Prof. Sylvia Tamale and One Feminist’s Navigation

For over three weeks now, I have been racking my brain, unsure of what to write about, desperately hoping for a clear sign from the heavens on which direction this article should take. That sign did not come.

There is so much to write about. I want to talk about the formidable Prof. Sylvia Tamale and how her fiercely feminist trailblazer of an inaugural lecture reminded me of what’s important; the continued fight towards ending all sorts of oppression particularly that which consciously and subconsciously continues to affect womyn today.

There is also the constant reminder from recent global events that the world we live in is openly racist, sexist and vile.

I want to talk about sexual assault and ask why men continue this debilitating behavior and then brush it off as a joke.I was asked to pick one event and give my feminist perspective of it. I have decided that it would be better to write about my journey of navigating various events that range from battling cyber bullies to dealing with the patriarchy hierarchies in private spaces – and somehow continuing to survive.

Prof. Sylvia Tamale’s Inaugural Lecture

Every year, Ugandan newspapers ask their readers to vote for their favorite and least favorite people at the end of each year. Prof. Sylvia Tamale was voted “Worst womyn of the Year 2003.” In the same year that her unapologetic fight for womyn’s rights and minorities earned her that title, Joseph Kony, the rebel leader responsible for killing, mutilating, violating, raping and just about all sorts of despicableness was voted worst man of the year.

Quite telling really. Sylvia for her feminism; Kony for his countless crimes against humanity.

Sylvia has received a lot of hate and heckling along the way, but she has broken many glass ceilings. She has influenced countless womyn to speak out and speak out loudly. She was the first female dean at Makerere University School of Law, making it possible for many after her to take her place. She has written, taught, championed progressive legislation and will undoubtedly go down in history as one of Afro-feminism’s finest.

I left Sylvia Tamale’s lecture sure of many things. I understood the purpose of writing, of continuing conversations even in spaces where they are not welcomed. I was reminded that while the full armies of the status quo will descend upon anyone who challenges it, one must keep on keeping on.

Listening to Syliva, fully robbed in her academic gown, as she spoke on Nudity and the Law; breaking silences about issues related to the links between law, gender and sexuality, as she has done throughout her career, I was reminded that while the trolls might heckle, we must continue to seek courage and sustenance to act, define and empower.

“The various clashes between my ‘truths’ and the world ‘truths’ sparked a sense of outrage which led to the mother-of-all- awakenings within me: this was the power and agency to speak out…” – Sylvia Tamale in Above the Parapet – Women in Public Life.

All Else

While I wish I could live in a feminist utopia, it is sadly not a reality I can envision in the near future. I am reminded everyday that while lone feminist voices continue to shout themselves hoarse about the continuing and endemic violence(s) against womyn, the gate-keepers of patriarchy also continue to flourish by bullying, insulting and peddling defenses that range from angry, bitter and go all the way to questions of sexuality.

Last week when a self proclaimed Ugandan intellectual was called out for sexually harassing a writer at a writing festival; an irony in itself as Writivism had just only passed its sexual harassment policy and gone further to have a conversation around what constitutes sexual harassment, his defence was to brush it off as a joke.

This is the reality of many womyn. Everyday comments and actions that leave us uneasy, frustrated and even scared for our safety are branded as jokes and womyn – and men who experience this are expected to stretch across the gap of ignorance and dehumanizing treatment to maintain civility. I am curious as to who is meant to find these “jokes” funny as it is clearly not the person to whom it is said or done. This is not intended as a rebuke of one man. I write this intending for it to be a shameful reminder for the many who continue to encourage and perpetuate this vile behavior!

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“It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw strength to live and our reasons for acting.” – Simone de Beauvoir.

It is in the knowledge that racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia and all manner of bigotry are real conditions that we must reach that place of personal knowledge – and fear and decide not to fold or turn cynical but keep on keeping on!

We must not let the knowledge of these real conditions of oppression paralyze us with fear; instead it should act as a reminder of the work we still have to do. Audre Lorde calls on us to work even when we are afraid, just as we have learned to work even when we are tired. The reality of the world we live in is enough to turn anyone cynical but I remain aware of the importance of speaking one’s truths loudly and unapologetic.

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