I grew up in south-west Uganda in a village called Kibona. I am a middle child so fighting to be heard and not ignored comes naturally to me. I have one sister and four brothers. Only one is older than me.
By the time I was in my early adolescent years my sister was already off to boarding school. I remember my mother telling me about each and everyone’s responsibilities. My brothers were to fetch water -from a well and firewood- I would mostly take care of cooking and the house. But these roles were never rigid. Sometimes I would go get the water while my brothers would cook. However at times my brothers- had more freedom to roam around villages without alarming fears, would return home after hours of football games. My mother told me if no one carried out their role, I had no obligation to provide them food. So many times i would go ahead and cook enough just for myself.
From an early age i was taught that someone has to meet their end of bargain – roles had to be shared and were not rigid. I must say this was not the culture around the rest of our other families. My mother has a diploma in veterinary medicine and my father finished secondary school and worked formal jobs for a while.
The education of my parents made a difference in what expectations they had for me and my siblings. My maternal grandfather was a teacher who taught his daughters at a time when society frowned at the idea of educating girls. I was surrounded by obvious inequality between men and women but somehow these factors in my family history made it easier for me. My parents like most in Uganda struggled to get school fees- especially my mother. Sometimes we would be sent back home from school because of unpaid fees, but I never felt my opportunity for education was any more threatened than that of my brothers.
I also grew up around women in my extended family who had children, married for a few years and called it quits. So even if most of society wanted to see them as failures because of failed marriage, many of these women were visibly happy people. I grew up knowing marriage was preferred but if things didn’t go well, you shouldn’t have to stay because of fear to be talked about. I also had aunties whose husbands would batter them even when my own family i had never experienced this. My mother and aunties were given land by their father just like he gave land to his sons. I was lucky enough to attend a good school even when fees were difficult to chase.
I started working at the age of 20 in a male dominated workplace- a newsroom. There I saw first hand the pressure exerted on young interns in an environment that doesn’t have policies that could protect them. There was sex-for bylines and women were not attracted to the hard political fields. I have always been political, so naturally I choose those fields that usually tell newcomer females that they could do better on the softer side of things. I was prepared from an early age because my parents and relatives weren’t afraid to tell me I am smart. They were not worried that my smartness would ‘repel men’ like many young women are told. I had no pressure to find a man before a job that many of Uganda’s educated university young women are told should be a priority.
You might think, what a great life but there are also challenges, constantly trying to look at your own story and upbringing and others. I see that family is the start for shaping confident, empowered and strong women. For me, these examples that empowered me are a testament that feminism is rooted in our culture – we just never had a name for it. For me feminism means availing girls and women equal opportunity as boys and men in all spheres. It means removing unjustifiable barriers that women still face both within homes and public spheres. And this begins with family. This is not to say those without strong family support won’t make it. But it makes it easier if family doesn’t pile barriers in front of you even before you face the public.