Male police Officers promote gender equality in Uganda

As the month of March, which is internationally recognized as Women’s Month draws to a close, the generated attention and conversation drawn around the economic policies and gender dynamics that affect the psyche and progression of the female gender is not expected to end anytime soon.

The discourse often met with resistance in Africa with those involved citing”values” and “culture”, was taken to a different level as policeman Francis Ogweng of the Ugandan Police Force caused a scene on March 5 balancing a heavy clay pot on his head with a baby tied to his back.

He marched down the busy highway towards Uganda’s capital, Kampala, as reported by Reuters, while crowds of men stared and laughed as the baby girl swaddled in white cloth slipped precariously down Ogweng’s back, pulling his khaki uniform into disarray.

Onlookers were surprised to see a senior officer in the police force marching in an attempt to put himself in the shoes of women.

Ogweng was attempting to spread the messages of gender equality and the need to quit violence against women despite accusations from opponents of Uganda’s long-serving President, Yoweri Museveni who said that the force is spending more time suppressing dissent than tackling crime. Also, Regina Bafaki, head of Action for Development, a local women’s rights group accused them of being more violators than protectors of citizen’s rights.

Following a series of unsolved murders of young women found beside roadsides south of the capital since May 2017, Ogweng flanked by three policemen carrying bundles of firewood, a 50-strong police brass brand, and other officers carried placards that read: “Peace in the home. Peace in the nation. Prevent Gender-Based Violence”

The police which has charged more than a dozen suspects with the women’s murders, listing possible motives ranging from domestic rows through sexual abuse to ritual murder linked to human sacrifice.

Ugandan police women hold placards protesting violence against women at a march in Kampala, Uganda, November 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Thomas Lewton

“Men can also carry water, men can carry babies … it does no harm at all, it doesn’t make a man less of a man,” said Ogweng, who describes himself as a feminist – a rarity in a country where women often kneel to show deference to men.

About half of Ugandans believe that domestic violence is justified under certain circumstances, like when women neglect children or burn food, government data shows. Four in 10 girls wed before they turn 18, even though Uganda has banned child marriage, according to the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF), and few go beyond primary school.

“We have in our society a dangerous attitude of men thinking they can dispense with women and they can get away with it,” said Anatoli Ndyabagyera, whose fiancee Rose Nakimuli was killed in July. “They look at women and tend to think of them as items of ownership.” “This government prides itself on bringing security … but at the same time when these ladies were being murdered, the government didn’t even talk about it.”

“There are those who still believe that battering of women, the beating of women, is something normal,” Asan Kasingye, the assistant inspector general is quoted saying, another unlikely ally in Uganda’s fight for gender equality. “We must invest our resources, our training, our recruitment … into fighting against gender-based violence,” he said,

“It must percolate, it must be known by everybody. So it preoccupies us.”

The Women’s History Month has seen conversations span both offline and online debates, as more people are imbibed with awareness to the issues that women face, with the men themselves also coming into the realization that the liberation of women from these patriarchal norms found in most African societies is also to their own.