Growing up, I have been taught that time keeping and management is a core value. One no one should get away with no matter the class, age or race they subscribe to. It was so intense that when food was served a few minutes past the designated 1pm, you were in for a lecture and if you happened to go beyond by an hour, my grandfather would order you to take the food back to the kitchen. Talk about military upbringing!
So, it is in that same spirit that I found myself 30 minutes earlier than expected in a much lit room set up in a way that fervent discussion was going to be the order of the day. As a chronic back-bencher, I chose myself a seat farthest from the facilitator but also good enough to have a view of everyone in the room. Before I knew it, ladies started trickling in, some mono, others in twos and threes. Ah, they know each other, I thought, going to be hard for me to fit in – a feeling which was shattered a couple hours later. You see, the ladies who walked into the conference room were calm and composed, but one thing awakened the lionesses in them: the plight of women world over especially Uganda that seems to be an incurable disease.
The depression on their faces when it was mentioned that 1 in 3 women has suffered some form of Gender Based Violence could not go unnoticed. And that’s just the reported cases! To bring it closer to you, of the 3 women seated in front of you in a taxi, one of them has suffered at the hands of a man because of their feminine nature. I know you’re thinking what about the men? Well, 1 in 10 men have found themselves as victims of Gender Based Violence which is a far less agonizing statistic as compared to the women.
Now, since time immemorial, many have risen up to fight the vice that violence against women and girls is. However, it appears that for so long we have been fighting a mere fruit of the root cause of these atrocities. The perpetrators are imprisoned and brought to justice only if the judge does not find their excuse that a man who loves his wife will beat her to death appealing. The fact that when it comes to defilement or a drunk man beating his wife in the dead of night, mob justice will not work, he is only restrained. I am very much against mob justice but is it justice when the thief’s limbs are broken yet the rapist is let go because he was only proving that he is man enough?
Charles Onyango Obbo in the first chapter of his book Uganda’s Poorly Kept Secrets tells of a half-naked woman running away from her drunk husband as the crowd looked on with the husband in pursuit and I think some even cheered him on. The system has ceaselessly pushed for male dominance where the role of men in society is recognized but women stay forever in the background. So when a woman suffers violence at the hands of a man, it is because he has an unapologetic right over her by virtue of his maleness. And there is not much she can do about it because the system is built in a way that all the institutions she could report to are majorly influenced by patriarchy! She will be told to woman-up, be strong and the cycle continues.
For the young women in that room, it was time to question what they had been taught all their lives. Time to unsettle the myths that women are not supposed to speak in public which conveniently ignores the much needed input and wisdom that could build Africa. These same women neglect themselves because at the end of the day they are caring about everyone in that household apart from themselves. It was time to disturb a system that cheers on as women bash themselves to keep them at the bottom of the food chain.
Imagine an inclusive society where a man will not have to go back to his house just because the first person he saw when he walked out was a woman who was innocently going to earn bread for her family because meeting a woman first thing in the morning is considered a curse. We haven’t seen the sky fall down because a woman ate eggs and chicken as was denied them by our ancestors. I believe it is in an inclusive society that we are going to rise to greater heights as a country, as a continent. How long this will take, I don’t know but sometimes the best things in life happen when you go against the normal.
So for me, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and think critically about what I have been taught: religion, school and any other institution that had a hand in designing my way of thinking. Who knows what your choosing to unlearn and relearn will do for a woman out there who has lost all hope to a genius system that’s meant to pull her down? I refuse to be a back-bencher when it comes to speaking out on violence and inequality of women and girls. It’s time women stopped paying the price for decisions made by men!