By Ilonka Naziwa
RECENTLY, one of our newspapers published a story about successful women in the region. I was particularly excited because I had not read anything similar about our region.
The mentioned women were truly heroic; some more than others, but nonetheless, they all deserved the coverage.
Page after another, I read about women of valour, courage, foresight, intelligence, talent, compassion, faith, sacrificial stoicism. Indeed, I felt that by being a Ugandan woman, I was in great company. That feeling soon subsided as I came to the end of that great piece of journalism. Alarmingly, I noticed that among the sixty-something women mentioned, I had read about only two Ugandans.
I sat back and started raking my mind for the Ugandan women that should have been mentioned. I did come up with some names, but admittedly not that many. Whereas I am indignant at the poor representation of my fellow country women, the truth is, we do not celebrate them enough locally. So then, why should the international community even bother to honour them.
It is absolutely untrue that Uganda lacks great women; I believe that the apparent lack of local heroines is mainly two-fold;
Firstly, I have said before, and I will keep saying; our culture does not encourage individualism. We are brought up to try and attain a pre-defined personality. We are brought up to keep looking over our shoulders to compare ourselves with the person who seems to be doing well.
Around the time that I was applying for courses at Makerere University, if a student did not qualify for commerce, architecture, medicine, law or engineering; whatever else you were doing was considered secondary. And if a student ever declared they were studying MDD (music, dance and drama), pity was your impulsive reaction because you imagined they had dismally failed their Aâ€™level exams.
So many of us struggled to study courses we did not even like or have the natural finesse for because we so badly wanted to fit the mould. As a result, many of us are in jobs we are unhappy about, or have since quit the professions we qualified for, and are groping the recesses of our minds for things we could enjoy doing or being.
Therefore, we are excelling at nothing. This silent law against individualism holds that if you must, you can only afford to express yourself wholly and freely to those closest to you. That is why many of us know very many great women that few people know about!
Secondly, women are their own biggest enemies. Women delight in tearing each other down; we do it openly, maliciously and even sometimes subconsciously. At other times we guise it under concern, friendship and religious compassion. We women are so skilled at the art of demeaning each other; we do not even have to say a word. A look, silence, body language can all reliably communicate rejection and disapproval.
We spend so much time comparing ourselves, and the truth is; for women there is never a favourable comparison. A womanâ€™s thought pattern is as follows; If she is better than me then she is damned; for I will search for all the wrongs about her so that I can at least convince myself that she is not all that! If she is worse off than me; then she is damned again because I will need to keep all her wrongs before me, so that I am reminded constantly of my superiority. There is no winning with women. I therefore believe that if the researchers of that article had tried to find a great Ugandan woman, they would have been duly informed why their alleged heroine is not as heroic as she seems, and most likely this information would come from a fellow country-woman.
So, what do we do? Because of our unfortunate circumstances, should we settle for mediocrity, when greatness calls from within us? In his Speech â€œOur Deepest Fearâ€, said Nelson Mandela.
â€œYour playing small does not serve the worldâ€™.
I say, therefore, irrespective of what you were taught or of what they may say; go ahead and let your light shine. Give those journalists something to write aboutâ€¦next time.