9 December 2012

Uganda: When a Woman Can't Cook

Sunday-They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But these days, we have a generation of women who do not know how to even boil an egg. Carol Natukunda finds out whether cooking is what modern men are actually drawn to

Growing up, Angella Katatumba did not have to worry about touching charcoal or peeling matooke. Not that she feared staining her nails, but there were always maids to do all the cooking. Today, the once spoilt little girl is an adult, but cannot cook.

In a recent interview with SundayXtra, Angella intimated: "I grew up with chefs. My parents would do everything for me, so I never had an opportunity to cook... but I am learning. People tell me that to keep a man I need to learn how to cook."

But then again a cross section of her fans on the social media are wondering why she should bother anyway, when there are all the fast food restaurants and the rolex joints downtown to help her fix a quick meal without really sweating.

"Why bother," asked one female fan, "I have no idea on how to cook, but I still attract men!"

Mabel, a 29-year-old retorted: "I do not have time to cook because I have a full-time job. There is food in the supermarket so why should I break my back?"

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But these days, we have a generation of women who do not know how to even light a sigiri let alone boil an egg.

Those culinary skills that our mothers and grandmothers had have totally disappeared, only to be replaced with tasteless junk foods. Give her spaghetti to cook and she will just add water and stir for five minutes!

So, has the ancient art of winning a man's heart, that was once passed down from generation to generation, died with the advent of the modern, independent woman? Has the climb up the corporate ladder meant that women have stepped on their domesticity in favour of ... well, not bothering at all.

Women activists speak out

Dr. Hilda Mary Tadria, a retired sociology professor at Makerere University and feminist says it is only in a patriarchy society that a woman should cook all the time.

"I cook; my hubby is also a good cook. Either of us chooses to cook, that has never been an issue," says Tadria.

She says in an era where many young women have careers, couples need to work together to forge a way forward on how to go about meals.

"If you can afford a housemaid, and you both agree to hire one, that can be helpful. Career is important for women as it is for men.

If a woman has to wake up by 5:00am daily, prepare the children for school and work till late, and then head to the kitchen she will be exhausted, both emotionally and physically," says Tadria, who is also the executive director of mentoring and empowerment programme for young women in Kansanga, Kampala.

According to Tadria, empowerment is not about making women big headed. Rather it is about ensuring breaking the autocratic systems that have for long been impacted on the subordinate woman.

"We do not hate men. I am married and I cook for my husband. A woman being your subordinate does not mean that she does not get tired. On the other hand if a woman is working, she should also not always rely on the man to do everything. It is about both of you contributing in a relationship," Tadria stresses.

Jolly Ruth Baganizi, an independent consultant on gender issues with Consult Uganda says irrespective of sex, parents need to teach their children cooking the basics. Baganizi says the fact that women cannot cook is not a revelation anymore as it is no longer taught in schools, while parents are also either pampering their children too much or are too busy.

"It is not about women. I grew up with my brothers. They knew how to cook. We all knew how to do everything, from digging to cooking. There was no shortcut," she says.

"So now, we have about three generations of women and men incapable of boiling an egg because parents keep thinking, 'oh she/he is a baby." At school it is only academics, not handiwork," she says.

Would Baganizi cook for her man after a hard day's work? "Yes and no,' she says, "I feel fatigued, and we can agree and choose to eat at a restaurant but not every day, because we can cook."

Baganizi says often the cost of eating out wears one out both financially and emotionally, when children set in. "We do not condone women who deliberately sit back in order not to dirten their nail polish. That is laziness and unrealistic. When you have a family, you need to sit together in your home for meals, to have a bond," she says.

Besides, the sh10,000 you spend on a pack of fries can buy you a decent meal for an entire family, Baganizi stresses.

Cooking is healthier

True to this, today, most children are becoming obese because parents are feeding them on junk foods. Statistics show that globally, over 42 million children under the age of five are overweight, about 80% of whom live in developing countries.

The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey reports that obesity among Ugandans aged 15 to 49 in Kampala is 34%, meaning, of every three people in Kampala, one is overweight or obese.

Dr. Eric Wobugeya, a pediatrician at Mulago Hospital, says children's dietary habits have shifted from healthy foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) to fast foods, processed snacks and sugary drinks.

He says obesity is caused by a regular consumption of more energy (calories) than the body uses. The implications of obesity is diabetes and high blood pressure.

Is cooking what modern men are actually drawn to?

Brandon, 35, is struggling to find a girlfriend who is smart, independent and educated, but not so independent that she refuses to step into the kitchen.

"I do not know any girls these days who want to cook for a guy," he says.

Brandon says while he does not want someone like his mother, it should be one who can actually fix a meal once in a while.

"If she can do that, then it means she understands. She is not after money and cares for me," argues Brandon.

But Lauben, who is a good chef himself, says he would not look out for cooking, because "some things you learn on the job."

"You can get a cook who is a cheat or dirty! Cooking means nothing, she can always learn," he argues.


Beatrice Nandawula, a counselling psychologist at Makerere youth counselling and guidance center says there's no compulsory list of what men want in a wife because men (like women) want different things. So she cautions against women trying to be what they are not in order to win a man's heart.

"A man wants different things depending on his current maturity level. If I am trying to be a good cook because that is what this man wants, then what happens when you meet the next guy who wants something totally different?" she asks.

She also cautions men to look out for other attributes other than cooking. "Be who you are, meet a woman who is compatible with you without struggling to meet the elusive "standard wife material" bar," Nandawula advises.

"Besides, I believe that the men who insist that a single woman should be acting like his wife, are men who want a wife without having to get married. What part of the game is that?" she asks. Nandawula adds: "Some women cook, some do not. Some men cook, some do not. Is it a turn-off to you if a man cannot cook? No? Then it should not turn him off if you cannot cook."

Aaron Mukasa, a part time lecturer of humanities at Kampala University says while he and his wife hated cooking, they were convinced that it was cheaper.

"I understand that there are some women who like to cook and don't do it to prove that they are "wife material". It's not about cooking at all. It's a misconception that a single woman's actions should always be in line with what would be considered "wife material"

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