More and more Ugandan women are using their sex appeal (and sex) in order to get ahead in life. Are these the acts of independent, emancipated women or just petty overtures to the dominant Ugandan male?
The term ‘women’s rights’ refers to freedoms and entitlements of women and girls of all ages. These rights may or may not be institutionalized, ignored or suppressed by law, local custom, and behaviour in a particular society.
Many are starting to argue however, that as Ugandan women become more liberalized in this era of economic development, they are also becoming a little bit confused about what rights they should be fighting for.
This point was brought home to me as an individual when I, in my own ignorance of the word ‘emancipation’ asserted to an American friend of mine that I was an independent individual.
He quickly retorted, “Independent? You’re not that far from thirty and you still live at home with your parents, with no financial plans or means to move out. You can’t afford a plot of land, let alone a car!”
He went on to explain how in his opinion, as soon as a young woman gets a good job, every penny goes towards frivolous living. Saving for future need, or a plot of land is a priority that is left to the men of our country. Although women’s rights in Uganda have come a long way (read more women traffic police officers), there is still a long way to go.
Many of us, whether we admit it or not, fall in this category of ‘emancipated’ women. Women are fighting for their right to revel in life’s pleasures in an irresponsible fashion without truly liberating or emancipating themselves from society’s view of them as objects to be owned by families or husbands.
Joseph Mukula (not real name) works with the tabloid “The Onion”. He confessed that many of their socalled ‘scandalous’ pictures of naked girls caught in compromising positions are done so with the collusion of the ‘victims’ themselves.
“It is an intelligent form of pornography,” explained Joseph. “Nowadays a girl can say things like ‘this is my body. I can do what I want with it’…so we pay them money and they pose for us. It’s called development.”
It is becoming evident each day that women, especially young girls educated or not, are starting to use their beauty-and their bodies to get whatever they desire by any means possible. Forget about sleeping with bosses for a job or promotion. Or with lecturers to pass a class. These are only a few of the reasons that women in Uganda are starting to truly be seen as sexual objects.
Margaret is a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer in a law firm, and says that her small physical build prevents her from being taken seriously. She confessed to being frustrated that the fight for the emancipation of women is being misconstrued by her peers.
“It would be wonderful to see women fighting for equality in the workplace,” she said. “For laws against sexual harassment. Instead they celebrate their economic independence to bury themselves in irresponsible and illicit pleasures.”
For a case in point, she mentioned a march held in May organized by the all the women organizations in Uganda. Only about fifty women showed up to protest the violent means in which the government was reacting to the perpetrators of the ‘Walk to Work’ protests, as well as to emphasize that the issues behind the protests were real.
“I’m not saying that more women should have been there,” said Margaret. “It’s just that when you compare the number of women who gather for things like this to the number who attend every social event and concert imaginable that will benefit nothing to the development of women in Uganda, it makes me mad.”
Which brings us to the concerts. An example is the recent ‘Bend Over’ concert where girls were called to the stage and happily ‘bent over’ at the command of this musician just passing through. Content, they laughed and smiled in glee as they gyrated their buttocks and thighs for the amusement of the crowd. Dignity and pride were thrown out the window for a moment of pleasure. If only this would happen only at concerts. Oh no. On a night out, it is not uncommon to see women throwing all inhibitions out the window in their dancing styles.
It is also an exercise in ophthalmologic restraint not to stare at how scantily Ugandan women are dressed on these nights out. Many countries unfortunately view excessively ‘skimpy’ dressing as a sign of women being in full control of their bodies, free from societal restrictions.
Peter is an accountant in a freight company and had this to say regarding this trend of dressing in Uganda.
“I’m all about freedom of dress, but I’m sick and tired of looking at the crack of a woman’s arse,” he complained. “If a pair of jeans don’t fit you, don’t make the public suffer for it. And why do women wear shirts and call them ‘dresses’ when the hem stops just after their bum? And then when men touch them indecently on exposed parts of their bodies, they are quick to cry out ‘excuse me, my rights!’”
Peter’s beef is also personal. Apparently, female colleagues will stoop to no level when it comes to asking for a ‘silent’ salary advance, bypassing proper procedure.
“A girl comes and bends right in front of me so I can see her cleavage,” he complained. “I’m a man. Of course I can’t take my eyes off her breasts. When I was younger I enjoyed things like this, but now I feel like my masculinity is being taken advantage of in a very mercenary fashion.”
Muwonge works in a law firm and is adamant about how Ugandan women today are on the whole, thoroughly ignorant of the whole point of feminism. He constantly overhears his own female bosses – and well paid ones at that – complaining about how their husbands do not give them enough money for household expenses.
“They say their money is for their hair and clothes, to keep them looking good so they can keep their men,” marvelled Muwonge. “Am I taking my daughter to school so that she can think in such a fashion when she is the Administrative Officer of a company? I may as well let her drop out in Senior Six!”
In the course of my research for this article, I asked many young women with flashy phones and expensive cars how much they cost. I received the same replies 99% of the time…
“I don’t know. It was a gift.” Or “Oh, it’s not my car. It’s my friend’s / boyfriend’s / husbands / parents’.”
It would therefore appear that a good majority of the young women in Uganda looking flush and ‘spending’ money are apparently spending someone else’s.
Penelope Katanagi works with ‘Reach a Hand’, an NGO working with underprivileged school children, where she comes into contact with yet ‘un-emancipated’ young ladies in secondary schools. She has come to the conclusion that in Africa, true emancipation will come to women when they are able to balance traditional roles and still keep up with a developing highly competitive world. She is worried about what will happen to ‘her girls’ when they eventually move on to university.
“If you ask for anyone’s opinions of female students in general, it’s usually negative,” Penelope said. “Ideally, it should be prestigious to be a university student. Ideally, you go there to get empowered. But this empowerment is being diverted to objectification. They’re either sleeping with lecturers or collecting as many boyfriends as possible to give them a comfortable lifestyle.”
Joe Lawson is a Briton working in Tanzania who has been visiting Uganda regularly since 2007. Each visit leaves him gaping at how developed and liberal the Ugandan society is becoming. However, his last visit gave him quite a shock.
“I went to Effendy’s and there was this pool of dirty mud mixed with water,” he narrated. “Then these Ugandan girls in really skimpy bikinis got in and started to wrestle in the mud. They kept trying to pin each other down. It was revolting and I thought at the time, degrading.”
Lawson remarked that such a thing would never happen in Tanzania.
“I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that they’re still so culturally backward there. Your bar would be shut down in ten minutes flat,” said Joe. “Much as I’m happy that women in Uganda can do whatever they want with their bodies, I’m also a little bit proud that I did not find the mud wrestling arousing!”
Luckily for Joe, he hasn’t visited Iguana’s on a Thursday, when the erotic dancers on raised platforms may not allow you to merely be a spectator. A few dances on the same floor as the patrons, and everybody has a whale of a time. There are many remarks flying about to the likes of, “Oh, how modern and liberal women are becoming these days.”
The more one thinks about strip dancing, mud-wrestling and ventures like this however, the more one realizes that Ugandan women are only being exploited by men in a different fashion.
“I could tell that these girls were not happy,” said Joe, of the mud wrestlers in Effendy’s. “Later on, I could see that they were absolutely miserable. You start out with something, and realize that you’re on the totally wrong track. They’re ignorant of how they have stripped themselves of their right to really be emancipated.”
Well, after looking at emancipation from a fresh perspective, I can comfortably say that I now know. Let’s hope this enlightenment will catch on, and hopefully one day, emancipation will have a true meaning as all women in Uganda are taught to be in total and full control of their own lives in a positive and uplifting manner.
by Lindsey Kukunda