Monday, March 4, 2013

March 4, 2013 9:45 AM—Ugandan Women

The subject of women in Uganda is very complex yet, in my opinion, very sad.  In Uganda, women are second class citizens.  They don’t have all the same rights as men.  Although Uganda is not the worst place for a woman to live and some people would even go as far as to condone the treatment of women, writing it off as culture.  Now I’m not talking about rights, such as voting or driving or working.  I suppose in the eyes of the government women and men are treated the same and given all the same rights.  I’m talking about culture and cultural expectations.

When a Ugandan woman gets married, which she is expected to do at a young age, she becomes part of her husband’s family.  Many Ugandans have a hard time understanding that in America both the husband and the wife become a part of each other’s families.  They just don’t understand how that is possible.  “Well then where does the newlywed couple live?  With the man’s family or the woman’s family?”  I guess this partly goes along with how they can’t understand how independent Americans are and the idea of the nuclear family.  This idea of a woman denouncing her family may seem like a small thing that can be written off as cultural, but when you add up all the small things it seems a lot more like oppression.

In many of the local languages (I know for sure in the language spoken where I’m at, Runyankore) the words for “husband” and “chief” are the same.  Just from this alone you can see how they write them off as one-in-the-same.

Many Ugandans feel that women should simply conform to the men around them.  I was sitting in the staff room at school one day and the other teachers were discussing “mixed marriages”.  At first, I thought they were talking about marriages mixed in the sense of black and white, but no.  They were talking about mixing Catholics and Protestants!  In a way, I found it so insignificant that it was amusing.  These Ugandans on the other hand did not think it was so simple.  Some of them insisted that it was right-off-the-bat impossible.  That it would never work.  Others said it was possible, but the woman would have to take on her husband’s religion.  There are some few outspoken female teachers at my school and there view was that maybe the man should take on the woman’s religion or maybe they should just keep both religions.  However, these liberal women are not the norm here in Uganda.  If this were to actually happen, a Catholic and a Protestant marrying, the woman would no doubt be forced to take on her husband’s religion.  It’s the small things like the forced conformity that really make women feel inferior.  What a woman believes doesn’t matter.  It’s always about what the man wants or needs.

In America, you may have heard the saying “look at the way a man treats his mother and his sisters and that is the way he will eventually treat you”, meaning that if you are dating a guy and he treats you well now, but you can see that he doesn’t treat other female members of his family well that is probably how he will eventually treat you.  Well in Uganda it is more “look at how a man’s father treats his mother and that is how he will eventually treat you.”  The treatment of women is learned.  It is something passed down from one generation to the next.  If a man’s father doesn’t treat his mother well, then that man has probably been taught that women are subordinate and that is eventually how he will treat you.  Despite the fact that it’s cultural, it is a taught behavior and mind set.

Many times women are expected to work harder than men.  Or there may be certain tasks, jobs or chores than men deem to be too below them to do, so the women have to do them.  Check out these statistics on women fetching water:

I think a lot of this gender inequality can be summed up in an ironic quote.  A Ugandan man one time told me “Ugandan men are like children.”  He was basically saying that men here need women to take care of them because they are generally “in-capable” of taking care of themselves.  The fact of the matter is that they are not truly in-capable of taking care of themselves; they just don’t want to do certain things themselves.  For example, they won’t cook or clean because those tasks are too below them.

In the end, however, I do feel that Uganda is making progress.  There are some people in this country who are trying to break these gender stereotypes (e.g. some of the female teachers at my school).  The culture is slowly changing, but culture is a hard thing to change.  So there is hope for many Ugandan women in the future.

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