Yesterday I had the (dis)pleasure of meeting (again) the leader of one of Uganda’s main opposition parties.
Mr. X beamed at me as I introduced myself to him (for the hundredth time). He shook my hand heartily, asked me about my father The Rev and told a long winding story about how his family knew my mother’s family and the good old times and oh hohoho how great it was.
Then Mr. X gave me one of those patronizing side hugs and a little push to send me on my way.
“Excuse me Mr. X, I am Tumwijuke, remember? I called you everyday last week seeking an appointment for an interview.”
“You are Tumwijuke?” he said looking puzzled, “You sounded like a man on the phone.”
Great. That explained the side hug, the infuriating grin smile and the shove.
This is a picture of boobs.
If you have a pair, leave them at home on voting day.
I’m on a quest to find the most boob-friendly political party in Uganda. It’s a simple enough task. I arrange interviews with all the leaders of Uganda’s political parties (still struggling to get the Son of Kaguta), ask them what they think about my boobs, assess their honesty and award them marks from zero to 100.
The point? I’m not sure yet.
“So Mr. X, what is your party’s plan concerning women?”
Mr. X beams again, pats my hand and says, “Why? Are you a feminist?”
“That’s not the point, Mr. X,” I say, withdrawing my hand.
“Ah ha. You feminist women are fighters. My party, the Angry Yelling Ones, embraces fighters. It is through fighting for our conscience and through our desire to see change in this country that we will win next year’s vote. This government is fraught with corruption, poverty of the mind, unfulfilled promises …”
“Very good, Mr. X,” I interrupt him, “but I really would like to know your party’s plan concerning women.”
He sobers a bit and then launches into a speech about ‘mainstreaming gender’ in all the programs of the Angry Yelling Ones. He speaks about equal opportunity, domestic violence and ‘girl-child’ education.
I tell Mr. X that he is saying nothing new. The Son of Kaguta has said these things over and over again and then has berated women for not appreciating the wonders he has given them. The Son of Kaguta consistently reminds women that he gave them 1.5 free bonus points to enter public universities. He gave them a third of all elective seats. He made a woman his Vice President. He is progressive. He is our savior. We are his beautiful Yellow Girls and we owe him our vote.
Mr. X says old Kags Junior lied to us. The Angry Yelling Ones, they are the ones with the plan. They are the ones who offer progress. He says, see, the second in power in my party is a woman. We will help more girls enter public universities. We will assure of elective seats …
I was hoping for a different conversation.
I was hoping for a guarantee that all women, regardless of their sector of employment, will be guaranteed a minimum of three months paid maternity leave and that there would be heavy punishment for anyone who broke the law.
I was hoping for concrete strategies to protect girls from the scourge of defilement and forced marriages. That there would be swift justice for victims of rape. That there would be absolute protection against sexual harassment for women in the workplace. That issues of sexuality aggression towards women would no longer be dealt with as frivolity, but as a national emergency.
I was hoping for assurances that on shared land ownership, equal pay, inheritance and the right for women to earn off the land they are forced to work everyday.
I was hoping that the councilor from Masaka who repeatedly sent sexually explicit phone text messages to a senior local government official, then openly mocked her dress and her figure in the district headquarters would be punished. That he would not be, as he has been, applauded for his bravado and defended for his right to free speech.
I was hoping that conversations about women, who form more than half of Uganda’s population, would be taken to the women and not left in the boardroom.
Perhaps politicians would think creatively about their engagement and not stop at public rallies that are rarely attended by women and male-hosted radio talk shows that are rarely listened to by women. Perhaps the politicians would engage with women door-to-door, face-to-face.
Meet them on filthy hospital floors where they are forced to lie as they tend to their sick husbands.
Meet them lining for hours in front of clinics with malnourished children in their arms, begging for the last share of malaria drugs.
Meet them in them in the markets, haggling over a miserly pile of potatoes, hoping to get the most out of the pittance they have been given at work.
Meet them in church and the mosque, crying out to God for the Day of Relief.
At the end of my interview (read: lecture) with Mr. X, he patted my hand again and said, “These worries of yours only exist among elitist women. Your problem is that you have been removed from the experience of the real Ugandan women. Real Ugandan women don’t want these things.”
If you have boobs, leave them at home on voting day.