The 9th convening of the Uganda Feminist Forum(UFF) will be held from 28th February to 2nd March, 2022 under the the theme, “Feminism as Practice”. The forum held annually, is an independent space that brings together Ugandan feminists to reflect and deliberate on key issues of concern to the movement. Postponed a few times, and now being held in the middle of a protracted pandemic which has seen untold destruction, this year’s convening is providing space for us to interrogate the ways we live our politics as feminists, as we seek to strengthen our movement in readiness for the difficult task of rebuilding and transforming our world into a just one.
The 8th convening of the UFF was held in 2019 under the theme, “Fearing our Silence and Silencing our Fear.” This gathering, the biggest in UFF history, was held on the shores of the R.Nile and brought together 100 feminists. It was convened in the spirit of encouraging critical inquiry, collective reflection, healing and a rekindled commitment to dismantling patriarchy through a politicisation of silence . The theme was inspired by the writings of Feminist thinker and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde.
The UFF was inaugurated in 2008 on the heels of the African Feminist Forum, and adopted the Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists as the template for our philosophy, and the aspirational guide for the principle values that all who are members must uphold. The UFF was an attempt by a community of feminists, living and working in Uganda, to congregate, reflect on their politics, and strategize together about the struggles they were individually and collectively waging against the forces of patriarchal domination within Uganda. The Feminist Forum has grown through various successes and challenges and has seen a large influx of younger feminists in the last five years.
This year the UFF has found us in the third year of a pandemic that has upended life as we know it. The limits of our resilience and adaptability have been tested like never before. Every time we think we have cracked it and learned to live with the pandemic, a new phenomenon has sprung up and tossed us back to square one. The tools of “doing” life that have always come in handy when responding to adversity have been inadequate as we have faced a barrage of loss; of our loved ones, our livelihoods and our mental health, to mention a few. Forced into isolation, sometimes through harsh and often arbitrary lockdown rules, we have missed life
events that usually brought us in communion, even failing to honor those we have lost by sending them off in love and dignity, surrounded by those who cared about them. This state of affairs has created a tinderbox of human rights violations with escalated cases of violence against women and children in homes, and unprecedented sexual violence against girls resulting in high rates of teenage pregnancies, contributed to by school shutdowns for 2 years. The future of a whole generation of children, particularly girls, now lies in the balance, with hundreds of thousands of children not returning to school. The State has also used the pandemic to instrumentalize public health laws to penalise and further marginalise groups they consider undesirable; from opposition politicians to poor people, to LGBTQI persons. The pandemic has also shown the vulgar inequality between the rich and the poor, both at home and internationally and exposed in sharp relief, the fallacies of capitalism, best illustrated by the oxygen crisis in Uganda, vaccine apartheid globally. That pregnant woman and LGBTQI communities, some of the earliest victims of the government’s lockdown rules, were the canaries in the coal mine as regards the challenges of this pandemic, and that women and girls in Uganda continue to be disproportionately impacted by the measures taken by government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, reminds us that the management of this pandemic is a feminist issue.
Why this conversation now?
The time is ripe for Ugandan Feminists to come together and think together about the state of our country and world and try to chart a path forward rooted in our feminist vision for Uganda. In charting this path and casting this vision, a re-examination of our feminist politics and how practice it is in order. Because the pandemic has tested our resolve, our politics and our sense of community, it is important to equally interrogate what our vocation as a movement is in times of mass suffering like this. The space to congregate and strategize together is most welcome in a time when meeting others has become a luxury many cannot afford. We have not “seen” each other in years! As is expected in any community, over the years, conflicts have happened between and among members within the UFF. Some of these conflicts are attributable to the ordinary wear and tear of human interaction; friction over difference in personality, age or experience and therefore world view. However, some of these conflicts go to the root of our politics and the nature of the feminist community we are trying to build and the kind of society we are striving to shape. Conflict attributable to homophobia, ableism, abuse of power in work and social spaces go to the root of our feminist identity and politics, and yet we cannot allow this to continue festering within a feminist space if it is going to survive and outlive us. The UFF is the space for Ugandan feminists to come together and resolve or in the very least, manage conflict. This year, we hope that the creation of a conciliatory space for the open expression of pain and discomfort will lead to healing and resolution, and the renewing of bonds of friendship and solidarity among us as feminists in Uganda.
Aside from all that, the feminist space in Uganda has grown! The number of women and girls self-identifying as feminists and organisations challenging patriarchy in different ways is growing every day. However, the challenge of differentiating between feminists who self-identify as such and practice the politic versus those wearing it as a coat that can be left at the door in certain places, has continued to plague the UFF. As such, it remains important for us to do the work of educating and nurturing more feminists into our fold in order to ensure a unified voice and radical agenda as the movement grows and changes. Organisations and individuals that do this work are few and far between (the fruit is plentiful, but the labourers are too few). How do we ensure the continuity of our movement, commit to the continued work of growing and nurturing new and younger feminists and welcoming them into the fold? Revisiting and reflecting on our values as written in the African Feminist Charter is always necessary and part of the agenda at UFF. The Forum aspires to be rooted in the understanding of patriarchy as it operates in our lives and the commitment to end it, as expressed in the charter.