Saturday January 18 2014

A man in the struggle for women’s rights



ALI KAVIRI. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

ALI KAVIRI. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 

By Brian Mutebi

If a man lost his tooth fighting for his shirt, that might be understandable, and many will possibly come to his defense. Men put on shirts and that’s his shirt, they will say. But if he lost his tooth for a bra then everyone will most likely ask, “How? Men don’t wear bras!”

In the same way when one sees women bravely and fearlessly fighting for the rights of women, it is easy to say that that is what they are supposed to do – woman up for the cause of fellow women. But when it’s a man advocating the rights of women, especially in a patriarchal society like ours, one cannot help but immediately wonder about what motivates him.
Slender, relatively tall, dark-skinned 24-year-old Ali Kaviri is one such man to whom such questions can be posed.

This soft-spoken man describes himself as a women rights’ activist. Kaviri has crafted a career in human rights promotion and protection with a particular interest in the universal rights of women. And they-the women with whom he is joining hands for the cause that is deeply rooted into society but remains contentious, misunderstood by many, ignored or both- are giving him the nod.

In 2009, then 19 years old, Kaviri was named Mr FOWADE by the women’s organisation Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWADE), a position conferred upon a man who understands and supports the cause for women’s rights. Kaviri had attended a FOWADE’s six-week long training on gender and governance. He exhibited ambition and excellence. “The training awakened my consciousness towards gender issues,” he says.

Drawing from his childhood
But why a field where not many men will go or probably know little about or simply choose to ignore?
For Kaviri it was passion or conviction, emanating from his childhood experiences in his home village of Kibuku, in Eastern Uganda. “It was a society that had no respect for a woman,” he recalls. “Women were battered, had no decision making powers and were not allowed to raise their hand in public to speak. Only men did.”

It is not that Kaviri was opposed to men talking. Rather, he believed that women, just like men, had the right to express their opinions. It is these injustices against women that Kaviri says inspired him to advocate for the rights of women. To realise his aspirations, Kaviri eyed leadership roles because, he argues, leaders influence decisions. He figured that being a leader would put him in position to influence decisions to protect the rights of women. He obviously needed an education first.

Activism
Coming from a humble background and raised by a single mother, Kaviri went to a number of schools including Koborwa and Busesa primary schools before joining Margaret Secondary School Kyebando for O’ Level and Kyambogo College School for A’ Level. The opportunity that would enable him realise his aspirations came in his Senior Six vacation shortly before he joined Kyambogo University for a Bachelor’s degree in Community Based Rehabilitation.

That was the FOWADE training that he embraced, ending up being named Mr FOWADE. With other alumni of the training, Kaviri would begin advocacy and leadership development for young people, sexual rights and reproductive health for girls in schools. In 2012, Kaviri was voted chairperson of the Young Leaders Alumni Association (FYLAA), a FOWADE initiative for young people to advance the cause of women in leadership and development.

Kaviri is also the Field Coordinator at Digital Opportunity Trust International (Uganda), an organization that equips child mothers with business and technological skills for improved economic livelihood. He is a blogger and writes articles advocating for the rights of women. He has been in Tanzania and Malaysia in women empowerment fora. In June 2013, Kaviri was one of Uganda’s delegates at the Women Deliver Conference in Malaysia.

The eldest of three children born to a peasant mother, Irene Litta, as he never knew his father, Kaviri challenges what he terms as a “societal perception” that advocating for the rights of women tantamount to subduing men. “What is wrong with saying that a young girl of 13 years shouldn’t be married off?” he argues, and adds, “What women are asking for is equality and fairness. Gender is a human rights issue.”
Challenges

“Some of my peers ridicule or misunderstand me. Some, in fact, think I am not in the right state of mind to advocate for the rights of women,” he says, noting though that some section of society sees him as an example, which encourages him.

Role models
Kaviri’s role models are FOWADE’s Patricia Munaabi and Oxfam International’s Winnie Byanyima, the women he says have been consistent in advocating for women rights; the Pakistan girl, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban Muslim extremists for advocating for the rights of girls to education in Pakistan.

Kaviri’s views on:
Bride price and the Marriage and Divorce bill:
“Discouraging paying bride price is a way of protecting the rights of girls to education. Some girls are married off by their parents to get material wealth. Those who look at this law in bad faith are simply not informed.”

Proposed mini-skirt bill: It seems politicians lack meaningful and better things to focus on. Issues like youth unemployment should have been their focus rather than (pass) a bill that infringes on the rights of women. Politicians should know that we live in a dynamic world. Young people should be left to express themselves. It’s their rights. In fact some young people look nice in mini shirts.

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