This blaming of women for violent and sexual crimes committed against them by men is logical in a society that is more invested in controlling women’s bodies and sexualities than keeping all of us safe
Bodies of women started appearing sometime in 2016 at higher rates than usual in parts of Entebbe, Kampala and Wakiso. The first case widely covered by local media involved Desire, a student of Makerere University Business School, who was sexually assaulted with a stick before being brutally murdered and dumped in a swamp somewhere near Seeta.
There was an outpouring of anger and pain; a hashtag on Twitter and, a boyfriend was arrested. The victim was blamed and all campus girls who “love men and money too much” were advised to change their ways and we moved on.
Then the bodies in Entebbe started appearing - first one, then two, then three...then 27. All murdered in similar ways. They were sexually assaulted then killed and dumped with sticks stuck up their private parts. Feminists and women’s rights activists continued shouting even more urgently about these deaths. The Minister for Internal Affairs blamed illuminati.
Former police boss Kale Kayihura told women to stop walking at night and to register with the police and refrain from dating more than one man as this was most likely why they were being killed. The head of State even took a notebook and went to ask the people of Entebbe “waliyo amulabyeko?”
Why are these women, whose bodies are so dangerous as to cause men to sexually assault and kill them, even more dangerous in death? Because the bodies of dead women can be ignored. Dead women, especially when they are young or identified as sex workers and poor, can be ignored, can be dismissed and feminists who shout too much about these women’s deaths can be teargassed and arrested off the streets.
This blaming of women for violent and sexual crimes committed against them by men is logical in a society that is more invested in controlling women’s bodies and sexualities than keeping all of us safe.
These dead women tell a story about the brutality that our society has normalised towards women. All of them were viciously sexually assaulted before or after being killed and their bodies dumped. But instead of hunting down rapists, our society warns women to be careful of the men they hang around with and remind women to “dress better” and go home early.
In 2013, Minister Kibuule was reported advising police to arrest any woman who was indecently dressed when she was raped, instead of going after the rapists. This victim-blaming creates the perfect conditions for crimes against women to be dismissed and ignored.
Now we all have to go home early because the same people raping and killing those women are the ones who will kill you or a loved one over some money or property.
Last week, another woman’s dead body appeared a few metres away from the venue of a police fundraising function and added another piece to the story. This dead woman is different from the rest. She was not poor and her family seems to be very well “connected”, as the President sent out a number of interesting tweets mourning her death.
Her funeral was publicly broadcast and attended by many dignitaries, army men and women, and a bounty of Shs100m has been put on the head of her kidnappers and killers. It remains to be seen whether they will be found or that money spent.
The increasing inequality among Ugandans is highlighted in the treatment of the most recent dead woman versus the others. Some are even suggesting that the weekend reshuffle of police leadership was influenced by the mishandling of the investigation of her kidnapping and now death.
It should give us all pause as a society to think that the deaths of 27 women were not enough to justify any attempts to cure our “insecurity problem”, but the death of this one woman has made it urgent.
I am happy to see something finally being done and look forward to how the new police leadership will handle this problem. The lives and deaths of the rich and well connected seem to be the only ones valuable enough to be mourned and avenged in this country. The dead women remind us that even in death, some animals are more equal than others.
Ms Akullo is a feminist lawyer and deputy director of Chapter Four Uganda