LOUD WHISPERS: Mother Of The Year – The Angelina Option

A few days ago, I was in a conversation with a friend about the frightening levels of violence against women and girls across Africa. In Nigeria, the levels of abuse have reached such an unprecedented high that we should be clamouring for a state of emergency on the issue. Many times, people say that since the wives or daughters of the high and mighty are usually not the victims, nothing will be done. I am not convinced that things would be different even under those circumstances. There is so much stigma and shame attached to sexual abuse, that it translates into immunity by default for the perpetrators. A few years ago, the wife of a senior politician in South Africa was sexually assaulted by armed robbers. She died shortly after, and it has been widely speculated that she committed suicide.  My friend reminded me of an article I wrote eight years ago called ‘Mother of the Year’. Afterwards I dug up the article and agreed with my friend that it is still very relevant today. Here it is with some minor edits.

I had settled in to the flight from Entebbe, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya on Monday June 30th 2008 feeling a bit sorry for myself. I had to catch the 5am flight out of Entebbe, which meant leaving Kampala for Entebbe at 3am which in turn meant I got no sleep. The flight attendant offered us some local papers, so I picked out the day’s edition of the Ugandan national daily, The New Vision. There it was on the front page, ‘MOTHER CUTS OFF DEFILER’S PENIS’. By the time I finished the story, my spirits were up and I have been in a great mood ever since.

According to the newspaper report, Angelina Kyomugisha from Rugyerera village in Kashari County, Mbarara district, Uganda, was weeding her banana farm, when she heard her 10 year old daughter cry out. The cries persisted, and she went over to have a look, only to find 40 year old Geoffrey Mugarura ‘defiling’ her little girl. Angelina took this horrifying scene in, and proceeded to do what every mother in the world ought to do if they find themselves in her situation – she pounced on Geoffrey and promptly cut off his penis. Just like that. Then she flung it as far as she could into the bush.

Geoffrey howled, till neighbours appeared to find out what the fuss was all about. They then proceeded to help search for his severed penis, till one of them noticed a dog running off with something in its mouth. They threw a stick at the dog till it dropped what was left of his snack. At this point in the story I was laughing so hard I had to control myself for fear of being thrown off the flight for being a nuisance. The helpful neighbours then rushed Geoffrey to the hospital for treatment. One of the doctors who treated Geoffrey was able to confirm that they would refashion what was left of his penis so that he could at least urinate with it. As for any other business, well, the dog had taken care of that.

When I got back to Accra, I called my Ugandan sister Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe of the organisation Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) to confirm the story. She told me that the Federation of Women Lawyers of Uganda (FIDA-Uganda) have sent a delegation to see what kind of support the mother needs, and they will be handling her case. Women in Uganda have been talking about this non-stop since the news broke on Monday morning. The verdict is unanimous – if men do not get the message that the bodies of women and girls are not as accessible and disposable as toilet paper, they will learn the hard way.

The woman who I will now call Mother of the Year, Angelina Kyomugisha, probably never attended the UN’s Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995. She has probably never heard of the Africa Protocol on Women’s Rights or the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, ratified by the African Union. She might not know that Ugandan women’s rights activists have been trying to get a Domestic Relations Bill passed for over ten years now. Angelina might have known that in Uganda, defilement of children carries the death penalty, but she definitely has never heard of anyone paying such a harsh price for ruining the life of a child. It is however certain that Angelina would have heard stories of the hundreds of girls raped and even killed on a regular basis by relatives, acquaintances and neighbours. She would have known about how much these poor girls and their parents suffer at the hands of local law enforcement officers, the judiciary, their families and the community at large. She would have been familiar with what a friend of mine, Dr Toyin Mejuini of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) who runs Women Against Rape, Sexual Harassment and Exploitation (WARSHE) in Nigeria calls the ‘Rape and beg’ phenomenon.

What is ‘Rape and Beg’? This is what they call the many powerful delegations they send to intimidate parents, especially mothers of young women and girls who have been victims of violent sexual abuse. These ‘Rape and beg’ delegations usually include local elders, traditional rulers, clergy, respected opinion leaders, and even senior members of the family. If the parents still insist on pursuing the matter, they simply face other obstacles with the legal and law enforcement system till the victims are victimised all over again.

Angelina might not have known much about all the guarantees African governments committed themselves to at the conferences in Vienna, Beijing, Addis Ababa, and other places, and all the promises they made to promote and protect women’s human rights and bodily integrity, but she definitely knew about ‘Rape and Beg’. And she was not about to be begged. She was not going to wait for the creaky wheels of justice to slowly crank into action and run out of gas. She was not about to be told how to be a good mother and member of the community, and not wash their dirty linen in public. Angelina took one look at the monster standing over her daughter and decided, ‘this will be the last time you do this to any girl’.

So what if we are asked, ‘Was it right for Angelina to take the law into her own hands’? The politically correct answer is No, but this time, permit us to say a resounding Yes!. Angelina has decided not to wait for justice that might never come. Angelina has sent out a message, loud and clear, which we hope will be heard way beyond the shores of Uganda’s Lake Victoria, ‘Stop abusing and killing our children. Stop violating women. Stop the culture of impunity. Protect women and girls from violence’. Since domestic violence laws, conferences, workshops, rallies, popular theatre, and protests have not managed to drive the message home effectively enough, perhaps the thought of the wretched Geoffrey’s penis in the mouth of a fleeing dog will do the trick.

Contrary to some ill-informed allegations that have made the rounds over the years, feminists are not calling for the castration or emasculation of men. Our position is a lot simpler than that. If men decide to use certain parts of their anatomy as weapons of mass destruction to wage wars on the bodies of women and girls, they will be disarmed and demobilised. Period.

Now, for those of you who are mothers or guardians of young girls, it might not be a bad idea to keep something sharp handy, you never know. And make sure you take time out to pat a dog over the coming days. One of their brethren in Uganda has done a great job.

 

EPILOGUE

Angelina was charged with grievous bodily harm and taken to court. The charges against her were dismissed, and she was led back to her village by a massive entourage of women and men who were in solidarity with her. She received a Sheroes welcome. It was then revealed that her daughter had not been Geoffrey’s first victim. Thanks to Angelina and the good dog, she was his last. Eight years on, the story of Angelina and her daughter plays out all too often. It has however not all been bad news. In 2015, the Violence Against Persons Act was passed in Nigeria. There is also legislation against gender-based violence in several States of the country. We all know that having legislation is one thing, but implementation and bringing an end to impunity is another. Getting a conviction for sexual offences is very difficult. We will of course continue with all the advocacy, sensitisation, training, counselling and support services required on a daily basis to address these issues. My point is when all else fails (as it often does) there is still the Angelina Option. Enough is Enough.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

This article was first published in The News Magazine on 5th July 2008. It can be found in Speaking for Myself: Perspectives on Political, Social and Feminist Activism in Africa, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Amandla Consulting 2013.

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2 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Mother Of The Year – The Angelina Option

  1. daniels April 11, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    lool. Seriously, she’s a Hero! God bless her 100%.

    Reply
  2. Zeedah Mutheu April 17, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you for posting this article. The issue of “rape and beg” is so prevalent that it is sometimes hard for victims to stay motivated in pressing charges. In fact, some parents have even seen such abuse as an “opportunity to cash in”. The question remains, how do we educate about the wrongness and unacceptability of defilement or any sexual abuse for that matter, because the “beat and beg” is also widely used in marital strife when a wife wants to leave an abusive husband. It is so blatant and common, that the victim will bear the guilt and brunt of refusing to help her family access this financial opportunity.
    Some of the girls in our program, the Resource Center for women and Girls, Kenya, have been intimidated into retracting their accusations, in lieu of fees and money. For many girls therefore, it remains a “Hobson’s choice”.
    Like Bisi says in her article, for many mothers, the choice made by Angelina is therefore perhaps an alternative. I for one can understand and completely support Angelina’s actions. Thank you for sharing Erelu

    Reply

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