"Who's son or daughter are you?" That is what Mr. David Batema first asked us in the beginning of his presentation on women's rights in Uganda. It is a seemingly simple question that most of us answered with the names of both parents (special shout out to Peggy Emery and Tammy Poe, who were named as mothers). However, we discovered that the question is even more simple for Ugandans to answer: "I am [insert father's name] son/daughter." And with that, we realized how such a simple answer contributes and leads to the complex issue of gender rights which continues to exist throughout much of subsaharan Africa.
Before expanding on the knowledge we gained from the presentation, I must give some background on Mr. Batema. Growing up, he was not raised by a gender sensitive family, therefore he was not gender sensitive. His views changed after finishing law school, when he realized that the laws mandated by the Ugandan Constitution did not give everyone equal opportunities, as initially believed. In fact, most of the laws are "male" as they were passed into law by a male dominated Parliament, under only the male perspective. This inspired Mr. Batema to look further into learning and educating others about gender laws and gender neutral laws, which soon earned him the title of "Sister Batema." A firm believer in using innovative ways to spread information to as many as possible, Mr. Batema created and distributed a movie on domestic violence and hosts many workshops mostly to inform Ugandans that women have rights. So determined is Mr. Batema that during his interview for a judicial position, he shamed Parliament members for vetoing a bill which would grant marriage equality, then advertised a workshop that he hosted later that week. The best part? Mr. Batema got the job and now serves as Honorable justice David Batema.
To prove the existence of male laws within the Constitution and demonstrate Uganda's highly patriarchal society, Mr. Batema showed us a particularly disconcerting article of the constitution on adultery and shared several experiences he has encountered concerning unequal treatment of women. The article states that any married man who commits adultery with a married woman shall be convicted. Yet the law is different for women: any married woman who commits adultery with ANY man shall be convicted. Essentially, this makes it alright for a man to have multiple sexual partners or wives, which not only denies women the right to sexual experiences, but highly contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Batema then exposed us to Uganda's male-dominated society and more specifically, its belief in unequal marriage rights through his personal experience at a bank. He wished to open another bank account and give his wife equal share. The banker pulled him aside for some man-to-man advice: "Why would you give your wife full access to your account? Women are thieves, they cannot be trusted. Give her a monthly allowance instead." For the record, Mr. Batema shut down that suggestion by running into the hall, shouting that the banker accused his wife of thievery, and that he was closing all of his accounts.
Patriarchal beliefs and even teachings exist in the education system too, as Mr. Batema illustrated through a story involving his daughter. As homework, the daughter was asked to answer who the head of the household was. Out of traditional ways, Mrs. Batema told her to put her father. Mr. Batema told her to put the mother, as she raised the children, washes laundry, cooks, and cleans. Later, the teacher shamed the daughter for her incorrect answer and called the Batemas to discuss the "issue."
In Uganda, inheritance is passed through the male line, with the wife or wives receiving only 15%. As a result, it is not uncommon to see women destroying property after a divorce filing or death. Murder is reduced to manslaughter if an individual can prove provocation, yet Battered Woman Syndrome does not exist in Uganda. Therefore, a woman who kills her husband claiming self-defense and years of abuse is not usually given a lesser sentence because the court claims she was not provoked- the abuse was nothing new to her. Further inequality is apparent through the healthcare system. Uganda ensures the right to life for everyone and that the state "shall protect women and their rights, taking into consideration their unique and maternal function." However, many women die during childbirth as the government does not provide sufficient funding for maternal facilities, transportation, and maternal education. In addition, the Women's Rights Act was not passed until 2010 despite the bill being written in 2001.
Mr. Batema insists that female empowerment is the key to an empowered nation and that the struggle for women's rights is not a struggle against men but a struggle for human rights. To what extent do you agree with this? Are there conversations or events you've witnessed during this trip that demonstrate inequality, specifically toward females? Was there something that shocked you during Mr. Batema's presentation, or did you expect the extent of the gender issues in Uganda?