Uganda has always been perceived as a generally safe and pleasant country by natives and foreigners alike. However, dating back to May of this year, Ugandans, and women in particular, have feared for their lives as several bodies of women are discovered. The women are often times brutally raped, strangled, mutilated and their bodies discarded like garbage. It is now four months since the first gruesome killing and our security services are yet to solve the crimes despite the arrests of various suspects. Wild illuminati conspiracy theories have surfaced instead, pedaled by members of the public and haplessly touted by the country’s internal affairs Minister.
Whatever the reason for these murders, it is clear that women are being targeted. What is even more saddening, is that the main messages being sent are “women, stay at home after dark,” “Do not walk alone” and “Inform your family and friends where you are going”. While these are words of advice that women have heard over and over, these words of advice only normalize violence and send out the following subliminal messages: “You were killed because you walked alone,” “Your life ended because you left your job at night”. How about we send very stern messages that violence against women should never be tolerated – “Do not kill” and “Do not take advantage of another human being”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes violence against women as a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions”. The statistics on women who suffer from violence are harrowing. We are not as surprised when a woman is beaten or killed because we have swept this epidemic under the rug for so long. Gatekeepers of this patriarchal society teach girls not to speak out when harmed by a man. This means young girls grow up expecting violence and accepting that it will happen and that they are to deal with it quietly. This in turn shows men that they are bound to get away with violence, negatively impacting on women and girls’ mobility rights.
As we think of Sarah Nelima, the latest victim, let us break down and dismantle societal norms on violence against women. Nelima wasn’t killed because she was alone. Rather, she was killed because an opportunist killer or killers took advantage of the situation. Let us teach young people and ourselves that Nelima’s life didn’t end because she was a woman walking alone, but because someone was evil enough to cut her life short.