As part of the activities to mark the International Women’s Day which falls on 8th March every year, the School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University held a public dialogue to discuss the role of men and boys in empowering women and girls. The largely attended and successful dialogue held on 6th March 2014 was graced by H.E Sophie Makame, the Ambassador of France in Uganda and Makerere University Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Assoc. Prof. Okello Ogwang.
The dialogue was held under the theme; “In Partnership with Men and Boys in Empowering Women and Girls”, and the keynote speakers included Prof Sylvia Tamale from the School of Law, Makerere University, Dr. Thelma Awori from the Institute for Social Transformation and Ms. Sophia Klumpp from AFRIpads Ltd.
In her remarks, Prof. Sylvia Tamale informed participants that the call to engage men in empowering women was not new. She said the call was first made in 1994 at the International Conference for Population and Development and that it has been re-echoed at several UN summits and regional symposiums. “Today we see a trend in the development industry where UN agencies, bilateral donors and Multi-national agencies like the IMF and World Bank are insisting that if you are working on gender equality, you must involve men,” she said. She however noted that men have not been very instrumental in empowering women. “The relative freedoms and opportunities that women enjoy today are a result of feminist struggles, advancement in science and technology, as well as the increasing education and employment Prof Slyviaopportunities for women and girls,” she explained.
Prof. Tamale expressed concern that the gains so far attained as a result of feminist struggles are under threat due to the many emerging men’s organizations with an agenda set to reverse the feminist gains in a bid to maintain the patriarchal status quo. “Given the realities of male privileges and the strong institutional power that still holds true today, it is extremely important that serious attention is paid to the terms under which men work with women on gender equality,” she advised. She noted that if women are to push the gains so far attained further down the road of emancipation and gender justice, attention should be paid to changing the attitudes of African men.
Prof. Tamale called for the transformation of the institutions that produce and reproduce gender ironies. “Men can only partner with women as allies not principals in the gender struggle,” she emphasised.
Dr Thelma Awori noted that the biggest challenge to gender equality is the fear factor. “Women tend to pamper men even when they wrong them due to fear of the repercussion of their actions. Men too fear losing prestige, access to power and leadership,” she said. She noted that trust and communication are very important aspects in empowering and creating mutual respect.
KlupperAFRIpads’ Sophia Klumpp called for increased sensitization and empowerment of men to accept and support women faced by the numerous feminist challenges. “Men should view women as partners in development and not subordinates,” she said. Ms Klumpp noted with dismay that men tend to shun women and girls faced by feminist challenges, especially menstruation. She called for the empowerment of the girl child with the protection and confidence she needs to attend school, no matter the time of the month. AFRIpads works to curb the high rates of menstruation-related absenteeism among primary and secondary schoolgirls in east Africa by providing affordable, high quality sanitary pads that provide the protection needed to attend school during their menstruation.
The Deputy Dr AworiVice Chancellor in Charge of Academic Affairs, Assoc. Prof. Okello Ogwang, commended the School of Women and Gender Studies for always providing platform for discussions aimed at improving humanity.
The event was crowned with a performance by the Rafiki Theatre group.