A few years back, when I was 25, I met up with a friend of a friend for an evening walk. However, when we met up he complained that it was cold and that it would be nicer to step inside and have a cup of tea. Since my apartment, which I shared with another female friend, was the closest; we went there. Quite quickly I understood that he had more than a friendly interest so I increased the physical distance between us to signal to him that this was not mutual. However, a minute later I was fighting him off as he had jumped up and tried to forcibly kiss me. As he did not succeed, he took my foot and bit my toes until I was able to fend him off. After that we had a peculiar conversation with me telling him that this was unacceptable and I did not want him to do that and him responding that he just could not stop himself when he saw someone that he liked and who was that ‘sexy’. This situation happened three times! He jumped on me; I fought him off. Finally I managed to get him to leave, and I remember that I was thinking during the whole time; what if I would have been living alone. But I also knew that I would not have let him come inside if I had stayed alone and I knew why. I had been warned so many times that this is what you have to be scared of as a woman. You have to be scared of men, especially unknown men and what they can do to you if you are not careful enough.
A few days later I told our mutual friend about what happened, thinking that he would share my anger and concern for how this man, how his friend, had behaved. But the first thing that my friend said was: “Why did you invite him in? You shouldn’t have done that. You don’t know him well enough. Just think of what could have happened.” After that, a long conversation about how it was completely unfair to blame me for this man’s forceful attempts to sexually abuse me followed. However, it quickly dawned on me that what my friend was saying was exactly what many people would say and I realized that if this man had been more determined and followed through and raped me I would probably have been facing these questions in a hospital, in a witness boot, and from many other people – from society.
Because it is true that in this patriarchal world women’s bodies are seen as objects that men gaze at, desire, and prey on. So unless you take your responsibility and duty as a woman to in every way guard yourself against this, you are the one to be blame. It is not you being violated who is at stake but rather a question of finding out if you had taken enough and appropriate precautions to first of all prevent it from being possible or secondly to stop it from happening. Worse, it is actually not about you at all; it is not about if you had clearly expressed your consent to the sexual act. You find out that it is about assessing whether this man went too far from what accepted masculine sexuality is, if he used more force than generally. If not, then it was not rape. Was he your boyfriend or husband? Then it was not rape. This is our patriarchal society. As a woman, your body is not yours and when it is violated and abused it is still not yours. It is violated only if the one who did it went off the script of the male standard of sexual behaviour. And male sexual behaviour is intermeshed with force. It is an uncontrollable desire that has to get its outlet and we as women are supposed to submit to it. We are to welcome it and feel grateful to be desired. As women that is often how our value is measured, through the eyes of male desire. So if we claim that this desire was unwelcomed, that we did not want it. Then it falls upon us to prove that it was done under so much force that it cannot be understood as something else but a violation and not admiration. Probably this is not known to most men. But as a woman you know; you know deep inside that you should not let yourself be ‘tattered’ and misused, but you should at the same time submit to male desire. You are caged in a catch 22, an unsolvable equation.
This is why rape law, or other legal frameworks related to sexual offences, have not done enough if it does not make it explicit that there has to be clearly expressed consent and that in the absence of this, the sexual act is a crime. This is why a survivor’s prior sexual history, behaviour, and dress should be discharged as evidence in such matters. However, the legal instruments that are in place in Uganda today does not offer this. Instead it focuses on rape as something done with ‘force’. It will thus become the survivor’s (woman’s) burden to prove that she fought against it even tough we all know that we are not teaching women to refuse male interest and desire. It also becomes close to impossible to prove rape if the perpetrator is a husband or a partner, as it is assumed that you somehow have given away your body to this man and that he has gained unlimited sexual access. In doing so, Ugandan rape law as it stands today in the Penal Code Act 1950 completely ignores the key element of consent. It rather reflects and reinforces the social norm which assumes that accepting to have an intimate relationship with a man at one time is synonymous with him having unlimited access to you.
If this angers you as much as it angers me, you should support the progress of the Sexual Offences Bill no. 35 2015 that is still waiting to be passed. The Bill tackles victim-blaming by disallowing evidence of character and previous sexual history. It puts emphasis on consent and it acknowledges the use of expert testimony, which is evidently needed as society teaches us rape myths where there is only one acceptable response to rape: fight, and there is only one acceptable perpetrator: ‘the unknown stranger’, and for that matter only a few acceptable survivors: most often the young females with ‘appropriate dress and behaviour’. While the Bill has its flaws and needs to be better defined, it does tackle some of the core issues that flourish in laws on sexual offences, which makes it impossible to claim rape by husbands, if you had been out drinking, if he managed to use his power to sexually assault you and much more.
Akina Mama wa Afrika’s cadre of young women leaders has over the past few months sought to influence the outcome of the bill by analysing it using a feminist lens and power mapping strategic partners with whom to push for the passing of the bill. Our aspiration is to see victim-blaming resisted; prevention and penalising of people in position of power and authority from abusing their power and trust by sexually abusing children, students, and employees; and marital rape criminalised among other asks. The time is now. As women we all have personal stories of sexual abuse, but few of us have been able to find retribution, support, and justice. We need to speak out now! We need to demand for laws that are relevant to our lived realities! We need feminist laws that challenge patriarchy and its tentacles of male dominance, supremacy, and violence. Join AMwA and our pool of fierce feminist alumnae in the development and advocacy of the Sexual Offences Bill to make sure that it gets improved where needed and then passed into law!
Compiled by Fanny Rölander
Akina Mama wa Afrika