The tale of a Zombo and memories of Mahatma Gandhi’s words on the evil of man
Kampala, Uganda | ALLAN KINANI | The scorching sun shot through the trees that were shading us, as the clock ticked noon. A gush of fresh, replenishing breeze swayed across, sweeping the dry leaves under our feet and seats. The scenery was everything I envisioned when I was dispatched by my Programs Manager, as part of the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA) team, to organise and supervise a women’s consultative meeting in Zombo district, Northern Uganda. The meeting brought together women from over four villages, who shared their experiences; including stories on human rights issues that affect their daily livelihoods, with a view of devising potential solutions.
The conversation that lasted over two hours, opened with a panel discussion, before it was opened to the rest of the participants, who took turns at sharing their stories – of daily challenges, pain and struggles, with an ease that was as reassuring as it was empowering.
One of the women, possibly in her 40s, had a particularly arresting tale. Smartly dressed in her multi-coloured kitenge, she stood to speak, her face visibly wary, betraying of a history of pain. Her eyes shut, and raising her left hand, she lazily pointed to the skies, like one seeking spiritual deliverance.
After what seemed like an eternity, she managed a cordial greeting to the rest of the room that was already tense with anticipation. From the murmured replies, one could sense they either knew her story, or were equally anticipating a touching tale. And touching it was! She told of suffering at the hands of her own family, narrating an ordeal of experiences that stripped her of her rights, dignity, and freedom.
Her story told of the still prevailing reach of patriarchal norms in her society, where she tills land that only boys and men can inherit, and whose fruits, when harvest time comes, she has no say over, that privilege being the preserve of the husband who then uses the proceeds to facilitate his nights in local bars, drinking, and lavishly spending on other women.
As she spoke, the other women sympathetically looked on, murmuring approvingly. They understood her pain, they related to her story. She spoke of her husband’s family that crowds her home and keep around. How they ridicule and disdain her, compel her to do their laundry and expect her to provide food for them while they sit and drink all kinds of distillates. She spoke of her deteriorating health, which was not being given priority because the husband prefers to look good and eat well rather than take her to the nearest medical centre.
Her skin was pale, tears were streaming down her eyes. She seemed inconsolable as she went on with her narration, wondering –rhetorically, why women continue to suffer as men enjoy all the privileges of just being born male. She wondered whether a better day lay ahead, when she will wake up to a realisation of their (women)’s rights. Will her daughters complete their education before they are married off? Will she ever get the due right to own family property like the men? Will she ever exercise the right to control her sexuality and have her views and opinions listened to? She wondered loudly about all these.
As I listened to her story, goose bumps started growing all over my body. Her pain became my pain, as I realised how privileged I was. It occurred to me that this is the kind of life that millions of women in Uganda are subjected to; their rights constantly trashed and trampled upon. Mothers like her continue to die because they cannot afford medical care services, with society for the most part relegating women to being sex objects and punching bags; raped and violated at will.
The experience for me was a revelation, an eye-opener of how much our society has to do to elevate the status of women, especially in the rural areas. And as I left Zombo that evening, Mahatma Gandhi’s words kept re-echoing in my ear: “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex!”
Allan Kinani works at the Centre for Policy Analysis