Growing up in a society where being a woman means one must (on daily basis) fight to free themselves of men’s desires and unfair patriarchal decisions is traumatic and sad! Thus, there are painful struggles associated with being an African woman and trying to fit into a society ‘s definition of ideal woman; one that also contributes to society’s development.
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As a result of this most women have resorted to telling themselves: “At the end of the day, I don’t matter, and cannot contribute to the wellbeing of my society, so why even bother?
After being made to feel irrelevant in my society, I have come to realize that, the reason for my being thrown off the rolling tape is because I am not what my society would consider as ideal for a woman – it finds me threatening. Since I don’t belong and don’t have a space in my society, I am trying to create my own ideal space, where I will feel comfortable.
In a highly patriarchal society such as the Ugandan society where life and societal challenges are viewed through the lens of male desires, women hardly matter. Being a girl, growing up in Uganda’s Katwe slums under extreme poverty even doubled the burden.
Sometimes I wonder how I managed to escape all the violation that was part of daily life which was characterized by the beating of women (during the day) and hearing of their painful screams (at night) while being raped and battled. While growing up I was faced with two hard realities: one, being a woman and two, coming from the slum, I was basically a no body.
But after getting some education and then trying to tell myself that being from a slum didn’t really matter anymore, then came another huddle to grapple with: I was not married and also becoming educated, something the society just couldn’t accept. As I continue to live with gender stereotyping I keep asking myself questions like ‘Do I stand a chance?’ Obviously, if given a chance I have a lot to contribute to my society’s development ?
There is need for a societal reorientation that will help change the mindset of people in our society and make them acknowledge that even though there are other contributing factors for our economic backwardness, our mindset is part of it, too. Neglecting a huge chunk of our population because we feel they don’t matter and therefore are not worth being listened to poses a serious hindrance to our sustainable development?
History teaches us that change only comes when those who stand to benefit most from it stand up and make it happen. I have overtime learned to believe that my destiny is in my hands, thus no one else can define for me what is ideal for me. This also means I must be able to influence others, especially the younger generations of both men and woman to learn to distinguish between what the society defines as ‘ideal’ and what is the real ‘ideal’.
As such, I will do my utmost best to rediscover the power within me and all the women and youth I work with in my society, so as to be able to take charge of our own destinies and also understand that we must not wait for the society to give us a second chance to contribute to societal development
By working with women in rural Uganda, I have come to learn about the good teachings of our traditions how to bring about transformative societal change. This approach is one that enables participating communities of men and women to empower themselves and empower one another in the process. For, it is only by fostering harmonious relationships between men and woman that we can create for women the opportunity to also contribute to our society’s sustainable development.
Through life experiences acquired by my participation in community activities since 2011, I know for a fact that support groups and learning societies offer members opportunities for individual transformational change; I have also come to know that equality is good for everyone: men and women, rich and poor. Achieving positive change in terms of relationship between the male and female genders in Uganda’s deeply patriarchal “super-male-dominating” society, with its inherent violence against women, is essential to redefining freedom for both men and women.
Most men in Uganda live with the perpetual fear of losing control and dominance, hence would love to sustain the status quo by whatever means possible including violence, which has made them become obsessed with the idea of maintaining dominance and denies them the opportunity to experience the freedom giving everyone equal opportunity brings.
As women who don’t live up to ‘ideal’ societal demands for us we should be set free and be allowed to flourish to the best of our capabilities, for this will enable us contribute positively to the wellbeing and hence sustainable development of our society.
Laetitia Mugerwa is a Ugandan women’s empowerment advocate