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In defense of Feminism

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Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
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Not long ago , a writer asked a question in an article he wrote for the New Vision,  a Ugandan National paper, ‘Wasn’t there anything good before Feminism? The writer asked us to ‘take a close look at the cause for women’s emancipation; their cry for equality, equity and equal opportunities. Look at it squarely, both from their angle and, then, from the objective angle’. Then he made an interesting conclusion basing this, on one issue.  This was that ‘apparently, absolutely nothing was right or good before feminism came into the picture;

I read the explanation he gave for this thinking with shock. I was compelled to reply  him in defence of Feminism.  Since then I constantly think about the power of misinformation especially about Feminism and wonder what goes on the minds of those who are silent.  As the day for celebrating women’s day gets close, the same thought comes to mind, especially as in Uganda it is a public holiday. I have worked on women’s issues most of my life. The questions going on in my mind are: wh  have we moved to our side of the issue?  Would other Feminists feel the same anger as I felt, what would they say? With March 8th around the corner, I feel a need to keep shining a torch on some misconceptions about Feminism. I will do so by sharing the highlights of this article and my response to it.

The writer gives reasons for believing that Feminists think ‘absolutely nothing was right or good before Feminism came into the picture’, his views are illustrated in several statements .

”Feminists and some of their advocates have questioned (and asked for change in) various aspects of a woman’s life and, when you consider these demands, you realise that religion, culture, family life and common sense were all ‘wrong’. Because feminism, femininity and all corresponding variables are, by their very nature, incomprehensible, I will only cite one example from each of the areas mentioned above, though this is not to claim that there is only one ‘wrong’ thing with each of the areas. 

Let us start with religion. All the dominant (and the not-so-dominant) religions prescribe a society where the head of the family is/was man. No, not man to mean humanity; man to mean the person with masculine features, traits and attributes.

Pardon the semantic repetition. Religion prescribed that for the family to operate well, there should be roles for the man and roles for the woman. 

What does feminism prefer? That men and women share cross-cutting roles. Yet, in effect, they are not saying each should do a bit of the other’s work. They are saying that besides doing your bit, do some of theirs as well. It is called being supportive to your woman. 

What they do not seem to explain is why no man has ever cried out that his woman is not being supportive; he does all his (man’s) work alone.

When it comes to culture, it is even worse. Yes, culture has been guilty of some terribly imbalanced demands and stipulations when it comes to treatment of women. But was there absolutely nothing good in our culture relating to the woman’s place? Not in their dress? Not in their place in the home? Not in their contribution to society? Not in anything at all? Must you oppose everything just because something was wrong in the initial order of things? 

Let me swallow an axe and talk about inheritance. In the original plan, men did not let their daughters inherit property because they thought, this girl’s going to get married (women then married, one way or another) and be well looked after.

On the other hand, her brother is going to seek a wife and will raise a family and needs to look after it. So it is only fair that I bequeath my wealth to him/them. Now you will need to understand that this was not unfair then, because no feminist had come up to tell other women what some women tell innocent young (corporate) women now – why rear a whole pig, if all you need is a sausage? 

Besides that being crude, it is also grossly wrong, when you reduce the entire marital setting to one activity or need. But in the current order, where many women have been misled to think the whole marriage arrangement was founded on flaws, of course then not giving daughters an inheritance becomes an injustice. Yet who started skewing things? No need to say it in black and white. 

Even the whole issue of submission of women to men has been abused. Common sense would tell you that because men, by their very nature, house egos their mortal bodies can hardly contain, they need to feel respected… revered… on top of things. 

What submission then does for the woman is that it makes the man think, this woman knows ‘her place’ and then you’ll see how he showers her with love. That’s God’s way. He says, ‘women, submit to your husbands, and men, love your wives’. 

God knows that men’s need is to be treated as King and women’s need is to be loved. Leave things that way and nobody lacks anything. Again, feminists come in and upset that order, and then they begin to demand affirmative action to restore what they disrupted… God!

My reply was as passionate, I needed to  say something in defense of Feminism, and this is how I responded:

“Yes there was something good before feminism because it was in fact unadulterated Feminism.  Men played their roles, took care of their families and made sure the woman he called wife was not put to shame, or suffered indignities.

Take the Buganda culture, a man worth his name had a ‘Lusuuku’ (banana garden); he himself tendered it and made sure his family did not go hungry; he made ‘Lubugo’ to clothe his family and did not complain about his wife’s expectations. The woman’s work complemented his; she provided the ‘sauce’ but the man provided meat. Among the Bakiga, a ‘wife’ or ‘Mukananka’ (with emphasis) could not be disinherited, or chased away or made to share a house with a co-wife.  If a husband wanted to bring in another wife, but was tired of the other, the older wife assumed an official title of ‘Nyangwakazi’ (rejected wife). This entitled her to an allocation of her own piece of land, and she would be given the matrimonial home.  She maintained her dignity in the community. This is why it did not make sense for daughters to inherit from their fathers.

The word ‘Okutanzya’ meaning a fine, I am sure is common in all the Uganda languages. If a husband did not treat his wife well, she went back home. Her husband would be called, put in a family court and made to pay a fine before taking his wife back.  It was a shame to be made to pay a fine. The Bakiga say ‘Omusheija obusheija abwetera’, meaning that a man gains respect by first treating  himself as a man,  playing his responsibilities as a citizen and head of a household with dignity. This was the measure of a man worthy of respect.

The writer needs to know that common sense is sense that is not common; he may be the only one with this particular knowledge.  All human beings as a general rule need to be respected and I believe only God / Allah should be revered.  I know there are millions  of men `doing wonderful things, serving communities, caring for family and relatives. They do so without complaining because it is the right thing; I doubt that reverence is on their agenda. I also know that millions of women feed their families, serve their communities and have no man to complain to.

What happened to the original Feminism is that African tradition/custom/ culture’ and Feminism in its original form were destroyed by African men colluding with  colonialists and their capitalist economy.  Respect, dignity and reverence became synonymous with money.  Women stayed home to make sure the man is an effective worker for the colonialist. The more money a man made, the more respect and reverence he demanded, and the more submissive the woman became in order to be worthy of the money.

The truth is, it is not women or Feminists who came in and upset the order, it is African men who have internalized the foreign culture brought by colonialists. This is a culture which worshiped money and class; it devalued what African men and women did together for a living, branding  it women’s work to be abhorred by men; thus freeing men to work in the capitalist economy. Today, what “traditional minded African men” are guarding is not African Culture; it is male privileges and entitlements introduced by colonialists.  These are new forms of African culture generating new forms of Feminisms.

Feminism in Uganda as I know it is concerned with women dying giving life; their dignity abused in a culture where they are battered by those who think men’s respect derives from being revered. It is concerned with sexual and gender violence keeping your daughters out of school; and with women’s right to work and exercise intellectual capacity,  to  contribute to one’s country without singly bearing the double burden of family and public work, the right to access information , services and resources .It is concerned with eliminating  cultural attitudes/practices that devalue women and  their  right to enjoy equal rights every citizen has been promised by our constitution.

The writer asks why ‘no man has ever cried out that his woman is not supportive’.  ‘Man’ is very intelligent and knows when he has no case.  To the men on whose behalf   C. B. wrote “No matter how great a man may be, there is ALWAYS a great woman behind him. No man can rise higher than his own women”. We make a mistake by thinking Uganda will progress if we treat men as ‘Kings’ or when women, ‘revere’ men.

Dr Hilda Tadria is a Social Anthropologist, women’s rights activist and policy specialist. After retiring from many years of service in the United Nations, she founded MEMPROW, a mentoring program for young women in Uganda and other parts of Africa. Dr Tadria is also a Co-Founder of the African Women’s Development Fund.

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