Women and Children Last

I am often asked the question: “Why does Shanti Uganda only serve women?” and “Why doesn’t Shanti include men in the Women’s Income Generating Group?” or “Why don’t you have an adolescent boys program?”

The other day while attending my friend’s university reunion I found myself intrigued and spellbound over the most trivial argument.

The event was held last Sunday on the sports grounds of Makerere University in Kampala. I arrived shortly before lunch and sat down to catch up with my friend and ‘meet and greet’ his friends. I was given a large paper cup of fresh juice which much to my dismay I couldn’t enjoy since I was still stuffed from the lunch I had eaten before arriving. I accepted it anyhow biting at the straw and milking the drink while I took in the event. As the hour passed, my friend became more absorbed in catching up with his old schoolmates and I turned my attention to the various goings-on around me.

My attention came to rest upon a small argument that was brewing under a tree between a young university-aged man and a similarly aged young woman. It was apparent that the jerry-can full of fresh juice that had only an hour ago been passed out so plentifully, was now starting to dry up. The man who was seated with his hand on the handle of the jerry-can had evidently appointed himself as protector and official distributor of the remaining drops of juice. The woman was kneeled in front of the man with a water bottle at the spout of the jerry-can and evidently expected more juice! Though I was seated too far away to hear the words of the argument it was clear the two did not see eye-to-eye on how the remaining juice should be distributed. As the argument became more heated the young woman asserted her position by also grabbing hold of the jerry-can. The young woman argued ever more fiercely and finally the self-appointed distributer reluctantly filled her bottle to about the half way mark less an ounce or two. While the two had been arguing, an older gentleman (or ‘mzee’) stepped over with his own water bottle; as soon as the woman left, the mzee swooped in with his bottle. Without argument or exchange the young man filled the mzee’s bottle about three quarters of the way full. The mzee however did not budge and it was clear the old gentleman expected his bottle filled to the brim! The young man looked up at the mzee and in an exasperated tone questioned “Sebo?!”, as if to say “Dude? Seriously?!” Despite this though he tilted the jerry can and filled the bottle to the very brim. No sooner had the mzee left did a young boy of about eight happen over with his own empty bottle. The young man poured enough for two child-sized mouthfuls into the bottle. The child held the bottle up to eye level to evaluate his meager helping. His expression didn’t show much in the way of surprise or resentment but rather disappointed acceptance.

The scene was so striking and annoyed me so, that I almost went over to the young man to get a handle on his logic or reason for arguing with the woman, filling the man’s juice bottle to the brim, and sending the child away with just enough to wet his appetite.  I thought, “You couldn’t dream up a more perfect analogy for the current imbalanced state of human rights existing in far too many corners of the world to mention.” The woman is made to beg and fight like a petulant child to get what she wants, while the man needn’t even ask, and the child has no voice at all. I thought better of embarrassing my friend so instead I turned around to him and recounted the story. My friend, who is by now entirely used to my hot-temper and frequent outbursts on injustice, inequality and generally all things exasperating about Uganda, laughed at me good-naturedly; but finally agreed it did present an interesting microcosm of a very disturbing reality.

 So what’s the point? Ok well, the point is; though I don’t deny there is a lack of opportunity for men and boys in Uganda….to learn about the plight of women and girls and get properly schooled on how to be a responsible and considerate father and husband; to the District Health Officials, the sub-county reps and anyone who has ever begged the question of me, “Why the gender bias?” The answer is simple. Because in times of scarcity and poverty the rule of thumb remains: Women and Children Last.

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