OVER TO THE PUBLIC COURT: THE SAFETY OF WOMEN ON OUR STREETS

OVER TO THE PUBLIC COURT: THE SAFETY OF WOMEN ON OUR STREETS

You don’t need to first grab her hand, or touch her to get her to buy your wares, do you? And is it necessary to call her names when she pulls away or refuses to buy? Some kinsman of the devil stooped as low as smacking a teenage girl’s bottom and declaring jubilantly how soft it felt. And he smirked waiting on his next victim. These and more happen every other moment on the streets of Kampala.
Given the nature of my work, it’s inevitable that I find myself walking up and down the busy pavements of this confused city everyday. Most times in the morning, otherwise in the afternoon. Not that it would make a difference if I changed to evenings, when our hardworking mothers and sisters are pushing their tired selves to taxi parks or home on foot. Those countless vendors who litter their wares all over the pavements so that you have to move on the tips of your toes waylay them and grab them by whichever part of the body they can lay their hands on.


If you paid this madness due –the wrong word– attention, you would discover pattern in which age groups are usually victimized. A 55-year-old woman is free to concentrate on negotiating the congestion for which only political madness is to blame while young women have to watch out those hands groping at them on top of securing their bags. Meanwhile the devil’s kinsmen are pacing small distances up and down the hijacked walkways, taking liberties with the woman they fancy, giving her unsolicited company, breathing into her ear and…. My 17-year-old niece will tell you how discomfoting it is.
‘You have to convince them you’re not interested in their merchandise or have no money, without telling them to let go of your hand (for if you do, they will not hesitate to insult your mother). He will defiantly swing and stand right in front of you, and press the top you have no interest in wearing down against your boobs with impunity. Even if it is a knicker, he will still press it down on….’ Such is the plight of female pedestrians in Kampala, especially in what is called downtown-Kampala.
Where do these vendors get the powers to block pedestrians or even mount unnecessary ‘guards of honor’ where every female that passes is judged and sexual suggestions made at her?
I have not heard our parliamentarians or city leaders calling for serious action against what the Japanese woman calls akamanyiilo. And this indecency has crept up into the corridors of parliament with some female MPs complaining their male colleagues sexually harass them.


Back to the streets anyway. Recently I challenged a police officer at the small Namirembe Road Police Post to tell me why they simply look on as such things happen in their presence. He smiled it off; he was communicating the normalization of public sexual harassment of girls and women on our streets. For the past nine or ten days I have been racking my brain for a solution, or something like that.
I know it’s what the late Lucky Dube called it —a crazy world— but in the sane men and women out there I have hope of ending the kamanyiilo. I call for the power of the people to prevail. Yes, we’re not doing enough as sane citizens to protect girls and women against such harassment the continuation of which in the open speaks of worse and more in homes, schools, workplaces, and elsewhere. May the power of the people be demonstrated in this matter (too).
Rise people, rise.

SSEKYONDA ZEDDEKIA
Uganda Christian University, MBChB3