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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Who's son or daughter are you?

Written by Lisa Feldmann
"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?


  1. I definitely think female empowerment is crucial for the sustainable development of Uganda. Prior to this trip, I knew that women's rights were at a different stage in Uganda, but the extent of the disparity was quite surprising to me. Some gender equality issues, such as gay and transgender rights, which are prominent in the USA, are nearly taboo topics in Uganda. I really appreciated Mr. Batema's progressive insights; I believe he can make a genuinely positive impact on women's rights in Uganda.

  2. While I believe female empowerment is essential to the women's rights movement I believe that male empowerment is also key. Women's rights are not a gendered issue believe it or not. Sister Batema is a perfect example of this as he is a women's rights activist. I think that Uganda has a ways to go with women's rights. At many places we have attended we have seen gender inequalities. One that struck a cord with me was at the coffee processor when the director saw one of my peers taking a picture and said, "Why are you taking a picture of them, they are just women."

  3. As Sister Batema said, you cannot move forward if you leave half of your country behind. I believe this wholeheartedly, and believe that the women's rights struggle is much more about human rights than anything else. Batema had asked the group to use words that described typical women. The words used were all very surprising to me, especially when one student said "cowards". I was also very surprised when I told a student at City Secondary that I played rugby, and his response was "no you don't, you're a little delicate woman and you can't play rugby". I think Uganda is making strides in their fight to women's equality, but there is clearly a long way to go.

  4. Thanks for the shout out, Lisa :) I can easily say that Mr. Batema's presentation changed my thought process while on the trip, but also after returning home. It is hard to judge a culture for the differences in gender roles especially when considering that Uganda is still a developing country unlike in the US. There were several instances on the trip where I observed and heard inequality towards women, but two conversations that I had with some of the MUBS students helped me understand the extent of this issue even more. The first was on the topic of marriage and children where I learned about the payment of the dowry and how it is ultimately a price placed on the bride based on her skills, education, beauty etc. Although this is traditional, it was hard for me to grasp. Along with this was the fact that children are under the custody of their fathers, but in the instance that a child is born with a disability or health complication the father will often leave the mother and child to live on their own. The other conversation I had was about the point system within educational institutions and how women are someimes given more points than men when entering university. This is done in part to help further the empowerment effort for women. Contrary to this, I was told by some students that men are sometimes given more points than women. I feel that the current efforts to further involvement and rights of women within society is strong, but as Emily stated, there is still a lot of progress to be made.

  5. Sometime in October of fall semester 2012, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture of a prominent guest speaker - the Secretary General of the United Nations who spoke to the issue of gender rights and the importance of women in bringing about development within a country that relates well with the message Mr. Batema forwarded during his lecture to the Drake and MUB students. As stated by the Secretary General to the U.N. himself, the United Nations, among its many efforts to promote the well-being and continued sustainability of any nation, has put gender equality and equal rights for women at the forefront of their list. As Mckenzie already mentioned, I think that empowering women is crucial if a country is to continue their growth especially when looking to the impact women have had on both society and those who shall carry forth development viz. children.

    Speaking to one of the points that Kristen raised concerns the extent to which gender inequality exists within Uganda. Prior to our trip to Uganda, I was not completely unaware of the fact that women would likely be treated in an inferior manner, however, I was mildly shocked to hear the actual extent of this inequality. For example, when I was "enlightened" that beating your wife/woman in public was a sign of love towards that person I was taken aback. This reaction could be in part because of western background, but I still believe that this type of treatment towards women is unacceptable because it violates their humanity and relegates them to the status of an animal. Steps are being taken in the right direction, as Emily and others have mentioned, but much still remains to be accomplished before Uganda reaches a status of equality as opposed to inequality.