22 September 2017

Uganda: Women Murders - Our Security Is Hopeless, but This Society Is Sick

Photo: Paul Adude/Daily Monitor
Sarah Neliima, whose body was found dumped near the Entebbe-Kampala Highway on Wednesday.
opinion

Three days ago, the body of Harriet Nantongo, 38, was found in a bush near Nkumba University. She was a mother of two. A day later, the naked body of 22- year-old Sarah Neliima was found in a bush in Nkumba village. The two women are now part of the statistics of the mysterious killings of women in and around Entebbe. The number of victims now stands at 23. There are other isolated cases reported in different parts of the country.

The killings are similar in their hideousness. Some victims were reportedly raped before being killed. Others had twigs inserted in their genitals and mouths.

It is difficult to comprehend the agony these women went through before being killed. It is distressing to envisage their last moments. It is unsettling to imagine the trauma their loved ones are experiencing. And, it is inexplicable that security forces seem to be clueless.

Internal Affairs minister Jeje Odong is reported to have made a statement to Parliament, linking the murders to some mystical body called Illuminati. Such simplistic statements reinforce our sense of hopelessness.

There are questions about why the government has not given these murders due attention. Would these cases be treated differently if the victims were men, as some individuals have argued?

I think our security agencies have simply failed or their priorities are lopsided. Without downplaying the glaring injustices against women, the record of police in handling such cases is underwhelming, the gender of the victims notwithstanding.

For several months since September 2016, machete-wielding men have terrorised Greater Masaka to a state of despair.

But the narrative that injustices against women are treated casually by society is not farfetched. A keen newspaper reader once told me that the research findings by NGOs and police crime reports we publish about violence against women are simply cosmetic. What Uganda needs, he said, is a sustained campaign by the media - beginning with more front-page coverage for "women issues".

I agree to a large extent with the reader. But beyond media campaigns and front page coverage, we must begin a national conversation about how perception about women, including the way we treat our sons and daughters, affect the way they'll handle issues affecting women in future.

A former colleague used to tell us that he had three children. One day as he showed us pictures, we spotted a little girl. On inquiry, he said: "Oh! This is my daughter."

When we asked why he had never mentioned her, he said in his culture, girls are not considered children. Sometimes he'd tell people he had three children (the boys) and "a girl".

One of my favourite columnists in the Daily Monitor, Mr Cato Lund, once wrote: "[Your newspaper] refers to a new report that has revealed that 20 per cent of city students are in the sex trade.

Girls down to pre-teens are recruited into transactional sex. This comes on top of the survey published three-and-half years ago which showed that 40,000 girls in upper primary school were defiled annually by their teachers.

This information has not caused public uproar and tangible actions to do something about the underlying attitude towards girls and women. There is apparently a misinterpretation of Genesis 2, assuming that God made a mere toy for man out of Adam's rib... "

It is true that certain values influence the way society treats issues affecting women. This viewpoint underlines an article I read in The New York Times some years ago by Lisa Shannon about a trip to eastern Congo in 2010. She quotes an aid worker thus: "Foreign militias are gone. Just rapes and looting for the moment. No attacks."

Isn't it shocking that such heinous crimes are referred to as "just rapes"? A gross violation of the chastity and dignity of a woman has been "normalised" as a weapon of war because rebels raised in societies that generally treat women as objects think it is normal to take turns to rape women and young girls as family members are put at gunpoint to watch such absurdity!

These are true stories documented from war zones. In some cases, men are forced to have sex with their daughters, brothers with sisters, sons with mothers. Do we therefore find it strange that some of the victims in the Entebbe murders are raped and sticks inserted in their genitals before being killed? This is a sick society!

To find a concrete solution, we must go beyond apprehending the culprits of these murders. We must resocialise societies that we are human first. Our genders are secondary. And crimes against women are therefore crimes against human beings.

Without mind change, we can't achieve the basic human decency required of a civilised society where issues affecting women are given the due attention they deserve.

Ms Vuchiri-Alumai is a journalist.

Twitter: Vuchiri_alumai

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