Feminists are highly unlikely to pass up the opportunity to argue – perhaps in court – that women have the same capacity for moral reasoning, sound decision-making and managerial adroitness as men
By Dr Okodan Akwap
By sacking Geraldine Ssali, the deputy managing director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), and promoting a man to replace her, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija put himself on a collision course with feminists.
Many of the men and women who espouse the feminist theory will not buy the argument that Ssali’s performance at the cash-rich NSSF was objectively, professionally and fairly appraised and found “less than satisfactory.”
They are instead going to put Kasaija at the centre of a male-dominated world that purposefully, maliciously and actively creates, supports and promotes inequality, oppression and injustice.
In fact, there is no way Kasaija is going to escape charges of institutional discrimination, which, among other things, entails the denial of opportunities and equal rights to individuals or groups as a result of societal norms.
There is no gainsaying the fact that in our society, women are still fighting tooth and nail to find a spot in the boardroom. We still view women stereotypically as the “weaker sex.” They are not expected to even think of challenging decisions of men as Ssali dared to do by dragging NSSF board chairman, Patrick Kaberenge to court. He had forced her to take leave to allow investigations into her conduct at the Fund. Ssali’s triumph in court perhaps sealed her fate.
Women continue being viewed through male-tinted lenses as most useful in the kitchen, living room and “the other room” (bedroom) as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari put it rather sarcastically in October 2016 when his wife, Aisha Buhari, questioned his work and declared that she would not support his candidature if he ran for president again.
The Nigerian First Lady had further claimed that the government had been hijacked by a “few people” who were behind presidential appointments, a charge her husband pointedly dismissed with a few choice words that he had “superior knowledge” over his wife.
It is highly likely that cultural feminists will liken Kasaija’s frame of mind when declining to renew Ssali’s contract to Buhari’s dismissive attitude towards women. They will likely look to particular values associated with womanhood and femininity as an explanation for why men and women are still treated differently in a typically patriarchal society as Uganda.
Several things came to light in the wake of Kasaija’s decision. First, he retained Richard Byarugaba as NSSF managing director on an extended contract of five years instead of three. Second, he re-appointed Richard Wejuli Wabwire as the Fund’s secretary on a similar five-year contract.
Third, Kasaija promoted Patrick Ayota, the former chief finance officer, to replace Ssali, putting the Fund’s top management reins in the “strong hands” of men. Fourth, apparently to rub this in Ssali’s face, Barbra Arimi, the Fund’s head of marketing (NSSF’s highest ranking female employee now) was assigned to issue the statement about Ssali’s exit.
Why didn’t the NSSF board chairman or member read that statement?
It is normal for an employment contract to be either renewed or not, based on performance. But the story of Ssali’s disagreements of opinion – some leading to acrimonious litigation – with her boss Byarugaba and board chairman, Kaberenge, probably won’t end with her exit.
Although Kasaija says the “issue is closed” this may be the beginning of something bigger than he could have imagined.
Feminists are highly unlikely to pass up the opportunity to argue – perhaps in court – that women have the same capacity for moral reasoning, sound decision-making and managerial adroitness as men. They will parade patriarchy, especially in the sexist division of labour, appointment to top jobs and parity in remuneration for work of equal value as continuing to place women on the wrong side of gender differences, inequality and oppression.
To reduce chances of a feminist backlash, Kasaija should have searched high and low for a capable woman – and there are many in Uganda today – to step into the dainty shoes of Ssali.
Writer is the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and Management Studies, Kumi University.