Dear Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament,
You owe an apology to girls and women in communities which enforce Female Genital Mutilation for your recent comments in Moroto (originally reported in the Wednesday 3rd, December edition of Daily Monitor). Therein, you advised men to shun marrying women who have been cut; referring to them as ‘burdening women’ who are ‘no longer valuable’ as compared to ‘normal’ women, that is, those who (luckily) have not undergone FGM.
Really, Madam Speaker. As though the humanity of a woman is in whether or not her genitals are mutilated.
While it is essential to de-market the practice of FGM, your wording reeks of [surprisingly] weak, sexist discourse surrounding harmful cultural practices inherent in the historic oppression of girls/women for the benefit of men.
What next, ask men to shun women who suffered rape? Child sexual abuse? Or advise men about the ‘value-less’ women whose families demand bride price. What about women who are battered by their husbands, stripped naked on our streets? And so on.
By the way, in my opinion, you are doing these women a service by keeping men, the class that gains from their has untold suffering, at bay. But I doubt that was your objective.
How long before we stop this victim-blaming and instead go to the root of the culturally-accepted subjugation of girls/women in Ugandan/African society?
Sadly, giving men a pass while penalizing women for being oppressed is not new. But there’s something about it coming from a woman – albeit a highly educated one who wields so much power and influence. Why not use it to push for an amendment that criminalizes male demand for wives who were cut, while offering protections (even compensation, as had been suggested by some members of the house) for those facing lifelong maladies due to having been cut?
You are the Speaker.
Tell the millions of Ugandan girls who look up to you that their value is not in their marital status; that they needn’t be mutilated in order to appeal to men as viable partners. Challenge the practice of bride price which, closely linked to FGM, reduces girls and women to objects for exchange and ownership in the patriarchal institution of marriage. Continue advocating for income-generating projects so that our sisters in communities which enforce harmful cultural practices like FGM have sustainable pathways to self-reliance.
Show compassion to girls and women who have been cut and remind them of their value as citizens of this country, despite the horror that they’ve lived through for the ‘crime’ of having been born female in a male-centered world. Remind Ugandans about the repercussions of the anti-FGM law that was passed by your parliament a few years ago.
Let’s see your ‘feminist nature’ which was recently lauded by the Kampala Woman MP, Hon. Nabillah Naggayi, as the lifeline that saved Ugandan women earlier this year when you ordered the State Minister for Ethics & Integrity to withdraw his statement – that which sparked off physical/sexualized assaults targeting women on our streets. Incidentally, Hon. Naggayi has mentioned how female MPs are sexually harassed by their male counterparts. It would be obtuse to advise constituencies not to vote for these women [again] because of the sexist objectification they suffer in the course of doing their work. Moreover, if female lawmakers are treated this despicably by men, no guessing the experience of women outside your chambers.
The irony is that this episode occurred during the #16DaysOfActivism when voices around the world were joining together to decry [male] violence against girls and women. While we enjoy significant improvements in the status of women, thanks to trailblazers like you, we must be mindful of the uphill battle facing all Ugandan women in the movement toward liberation from male dominance. And of the massive disconnect between urban and rural women.
Yet I expect that your comments in Moroto will be of no consequence, this being Uganda where time and again, leaders say dehumanizing things about women and members of minorities without any remorse.
Stigmatizing the oppressed in order to ‘save’ them is assuming the role of the oppressor. As is the duplicity in the selective politics of preserving African culture. But I digress.
We can all do better.