How the Merge of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo Has Created a Whole New Feminist Phenomenon in Uganda

ugandan feminist Belatina
Photo Credit twitter @UgFeministForum

As the old saying goes, when America sneezes, the world gets the flu.

Movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter have found fertile ground in countries as different as Uganda, where gender-based violence is an institutionalized and defended issue for much of the population, and where police violence often claims the lives of hundreds of women each year.

Following the transformation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in 2000, the Ugandan Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) recognized that, due to patriarchy and lack of gender equality, a large part of the poor in the country are women, who often do not have access to education or basic rights such as land ownership.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, Uganda ranks 45th out of 144 countries based on its four key indicators: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

This is due, in part, to the dependence of Ugandan households on girls for the domestic workforce, according to a 2013 study by Martina Björkman-Nyqvist.

Similarly, the acceptance of gender-based violence as a social norm has undermined domestic and social spaces, especially by police forces.

In 2018, Reuters published a disturbing article about the discovery of a mass grave with 20 women’s bodies along the roads south of Kampala.

As a result, in recent years Uganda has seen the resurgence of a new wave of feminist activism organized through WhatsApp groups and social networks, in which young women refuse to perpetuate social norms that prevent them from accessing their rights as human beings.

According to The Economist, one of the most aggressive agents of repression against this movement is precisely the police force. However, Ugandan feminists are determined to make their voices heard.

“Political change is nothing if there’s no social change in the way men perceive women,” told the media Rosebell Kagumire, the editor of African Feminism, a website.

“It’s hard to be a feminist,” says Marion Kirabo, a law student. “It becomes a constant war between you and society.”

The Economist also explains how “the state is as priggish as it is lewd,” where public officials are forbidden to wear short skirts, while beauty contests are organized under the slogan “Miss Curvy” to attract foreign tourists.

“Women whose nude photos are shared online without their consent have been arrested,” notes the publication. “Meanwhile, a senior policeman recently blamed women who wiggle their butts seductively”for causing road accidents. He added that unnecessary exposure of [female] flesh amounts to sexual assault’ — on the men who see it.”

For Kagumire, Ugandan feminists talk about both race and sex, drawing inspiration from both #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo to denounce how black women are doubly disadvantaged, being victims of violence and impeded from human development.