During my time of growing up as a child, no one ever spoke of rape or sexual violence. All I heard about was pregnancy. It was even taboo to speak about it. This was spoken among peers not parents or teachers either. But I was ‘protective’ of myself and friends. But this did not exempt me from the prevailing vulnerabilities that come with growing up as a girl. During the call for stories to celebrate this year’s day of the girl children, I looked through my life and this is just that stood out in my mind. My life experience and how I maneuvered through life so full of vulnerable situations.
I remember when I was 12 years old, my mother relocated to the village after a war that saw government regimes change in Uganda. I remained in town with my father but went to visit my mother during school holidays. Being in one of the most remote areas, medical facilities were so far away. My mother had a male family friend whom treated people but I knew he was not a qualified medic (quack doctor). I got a fever and my mother called him to assess my condition and also treat me. He found me covered in bed because I was feeling fever with a high temperature. So, he used his hand to gauge my temperature but this was not just temperature check. I remember him touching particular parts of my body claiming to check my temperature. Which body temperature had to be checked by touching my private parts? I resisted it and I hated him for doing that. All I knew I did not want it but I did not know it was wrong. Who knows what would have followed after the temperature check? I kept silent and never told my mother.
In the early 1987s there was an insurgency that hit Teso my home area. At 16 years of age, I had just sat my Ordinary Level Secondary education examination. I was a religious girl who never missed church service. There was an announcement that confirmation classes had begun in the parish and enrollment was still going on. Eager to complete my religious sacrament of confirmation, I went together with my friend (Clara) to register for the confirmation classes. I remember, it was a Saturday mid-morning I went with Clara to register. We were warmly welcomed into the living room by the 2 reverend priests. They had their office inside the house. After exchanging pleasantries, we were asked to wait for some 10 minutes as they prepared to attend to us. I was then taken to the office the reverend to go register. On entering the office this muscular, reverend in his 40s forcefully tried to wrestle me and rape me on the office table. As small as I was, we wrestled in silence until he gave up. No registration took place and I came out like nothing had happened but in horror. I just wanted to leave the place as soon as I could. My friend (Clara) did not know what had happened. It’s today I ask myself supposing the worst had happened and I got raped, where would I have gone to report?. Yes society would have out rightly blamed me!
The insurgency that made me stay at home for slightly over one year out of school. As a teenager who was looking at joining my A’level, I felt my dreams were shuttered. I saw, the worst and felt I wanted to defend myself and contemplated joining the army. Fortunately, peace gradually returned
As an adolescent, this was a very tough time where I had to sober up and keep being positive about my future which seemed dark. Most of my friends dropped out of school due to this interruption. Weeks had turned into months and months into a year and peace was not coming anytime soon. I became frustrated with the situation and it was at this time I decided (with the support of my father) to find my way to the city (Kampala). I took this risky journey with my friend (Clara). We boarded an army truck through rebel -controlled territory; it was the only means of transport through that route. We got stranded in Jinja town because we arrived late, but a fatherly Samaritan and stranger accommodated us through the night without harming us.
Peace gradually returned to Teso and schools opened, I got admission into one of the best schools in the region. Soon I was excited to return to school and this particular morning had boarded a bus to school. Little did I know that the journey was not going to be direct. A journey that was meant to take 8 hours took 2 days. Due to the bus mechanical problems, half way the journey (Tororo) at 7.30 pm passengers were told of the changes in the route. The bus was going to spend a night one hour away in Busia town and next day would embark on the journey. There was no electricity in this town so it was all dark; I knew no one in this town; I had no money to get accommodation; there were no mobile phones.
Every passenger who had where to spend a night left. We remained only 2 girls and one woman with her baby and thought we would sleep inside the bus. Stranded and vulnerable. However, the bus conductor and the driver hatched an evil plan and told us we could not sleep inside the bus since it was risky. He convinced one of the girls that he had found her accommodation in a cottage and took her. Next, the woman with her baby was also taken to sleep in a cottage. Meanwhile this old man who was the driver was already convincing me he had got accommodation for me. I had already sensed danger but choose to stand firm and told them that they either take me to the place they took the woman with the baby or I stay in the bus. This argument took almost an hour until they accepted. I was eventually, taken to a small hut were this woman had secured a small bed. We shared the bed (we slept across the bed ) just to secure safety. Next morning, we set on our journey in the same bus. So supposing that old man and bus conductor decided to harm me??
These attacks don't even stop when you become a woman. when I had just qualified from university and began work and had my first child, a man I respected like my older brother and was a husband to my friend tried to rape me. We traveled as a team of 4 people for a workshop but because we set off late, we had to spend a night in a guest house mid way the journey with the hope of continuing the next day. He came to my room to pick a document and tried to wrestle me down to rape me. This took about 5 minutes and I felt he was about to overpower me; I softened myself as a defense mechanism and asked him to get condoms (this was the only trick I had to get out). He excitedly went out to buy condoms. Of course I locked my door after him. He returned later only to realise it was a defense mechanism. Women go through a lot of risks in work places, homes, churches, everywhere. There was no law about Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in work places that time. I am glad there is realization of the need to ensure every workplace has PSEA policy.
So, as we celebrate the day of the girl child, we should bear in mind that girls are constantly faced with challenges everywhere and every day of their lives. Even when we think they are safe; they may not be. So, what are we doing to help them navigate the challenges safely? I am glad I have continued to use my voice to speak to girls about sexuality, encourage them make the right choices, be an ear for them; inspire them with my life experience stories; advocate for fairness.
Happy Day of the Girl child celebrations!
(My friend Clara is today a Major in UPDF Army and Commandant of the Army Nursing Training Institute in Uganda)