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.”