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I want to be free and I want to be feminist

I live in Uganda. As a woman here, 60% of us have experienced violence in our lifetime. One in five of us have suffered physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in the last year. And one in four in all women across the country report that their first sexual experience was forced against their will.

As a nation, we stand 163rd out of 188 globally for gender equality.

But, as one man so passionately reminded me in a conference last week, the numbers and statistics don’t matter. What matters is that women are ‘whining’ and we will never stop.

I asked him to go and educate himself because I realised right then his inability to recognise the power and privilege of so many men like him.

Volunteer Namata has been helping teachers understand how to tackle gender-based violence
© Namata Tendo
Volunteer Namata has been helping teachers understand how to tackle gender-based violence

He questioned why when women travelled at night and were raped, then they ‘whined’. I answered simply with Article 29(2b) of our constitution – that every Ugandan shall have the right to move freely.

Power and privilege in a patriarchal society is at the heart of the torture of women and denial of our fundamental rights. While a book governs us, the harm comes in the belief of one party that he’s somehow entitled more freedom to move than any other.

What amuses me is that we still gossip in the corridor and treat cases of ‘sex for marks’ and ‘sex trafficking among refugees’ as extraordinary incidents that wow us. Yet we ourselves have normalised sexist statements, accept our lack of right to consent and laugh at jokes that ridicule us.

But now I’m really whining.

"We've modernised the problem of patriarchy but failed to tackle the root issues"
© Andreas Marquardt / Shutterstock.com
"We've modernised the problem of patriarchy but failed to tackle the root issues"

I recently watched a video about a sex trafficking ring targeting refugees. I could hear laughter on the video as the traffickers sold my sisters for just 20,000 shillings (£4). I was reminded of the entrenched tradition of bride prices, traditional male courts and those in power who prey on vulnerable girls.

Pay close attention. These acts are continually happening in our communities because we’ve modernised the problem but failed to tackle the root cause – patriarchy. We’ve let politicians off the hook and reward them with ministerial posts. We’ve allowed unchecked power provided by patriarchy to enable us to make excuses and point fingers at victims.

In Uganda, 60% of women have experienced violence in their lifetime
© Namata Tendo
In Uganda, 60% of women have experienced violence in their lifetime

Stay woke, my brothers, because you are one and the same if you continue to possess unchecked power. Stay woke, my sisters, because if these stories we read have taught us anything, it’s that patriarchy can come at us no matter where we are. It doesn’t discriminate between refugees, the poor, rich or educated.

Patriarchy is a system that will rob and kill. The ‘small things’ matter and the statistics matter not only to the world, but in Uganda, in Kampala, and in your sitting room.

I want to be free and I want to be feminist. Which side are you on?

 

Namata Tendo, 26, was a Challenges ICS volunteer in Kampala, Uganda. She is a founder of gender-based initiative Embimbo, which sensitises schools and communities against gender-based violence. This blog is an adaptation from an original article which won the World Bank #Blog4Dev 2018 Competition.