A Letter to My Young Self – The Realities of Our Social Values

Posted October 3, 2020 from Uganda
Belinda Nansaasi was crowned Miss Curvy 2019 on Friday in Kampala. (New Vision Photo)

Dear Grace,

Today is a special day in your life. Happy 17th Birthday!

I write this letter to you with love and compassion as a woman, mother and friend. Growing from childhood through adolescence into womanhood is a journey you are going through; a journey full of love, anxiety, mixed feelings, self-discovery and sometimes uncertainty of what future the world holds for you as a woman.

You don’t have to worry because you have a shoulder to lean on. Everyone goes through this cycle although with varied experiences; a journey you should anticipate to navigate through thorns, mountains, valleys and excitement. You need to come to terms with our cultures to be able to navigate through with resilience and conquer.

Grace, I know you are growing up surrounded by your Iteso kindred and elders who often use proverbs to explain every statement and situation. Yes. we live in a society full of disapproval and biases towards women. Until you come to understand the central role culture plays in your place as a woman then can you be able to navigate through life exultantly. I love our culture but it can also be our prison. You have heard statements that have tended to put one under pressure and creating urgency in some aspects in your life.

As a young woman growing up, I fantasied getting married and having children as I was made to believe that for a woman to have a fulfilled life, she must be married. But I also saw our society put pressure on my peers to marry and to specifically men of the families’ choice in order to make marriage a form of social identity. That is, in order for a woman to be successful and be respected in the community, she has to be married.  

When I turned twenty years, my peers and elders uttered statements like; always remember ‘a woman is like a flower that blooms in the morning and withers’ in the evening, so watch your age!  Creating an impression that once a woman grows past her youth, she loosses value. A popular saying was “An unmarried woman is an antelope (in the hunting field); even that one who wouldn’t throw his spear stoops about; “If a young woman says no to marriage just wait until her breasts sag’. Such statements made me feel inadequate. However, your grand father always encouraged me to seek economic independence before marriage and the only way I could do this was through an education and sustainable income /job. I must confess that despite the pressures and intimidation I was confronted with, this has been the best decision I ever made concerning my life.

Do you remember when you were 10 years old, when you led the kids drama on parents day? That was leadership! Leadership is learnt. Yes, Leadership can be Learned! I want you to know that leadership is something that you can work at and develop over time. It's not all built around inborn personality traits. Even the best leaders you can think of didn't have these skills honed from day one. Look at the great women in Uganda today in various positions of leadership. Such as Rt Hon. Rebecca Kadaga; speaker of the Parliament of Uganda. She has challenged the status quo that defines that only men can be leaders in our culture. I am glad quite a number of women have played a very significant part in the development of Uganda. However, they continue to face stereotypes, discrimination and exclusion in all spheres of life. Proverbs such as *“It is awful to ask a woman to guard a hyena”* portray the subordination of women when it comes to leadership.

For instance, outspoken women within the political environment of Uganda (Dr. Stella Nyanzi, Hon. Miria Matembe and Hon Winnie  Byanyima) are still seen as men in a women’s body. These women have been active in all spheres of development and politics in Uganda. As women it not a smooth path but we will continue to face traditional stereotypes and name calling. Our society has continued to view women and their successes from the point of view of men.

It is a reality that the objectification of women permeates our society even today in this 21st century. In Uganda our society’s dominant narratives, women are most of the time objectified, whereas their male counterparts are accorded subject status. I see this even in the media, advertisement depicting women as sexual objects gratifying men’s sexual demands.

I agree with Margaret Sentamu-Masagazi the Executive Director of Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA) who says that media sexism shape opinions and yet destroys, ridicules and is negative by all standards. She has called for the need to end it instead of allowing it to grow and permeate our society.

This can still be witnessed even today, I refer to a recent incident of a Ugandan artist Shafik Walukagga, popularly known as Fik Fameica who was sued by Prasidia Nagasha for releasing a song entitled ‘My woman my property’, a song that undermines women and violates the rights of women and girls in society. The song demeans, undermines, and discriminates against women and girls in Uganda. This song resonates with this African proverb “An unmarried woman is like a cloth in the market but a married woman is the property of her husband”.

Last year female Ugandan activists slammed a government campaign to use “curvy women” as a tourism “product”, which sparked a furor in the nation. Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda unveiled the campaign at a press conference attended by a bevy of curvaceous women. “Uganda is endowed with beautiful women. Their beauty is unique and diverse. That’s why we decided to use the unique beauty, the curves to make this beauty a product to be marketed along with what we already have as a country ranging from nature, the language and food, to make it a tourist attraction,” Kiwanda told the media. However, Ugandan women were outraged at this and called for Kiwanda’s resignation, he did not. “This is perversion. To think women can be used as sex objects in this age and time is an absurdity and we condemn it,” Rita Aciro, executive director of the Uganda Women’s Network. Hon. Winnie Kiiza said the move came “at the time (when) women face fear and stigma in a male-dominated society”.

A lot of strides have been made in our country to change the negative cultures about women but since it’s a process of socialization it will continue evolving for years. Every woman just has to make a contribution beginning with herself. Today I share with you my experience and thoughts as a woman who has journeyed this path. Proverbs such as these “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.’ Eleanor Roosevelt; “The seeds of success in every nation on Earth are best planted in women and children.” have kept me motivated.

Happy Birthday Grace as you travel the journey as a change maker for the next generations!



This story was submitted in response to My Voice, Our Equal Future.

Comments 5

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Nini Mappo
Oct 04
Oct 04

Hello Ikirimat,
It is true how African proverbs are used to say degrading things about women. I am glad that you had a supportive grandfather who encouraged you to ignore the lies of what is is to be a woman. and here you are today, raising your voice against objectification of women and the very male attitudes that would have prevented you from rising.
Good on you, keep at at it.

Oct 04
Oct 04

Thank you Nini for your comments of love and encouragement.

Oct 05
Oct 05

Dear Grace,
Thank you for sharing your letter to your self..For some reasons, your line "i love our culture but it can also be our prison," struck a very strong chord in me.. I came from a culture where "family" and "close family ties" almost become an idol.. I was a big fan and still i admire family and close family ties in its genuine sense of unconditional love, belongingness, and acceptance.. But, in my case, my deepest wounds are brought by some in the family unit and staying in it not only cages me in but rips me apart..So, i chose to break away and am in a healing journey..It's tough, painful, isolating and lonely...but, it's necessary to redeem the young girl and the woman in me, so she could be nurtured to the kind of person that God intends her to be.. as I write this comment, i still feel the pain..but, i'm stronger now..I am making a contribution that's starting with myself and world pulse is among God's vessels in helping me do this..in a powerful but humble way..
Again, thanks for sharing and all the best in your journey as a changemaker for the next generation!

Your sister,

Oct 09
Oct 09

sister Ironclay
Thank you so much for your response. Im glad you resonate with my experience/words.
May you be blessed too.

Oct 13
Oct 13

Hello Ikirimat

How lucky that you had a wise grandfather who saw the potential in you at an age when you did not even know anything about the importance of education.

I am grateful that you have shared your letter with World Pulse, but I am also glad that you are exposing the many contradictions inherent in our Uganda!

As the first country to produce the first female vice-president on the African continent, as a country touted for its women-progressive Constitution, as a country that has perhaps the most vocal female politicians (Matembe, Winnie) on the continent, and as a country that was the envy of women's progress in political leadership in 1986 and early 1990s, the truth is that women remain targets of sexism, abuse, ridicule as the "curvy" incident clearly demonstrated, and all forms of violence against women.

Women who go against the grain, like Dr. Stella Nyanzi are subject to all kinds of intimidation, including unlawful incarceration in order to silence them.
I have also heard men in very high positions saying "women have made it big in Uganda, but what more do they want?"

There are women who have made it very big, no doubt, but patriarchy and misogyny are still deeply rooted in Ugandan society.

Nonetheless, I encourage you to keep writing more letters, and my wish would be for you to send your letter to young girls in schools not only in Teso, but in other parts of the country.

Your are a great role model! Keep it up. More power to you.