Talking African Feminisms with Dr Sylvia Tamale

Last saturday, the Maisha Gardens under the Maisha Moto initiative hosted Dr Sylvia Tamale one of the top Ugandan academics and the first female to hold the post of Dean of Law Faculty at Makerere University. Her passion for justice and equality is well known and her work on African Sexualities confronts the narratives that try to downplay the diverse and complex sexualities on the continent and the tendency to paint conversations around gender as an import into Africa.

Note the title ‘African Feminisms’ because there’s no one feminism. And to understand this is to go to the very description of feminism that Dr Tamale gave.

Then next was the idea of African Feminism and whether it is an import from the outside. Dr Tamale says she believes her grandmother was a feminist in many ways while in others not close.  African history is full of great women who strived for equality and equity. She gave an example of Muhumuza Nyabyingi who rebelled against colonialists and had a great following in south western Uganda.

Muhumuza and her followers

Besides Muhumuza, Dr Tamale highlighted the 18th century women’s war in Nigeria. She pointed out that the challenge like in most of our history is that most important feminist events/actions were not recorded. She also noted feminism in Egypt as far back as the 18th century when women owned feminist journals. In Uganda there are no records and stories have been carried on through oral tradition.

Dr Tamale says while many believe in gender equality what makes one a feminist is doing something about the power imbalance that disfavors women.

She briefly talked about liberal feminism and radical feminism using an example of women and affirmative action in political representation in Uganda. While liberal feminist hail the over 30% women representation in parliament, radical feminism calls for changes that require tackling the patriarchal structures that are left intact when we concentrate on numbers.

Power relations are key. The way power is distributed in society, socially economically, unless we tackle that adding numbers in parliament won’t change much. We must emphasize dignity for all, equal opportunity and sharing domestic responsibilities.

About men and feminism.

Here is a clip I captured on periscope (Audio low).

Tamale analyzed women’s gains since President Museveni took power in 1986 and as a feminist she said she was very pessimistic.

And she went out of her way to speak about the difference between feminists and career gender activists, we have plenty of the latter in Uganda, she emphasized.

She says the situation of women in power in Uganda is very telling of the realities we have to change.

She says ultimately…

The talk came a week after the Uganda Police raided a nightclub where Uganda’s LGBTI community and supporters who were hosting a beauty pageant so Dr Tamale took time to say if you profess feminism you should recognize that not all women are the same.

She also highlighted oppression of women living with HIV and women with disabilities.

And she was bewildered by Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Ethics Minister and his obsession and attacks on minority groups in Uganda.

About feminism and religion

And we got examples


Often when we speak of the future, many point to the youth with optimism but Dr Tamale called for caution.

And some students at university level, we learnt, kind of still rely on the (morality) parents to decide on whether to take a course or not.

This deliberate aversion to knowledge while fronting morality is becoming all too common.

And Dr Tamale says we need to..

Just in case you haven’t followed Uganda news this week, our members of parliament stormed a school because it was  ‘teaching children how to be gay’ by reading this book.

Screenshot 2016-08-19 14.50.30

And the debate ensued in parliament with MPs united in calling for banning and burning of books, filtering of internet and banning children from accessing smart phones.

But back to Dr Tamale, she asks of young people..

On that bit about reproductive health rights, as far Dr Tamale is concerned abortion is…

What makes Dr Tamale optimistic in the struggle for gender equity?

So, what if we put a feminist in power?

While it is good to be part of global feminism and collaborations, African feminists should look within to derive solutions.

Finally we got to know one of Dr Sylvia Tamale’s role models

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