into a continuous debate? If you are supporting #MyDressMyChoice, you are supporting it. If you feel the need to say “I support it, BUT” then go into semantics about respectability and responsibility, you really aren’t. The use of language is extremely important in discourse. BUT is a conjunction that is used to introduce contrasting information to what was previously mentioned. (That’s the definition I got from Google) Every time you use ‘but’ in a sentence it negates the previous statement. So don’t say “I support #MyDressMyChoice BUT…” “I respect women’s rights BUT” You’re not adding anything to this conversation in fact you’re just better off saying “I don’t support it AND this is because….” (That will still get your comment deleted, but at least you were being honest.)

  10. lilianmuchoki Reply

    As much as popular theories-most of them formulated by men- dictate so, the term ‘human rights’ can not necessarily be considered adequate enough to (without a caveat) cover women rights.If it were so, the Commission on the status of women(CSW) would not have pushed for Convention on the Elimination of all kinds of Discrimination against Women and Children(CEDAW) in 1979, 31 years after the Declaration of Human rights had entered into force.Neither would women have been put at the Centre of MDGs.
    Human rights as a blanket figure affect both men and women equally.Women rights on the other hand are specifically aimed at protecting women from social injustices borne out of historical cultural and social biases that have created a world where women are considered to be inferior to men.A world where men control the public space and women have been forced by the existing formal and informal power relations processes to occupy the ‘softer’ private space.As a part of the rulers of public spaces, where rules have been subverted to favor men, touts(an other barbaric men) in the Streets of Kenyan towns think that they own the right to dictate to women what they should wear in the public space.But are they alone in their twisted way of thinking?How many times has a boyfriend or husband asked his spouse to ‘remove that dress’, when stepping out in the public with him, because that dress should be for ‘his eyes only’?That’s just an example of a typical man assuming that he has the power to control the public space.But is this really his jurisdiction.When will this power games ends?Cant a women just dress for her own comfort or pure personal amusement?
    Like Olivia mentioned, what do men even mean when they say that miniskirts are ‘un-African’?I have had the pleasure of visiting West Pokot and Lokichogio parts of Kenya where the indigenous women do not wear anything on the upper parts of their bodies.A set of beads on their Necks is enough outfit.Should we consider those women to be indecent?What about their men who just tie a masai Shuka in a simple knot across the shoulder without any belt that would in the ‘decent world of African’ keep the shuka from being blown by the wind? Are our men now going to move there and teach some decency to these communities?
    Fashion is a personal choice and the problem here is not what women in the streets of Nairobi are wearing.The problems is in the male violators minds. They have a problem with a women who wants to control what she can wear in public.They are insecure that women are taking over a public domain which they have been socialised to believe that it belongs to men. But today we stand together to declare that, enough is enough.As a woman i am ready to start making independent fashion choices both in public and in private and anyone stopping me is abusing a right that i am more that determined to claim.This is not a human right campaign business as usual.It is a determined clamour for my woman human right to dress as i wish!!

  11. Mwikali Wambua Reply

    I am in agreement on what this issue is NOT about. The undressing of the female body in public, is not and has never been about decency of dress/dressing. You know the males even went further and kicked her vagina (being referred to as private parts)! I completely refuse to listen to decency/indecency; cultural; religious arguments because they are used to justify negative actions associated with patriarchy and camouflage the issue. The issue being i) politics of the body -The female body as an item/tool, to be owned and controlled including used and abused at will. The female human being viewed as so entrapped/entrenched in the female form that rational thought cannot be expected from that being; and ii) power, which body wields it, how it is exercised between the bodies and over which body.

  12. S. Mumbi Kinyanjui Reply

    After reading this piece and all these comments, i think the only thing that we can agree on is that the act itself was wrong, inhuman, degrading and very humiliating. Not just to one woman, but to the rest of us. I cannot fathom how any of these women feel after being stripped of not only their clothes, but their dignity.

    We shouldn’t limit our thought to the battle of the sexes when it comes to such kind of an issue. Olivia this piece just shows the level of hypocrisy in our societies.

  13. Ngure Githinji Reply

    At the risk of incurring your wrath, I would like you to read my opinion on my dress my choice.
    Being a man I have been called all sorts of names for expressing an opinion that seemed contrary to what was being expressed in the public domain. I agree that women have been shortchanged in the issue of gender equality. My greatest concern is that in order for gender equality to exist, men must buy into it otherwise we get into a battle for gender supremacy, where one gender must be superior to the other. There have been men who have supported the women in their quest for equality in their own ‘quiet way’ (as I have written in my opinion above) but it is unfortunate that there seems to be a move to say that men who support the equality of genders should not have opinions on dressing or the behaviour of women in public space.
    I await your wrath.

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