The entire country erupted in messages appreciating women in celebration of International Women’s Day recently. Local media normal programming was interrupted, with the usual men-filled spots on television and in newspapers temporarily filled by women.
However, this one-day a year love for women in Uganda is just that: A show, a parade of pretense and ticking boxes.
Hours after Women’s Day celebrations, Bugangaizi East MP Onesmus Twinamatsiko publicly advocated for violence against women. In his words, men must discipline their wives. They must “beat her to streamline her.”
Twinamatsiko made these comments while reacting to President Museveni’s comments in which the President stated that “men who beat women are cowards and should face the full wrath of the law.”
Twinamatsiko is just one in the long list of public figures who have been allowed to publicly abuse, assault and encourage all sorts of violence against women in Uganda.
In 2013, the State Minister for Water Resources, Ronald Kibuule, who was at the time state minister for Youth and Children, said women who are “dressed poorly” deserve to be raped and should be blamed because their dressing is “an open invite” to rapists. Kibuule continued to walk and live among us without facing any consequences, moving from one cabinet post to another.
Attempts by feminists and other concerned Ugandans to hold him accountable by calling for his resignation using the hashtag #KibuuleMustGo, were futile.
In 2016, the same Kibuule assaulted Hellen Obuk, a security guard at Stanbic Bank Mukono, who was trying to check him before he entered the bank.
The bank chief executive was quick to issue an apology to the assaulter, and once again, Kibuule was let off the hook, without so much as an apology to his victim.
The list of men who have, through their words and actions, shown that they do not respect and value women, is endless. And yet these men continue to progress in their careers as public officials without being held accountable for the ways in which they endanger women’s lives whose taxes pay their salaries.
We continue to invite them as guests of honor at public events and elect them to office, ignoring the ways in which their words and actions affect the wellbeing of women in Uganda.
What then was the purpose of Women’s Day celebrations across the country? What is the purpose of standing on podiums and vowing to defend and advance women’s rights if when push comes to shove; society is unable to protect women?
Reports indicate that 51 per cent of Ugandan women experience lifetime physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence.
In a country where men in public offices can promote and enact violence against women with no repercussions, we can only imagine what happens to the many women who suffer in silence and do not have the privilege of featuring as a newsbite on the evening news.
This government cannot claim to work towards the advancement of women’s rights while allowing ministers and members of Parliament to conduct themselves like this without facing any consequences.
However, it is not just the government, it is all of us - the media, civil society, and every citizen, who sits back and refuses to demand better.
When Twinamatsiko made the repulsive comments, the same media houses that had a few hours before been claiming their devotion to women, did not provide any nuanced analysis nor challenge, in the reporting. We should condemn violence against women with the same vigour and tenacity as we do police brutality against opposition figures.
Twinamatsiko represents the voices of many men who still continue to assault, harass and inflict all sorts of violence against women.
Men who are justified because of the silence and acquiescence of a society that continues to view women as second-class citizens to be controlled and “disciplined”.
As a country, we must get to a point where this is inexcusable and there is no better day to start than today, with the resignation of a man who clearly has no reason to be in our Parliament representing the interests of Ugandan men and women.
Onesmus Twinamatsiko should resign!
Ms Twasiima is a feminist lawyer currently
working with Chapter Four Uganda.