By Dr. Ian Clarke
There was an immediate reaction to the remarks of the Honorable Onesimus Twinamasiko, that a man should ‘touch’ his wife from time to time, in order to exercise his right of discipline as a husband.
He seemed to be promoting wife beating as a legitimate part of the marital relationship, but insisted that he was only advocating the occasional slap.
There was an understandable outcry against his remarks, especially since they were made on the week when we were celebrating Women’s Day. But where do we stand on women’s rights in Africa? African men and women have a unique relationship, which is probably somewhat different from that of their western counterparts.
Uganda itself has a relatively high number of female legislators, and there is indeed no shortage of outstanding Ugandan women on a global stage, such as Justice Julia Sebutinde of the International Court of Justice, and Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.
I have had the privilege of employing many talented Ugandan women who have risen through the ranks of my own company, or gone on to greater things in organizations such as the World Bank, the Africa Development Bank and the U.N. This not only makes me proud of such women, but I realize that they don’t need any special privileges, just the recognition of their abilities and the opportunity to shine.
But as a generalization, Uganda is a very chauvinistic society, where the behavior of some Ugandan men would land them in jail if they did the same things in a western country. We only have to cite the recent reports of sex for marks in schools and universities.
There has been recent outrage about sexual harassment of women in Hollywood in the USA, but if those same standards were applied in Uganda, many men would be prosecuted. It seems that African women are able to put up with much more in terms of sexual harassment than their western counterparts. When we recognize chauvinism in this society, or tacit tolerance for a husband slapping his wife, we realize that women get a raw deal, despite the examples of women who have risen to the top.
Another way to think of the battle between men and women could be in terms of Malcolm Gladwell’s book on the biblical battle between David and Goliath. Our immediate reaction is that Goliath was far stronger than David, just as men are physically stronger than women. David was a mere inexperienced boy with no armour, while Goliath was a seasoned soldier, clad in armour from head to foot. David probably weighed less than half the weight of Goliath – it was a very unequal battle in every way, just like the battle of the sexes, and everyone expected David to give in without a fight.
But David was not paralyzed by his obvious weaknesses, and was not intimidated. He recognized where he could use his ‘weaknesses’ to his advantage. Goliath was heavy and slow; David was nimble and fast. Goliath had strength; David had speed. Goliath had a big heavy sword, but he would have to get within range of David to use it. David had a sling, which could shoot a stone without him having to come anywhere within range of Goliath’s sword. Are you beginning to see the picture? By recognizing and using his own ‘weaknesses’ he easily slew Goliath. Women are ‘David’ in our society, they just don’t know it, and they allow men to dominate them.
Women are brought up to serve the family, to sweep the house, to fetch water, to look after the other children, to cook and to work. It is normal for the girls to do most of the housework, while the boys sit around and do nothing, like their fathers. We could say that this is oppression of the girls, but this training gives a girl an automatic advantage over her male siblings, which is reflected in how the girls outperform the boys in school.
Through this unequal treatment they have learned that they have to work to get through life, and the world does not owe them a living. Meanwhile the boys have been treated like little kings in the home, but get a rude awakening when they go into the real world. The result is that a woman will be more willing to work her way steadily up the ladder, while the men are hustling, looking for money, jumping from one opportunity to another.
Of course we all know that women can use their womanly wiles, but these have a ‘sell by date’, and the men still want to control them. A man will spend his money on a woman, with the tacit understanding that he will bestow gifts and presents in return for sexual favors. However, should she step out of line he will take everything back – the car, the fridge and the music system he ‘gave’ her.
Such women are still allowing themselves to be controlled as the ‘weaker sex’ and have not recognized their true strength. On the other hand, any women who has woken up, realized her true worth, not given in or given up, and not allowed herself to be controlled and manipulated, will surely slay the giant and win the battle.