Uganda, now you have touched the women

In October 2011, the Ugandan government sent Ingrid Turinawe to the infamous Luzira Prison–Uganda’s Guantánamo–for the treasonable act of walking to work. This week, the State, again, attacked Turinawe and other women activists for the “crime” of standing, speaking out, driving, and generally being. Big mistake.

In Uganda, on Friday, the police attacked Ingrid Turinawe. She was in her car, driving to a protest meeting. The police dragged Turinawe out of her car, and in full view of smart phones and video cameras, groped and mauled her. They haven’t apologized nor have they ‘explained’. Basically, the attitude is that it’s Ingrid Turinawe’s fault. Women who pursue democracy and autonomy must learn to expect State sexual terrorism. In patriarchal circles, it’s called the ‘price of freedom’, or, more simply, the ticket in.

Women of Uganda refused that lesson. Instead, they took to the streets. They organized. Today, they protested, stripping off their tops, the police attacked, and six women were detained. As Barbara Allimadi, one of the organizers, explained: “We were there to show we’ve had enough, we will not tolerate this kind of behavior.” Others agreed: “We respect our bodies and we expect to be respected.”

But events in Kampala are not without precedent. Remember Mali? “When the protest movement of Malian women erupted in the town of Kati on January 30, few took notice.” That was the spark that kindled the flame that fed the fire that toppled the State that Touré built. Ok, maybe that’s a bit fast and loose with details, but the processes were set in motion by women’s protest that went largely ignored. (They weren’t ignored by Nina Wallet Intalou, the ‘pasionaria indépendantiste’ of the Tuareg movement in exile, and they weren’t ignored by women’s movements within Mali.) And of course, when not ignored, poorly reported, at least in the Anglophone press.

And remember the women’s protests in Malawi? Also in January. Those were in response to assaults on women wearing trousers, in public marketplaces in Lilongwe and Blantyre. First, women organized and protested, and then more and more people began seeing the violence against those women as part of a larger problem, a problem of State. Again, this is a bit quick, and it cannot be said that women caused the death of Mutharika. Nevertheless, Malawi now has a new President, Joyce Banda.

As South African women say, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”

Comments

comments

Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an Associate Professor at George Washington University.

10 Comments
  1. I am so happy that I no more live in a situation where sexism and patriarchy are the state-supported norms. It breaks my heart to think of all the women who have to live in it. I have first-hand experience – it is dehumanizing! I am very proud of those who fight it like these women are. As far as I am concerned, civilization of a culture is measured by how it values women. Sad to say, the African country I am from belongs at the bottom of the bottom!

  2. Arriam, with all due respect, I am astounded that you say you live in “a situation where sexism and patriarchy” are not “the state-supported norms.” Where do you live? I’ve never heard of such a place.

    1. Wornoutlaw, you do have a point. There is no place like that. It is a matter of degree.
      I live in Toronto now but I am from Addis Ababa. Regarding sexism and patriarchy, the comparison between these two cities is night and day. For me anyway.

      1. Arriam, I understand. I was just being polemical. But I’m always a little uneasy when a place like Uganda is held up as dehumanizingly patriarchal, and state-sanctioned no less, when all nations have a lot of work to do in that regard. Cheers.

  3. whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa where does this behaviour come from? Is it like a common thing is east Africa? I seriously don’t get it. I went back to Kinshasa last year and was so happy to see so many women doing there thing you know, politics, businesses (they’ve always had that down)etc …I remember when Kabila (father) just arrived in Kinshasa from wherever part of the East he has come from and told his soldiers to beat women who wore trousers or tights. It didn’t last long…. That’s what I’ve always loved about Congolese women in the western part (can’t speak for the East I’ve never been there) they are equally aggressive and super fiesty… haha I would love to see someone trying to get her out of her car that she worked hard to buy.

  4. i think all of u are fools bse it seems that u do not fully understand what happened. it had nothing to do with her sex… after all those protests were organised my kizza besigye…an opposition leader in the country, who has suffered a great deal as a result of these protests. i get uneasy when ppl rash to link issues to isms where unnecessary. the whole reason for alarm was not her arrest but the fact that a policeman assault her (touched her breasts ) during the arrest. this is not a case of sexism but indiscipline by a policeman. SEXISM HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT

    1. So you are implying that this undisciplined police officer (or any other) would also grope a man?

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