A feat born out of diligence: MUK honours female professors

By Vision Reporter

CLAD in a black and white striped gomesi, Prof. Victoria Mwaka walked forward to receive her award. She was one of the 10 women who were recognised for their academic excellence, which enabled them to climb the ladder to rank of professorship, an achievement that had, until recently, been held by on

By Frederick Womakuyu

CLAD in a black and white striped gomesi, Prof. Victoria Mwaka walked forward to receive her award. She was one of the 10 women who were recognised for their academic excellence, which enabled them to climb the ladder to rank of professorship, an achievement that had, until recently, been held by only men.

The function was held at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel over the weekend. The retired head of department for gender and women studies worked for 13 years as the head of the geography at Makerere University.

Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, the university vice-chancellor, said the number of female professors at Makerere rose from one in 2008 to six today. “This is due to their hard work and gender equality programmes like affirmative action (the 1.5 points given to girls admitted at the university).” He also attributed the achievement to a gender-sensitive constitution that aims at reducing gender disparities.”

Others recognised were Prof. Lillian Tibatemwa, the acting deputy vice-chancellor, academic affairs; Prof. Joyce Kikafunda of the department of food science and technology at Makerere University; Prof. Harriet Mayanja of the Department of internal medicine, Makerere University; and Prof. Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo of the department of women and gender studies, Makerere University.

Also awarded were Prof. Ruth Mukama of the Institute of Languages, Makerere University; Prof. Joy Kwesiga, the vice-chancellor Kabale University; Prof. Josephine Namboze of the School of Public Health, Makerere University; Prof. Mary Okwakol, the vice-chancellor of Busitema and Prof. Maria Musoke of Makerere University Library.

Women still held back by biases
In her speech, Mwaka said the upward mobility of women would not be difficult if it were not for gender biases and the multiple responsibilities a woman carries in a community. “Some people think women are supposed to be average in anything and yet if a man gets average, he will not be happy. Who am I to stand before you? I had never known that I was important until today. This award says I am a great woman and let it be forever,” she said amidst cheers.

Mwaka hailed from a polygamous family, with a father who has a motto: “No child is supposed to repeat a class. If a girl fails, she is supposed to get married, and the boy is supposed to labour in the farm labour until he marries.”

“I was lucky because I was a little brighter than the rest of my siblings. All the girls in my family failed, dropped out of school and married. The boys also failed and dropped out. They concentrated on enjoying my father’s money.”

Her parents were not educated. During holidays, Mwaka would read The Uganda Argus newspaper to her father and assist him to count his livestock. “Whenever a visitor came home, my father would tell me to speak English. He was very proud of me,” she explains.

Mwaka says whenever she excelled in class, her father gave her a gift, but whenever her position was seventh or above, he would give her seven strokes of the cane. After her first degree she did her my master’s and at that time, a master’s degree could easily be upgraded into a PhD, depending on one’s performance.

“I read hard and my master’s was upgraded to a PhD in 1975, without me doing the third degree. “I became a lecturer in 1976 and immediately was made an acting professor because many senior people had left Uganda during Idi Amin’s regime. I got married and had three children. I also had my PhD,” Mwaka explains.

Although it was hard to strike a balance between academics and family, she had a supportive husband. “My man was my babysitter and at one time, he looked after our children while I was away for studies.”

While at Makerere University, Mwaka realised that many girls were unable to pursue higher education. Many were victims of domestic violence. “I started the department of women and gender studies to address their plight,” she says. Mwaka groomed 15 women and five men. “Today, I speak for the department of women and gender studies and for Mwaka as an achiever. But the struggle continues as we build for the future.”

Males outnumber females
Makerere has about 55 male professors and six females ones.
Prof. Josephine Namboze of the School of Public Health and a pioneer female student at the Medical School, says during her time, she was the only Ugandan girl at the Medical School.

“Probably there was no provision for female students in the original plan of the medical school. During the three clinical years before graduation, it was a requirement to do clerkship on the medical and surgical wards at all times of the day.”

Since the Medical School had accommodation only for male students, Namboze had to reside at the nurse’s hostel, while she took all her meals with her male colleagues. “In the fourth year, while I was doing clerkship in obstetrics and gynaecology, I had to live in the ward for one month in order to fulfill the requirements,” she says.

Namboze had the privilege of shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth (RIP), who officiated at the graduation ceremony because she was the Chancellor of London University, to which Makerere University College was affiliated.

She said during internship, expectant mothers crowded her examination room even when her male counterparts were free. “This was either out of curiosity or preference by women to be examined by one of their own. Sometimes, I felt compelled to ask some of them to see interns.”

Prof. Joyce Kikafunda of the faculty of food science and technology, Makerere University says she was born at the time when educating girls was not fashionable. “But I did not give up. In primary, I passed in first grade and joined secondary school and equally performed well both at ordinary and advanced level,” she explained.

Kikafunda scored a first class degree in agriculture at Makerere University in 1976. “This first class stood for over 20 years. I went to Canada and got two degrees — a master’s and a husband. I roamed the world and later settled at Makerere University, where I started the department of food science and technology,” she added.

Kikafunda said she later did her PhD and returned to Makerere, where she grew through the ranks to become a professor, a position, she says, she has attained through hard work and patience.

Prof. Ruth Mukama of the Institute of Languages, Makerere University, said she got her PhD in the 1970s, but was often denied promotion by her male colleagues at the top. Her troubles started at the University of Zambia, where she was a lecturer.

“My promotion to senior lecturer was delayed for three years,” she said. “The vice-chancellor tried to block my promotion and sent my papers to the minister of education. The minister deferred to sign my promotion to the position of senior lecturer. I confronted the minister and each of those men face-to-face and they promoted me.”

Prof. Harriet Mayanja of the department of internal medicine, Makerere University, said: “My father encouraged us to speak English. He taught us how to read and write. I was playful in primary and my teachers thought that I was not serious.”

But she passed in first grade and joined secondary school and even then, her teachers did not trust her. She was still playful and they thought she would fail. “But I believed in myself.”

Mayanja passed O’level and joined A’level where her teachers told her to do physics, chemistry and mathematics. “I refused because I knew I wanted to study physics, chemistry and biology to become a doctor,” she said.

Mayanja emerged the best in medical school with five credits, a record that stood until the system changed to semesters.

During her time, girls formed only 10% of the medical students. “When I became a lecturer, I worked hard to reverse this trend. I made sure that for higher education, girls took at least 25% of the scholarships. Some of my colleagues argued that this would create imbalance, but I assured them that the ground was levelled. Women have to strike a balance between studies and family,” she said.

First Lady Janet Museveni said congratulated the women and said the achievement re-affirmed the Beijing platform.

The vice-chancellor of Busitema University, said hers was a long journey. “I was born to uneducated, humble parents. At that time, most parents thought it was a waste of resources to educate girls. But my parents took me to school till I graduated in 1973,” she says.

Okwakol was invited back to Makerere University in 1974. “I married in 1974. My parents told me to postpone marriage till I completed my master’s, but I declined since I knew what I wanted and how to get it. I completed in 1975 and became a senior lecturer in 1988.”

She immediately embarked on her doctorate studies at Oxford University in the UK, but could not complete her studies. “I dropped out to take care of my children. I didn’t return, but I completed my PhD in 1992.” Her message to aspiring professors is: “The difference between impossibility and possibility is in courage, determination, destination, diligence and focus.

“You can achieve this and I urge you to go for it. My parents had the foresight and sacrificed a lot for me. They paid fees, encouraged me and gave me all I needed.”

A feat born out of diligence: MUK honours female professors