Violence against women manifested in Kampala riots

“And that was not all. I also saw, for the first time in my life, women being undressed in public by rioters. Whether these women were being looked at as bad omens no one knows.” Paul Musangi. This was extracted from a Daily Monitor story which entailed ordeals of those who are held up and shot in Kampala riots just over a week ago.

Another notable comment: “Hooligans tried to pull our mainly female students out of the tour jeep, tried to smash the windows of our car, and damaged the first of our three tour vehicles.”

The riots in Kampala were sparked off by government’s refusal of the Kabaka to visit Kayunga because the Banyala wanted him to seek permission from their leader. But in the end 21 people were killed and hundreds were injured in battle that saw the police  resort to live ammunitions.

People trying to find safe haven during the riots. Daily Monitor photo.
People trying to find safe haven during the riots. Daily Monitor photo.

I picked Musangi’s words because up to now no one has explained or paid attention to the abuse of women during the riot. This reminded of an incident when the police publicly humiliated Kampala woman MP, Nabillah Sempala by trying to undress her during her arrest at a political rally in the city. Nabillah’s incident was captured by TVs and it was in the pictures but few put attention on the increasing humiliation of women in political battles in Uganda. I watched this video in disbelief and wondered what could have prompted police officers to resort to this.

This was so difficult for the female lawmaker to narrate to journalists that she sobbed in the middle of interview. But her sobbing was not enough to make women in parliament to make a big statement. Even the Old Kampala Police Commander, Moses Mwanga went ahead to justify the undressing of the Member of Parliament within parliament.

And we never saw any action from female MPs of whom majority were voted because they are women (read Affirmative action). Not a walk out or no nothing to show their positions and part of the problem is because for most of them belong to the ruling party where they are more less home mamas who have no role in political decision making or influencing it. The only reaction that made headlines was Kahinda Otafiire’s who instead blamed the police actions on Nabillah’s beauty.

“If it were me they wouldn’t have undressed me, it’s because she beautiful.”

And where were our so called women activists who have for the greater part turned the field into donor-money getting one. Or was it because this story was not juicy enough to sell to the donors?

Well this one of the women in the riots for sure is a good one to talk about. So far I haven’t seen any woman interviewed who went through these humiliating experiences. I am no femmist but it’s only natural that when a person is wronged most that we pay more attention to them. We all know that violence against women is like a culture that some women have accepted and actually go ahead to say if your man doesn’t beat you then he doesn’t love you. But for those abused in the riots to tell a story as being one of those ‘who were undressed in the riot’ is a difficult one.

We can’t be silent about this public display of violence against women. What did women have to do with the decisions of the government and Kabaka? It’s not clear how many women died in this riot but you can be sure many faced the most abuse just because they are women. If we can’t hear stories of those who were undressed, God knows if we will ever know those of some who might have faced greater abuse like raped in these riots.

Some women I understand were being attacked for wearing trousers but this is just a lame excuse because Uganda is no Sudan. Women wearing trousers in most of Uganda is not seen as bad enough to evoke hostility. In places like Bosnia, we saw many women humiliated as men in the conflict resorted to rape as a weapon of war and most of their stories are yet to be heard. I fear that if Kampala or Uganda faces a much bigger riot or turmoil, the women will not survive this abuse. You can say those who were undressed in the riot were in the wrong place at the wrong time but who are the ‘wrong people’ who carried out these acts? They are there among us and if Kampala succumbs to another bigger battle – God forbid- they will come out and will be ready to humiliate women again and this time it will be at a larger scale. And if Museveni is to compensate those that lost their properties, how can we ‘compensate’ for these women’s lost dignity?