Sisters, stand up for your right!

July 22, 2010

There are men in Uganda who have machismo tendencies–those who have a sense of entitlement. They’re more likely to get into aggressive confrontations with others.

I encountered one in a matatu(taxi) I took yesterday to get from the nearby town to our house. A guy came in and sat next to me and ended up pushing me completely over to the next seat. I asked him to scoot over a little. He told me to get a private taxi & said something in Lusoga and everyone in the taxi started laughing (here most women don’t say anything to men).

I decided to evaluate the situation and to see whether it was worth any to say anything. I decided to make him aware that I moved so he could have his seat. I told him that and added that he should be respectful.

I heard another man in the back say, “Muhindi (people call people based on how they look–this term is different from muzungu–which is a general term for foreigners–I personally find it very offensive since it’s an ethnically insensitive way to refer to a person) don’t quarrel.”

I decided to appear calm even though I was feeling upset. I replied, “musoga (a person belonging to the Busoga kingdom) you should listen to your own words.” After that several men decided to speak in Lusoga and laugh at me. I decided to think of something that would drive the message home that it was completely inappropriate for men to think they can get away with rudeness and that there are women who will not tolerate it (many African women tolerate obscenities from men). I decided that it was a teachable moment so I said, “someone needs to go back to a primary school to learn some manners.” My goal wasn’t necessarily to insult anyone but to communicate that rude behavior–no matter who does it–is not okay.

Everyone became very quiet; if Ugandans become quiet, then it most likely conveys that they are paying attention to you. People are more likely to listen if you shame their behavior while staying very calm. If you get into an argument, or look like you’re getting upset, then they just laugh at you even if you’re saying something meaningful. After I got off the taxi, I thanked the conductor, pointed to the back, looked at the conductor & told him that those men should learn some manners.

After I walked away from the taxi, they were still very quiet. Even though I felt upset at the situation, I felt I communicated something important to the men who felt they’re entitled to do whatever they pleased. I also believe that it was important for the women in the taxi to see that standing up for yourself might cause some initial discomfort, but people eventually listen. I really feel the women are not going to be treated as equals in any country if they’re going to just sit back and tolerate men’s behavior. It’s just amazing how much women I encounter here tolerate.

NB: I love Ugandan people and I’m learning a great deal from this country. My entry is not to create false notions or to generalize an entire nation. This was just one experience; nevertheless it’s still an experience.

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