IN SOLIDARITY WITH SHEEBAH KARUNGI
Uganda practices common law which is imported from its former colonial master, Britain. According to British law, rape was termed as a crime against property, which meant that when a woman was raped, she could not seek redress in her capacity as a human being but rather through her husband, father, brother, uncle, or grandfather who could then claim that a crime was committed against their (man’s) property. In traditional African society, when a girl was found pregnant and her pregnancy attributed to rape, the girl’s brother was banished or punished along with the girl for it was the brother’s duty to preserve the girl’s (sister’s) ‘virtue’ and his failure at this duty of protection earned him a reprimand. These are some of the African customs and imported British customs as regards women.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s that rape was considered by the international community a crime against a person; whether they be married, unmarried, young, or old. According to our own Ugandan Penal Code, rape is considered a crime against morality. This implies that the offender has gone against what is considered upright, permissible and acceptable behavior to abide by in a community or society as opposed to committing an offense against a person the way that battery (beating, wounding) is.
Therein lies our foundation for addressing rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, defilement, and all other sexually related offenses. Looking at what the court procedure is in prosecuting sexually related offenses, the victim along with the prosecution must corroborate their case as a matter of judicial practice, not law: what this means is, if the courts deem it fit, they can convict the accused but they would rather prove beyond reasonable doubt by proving through some other material fact, evidence other than the victim’s testimony that indeed a crime was committed, but even more so that the accused indeed committed the crime alleged. This judicial practice of corroboration has its merits but many a time, it works against the victim and their case often resulting in the accused walking free.
That’s the background against which revered musician Sheebah Karungi (Sheebah) voices her disgruntlement over the attempted rape.
Sheebah who has always identified as a feminist is receiving backlash that weaponizes her feminist beliefs to demand that she names the perpetrator after all she is a fearless feminist. This sheds light on the many stereotypes that victims of rape, gender-based violence, and sexually related offenses are held to. What this line of demand implies is this, “you’re a poised, confident and popular, you don’t qualify to be a victim of rape; attempted or actual.” It further asks, “how can a celebrity of your stature who is feminist identifying ever be a potential victim of rape? You must be a liar and this can only be a publicity stunt” and all other undertones. This response shines a light on the depravity of a society that always has its victims, in this case, women, to blame for anything that happens to them.
Society, reaffirmed by social media and traditional media, has relegated women to the status of second-class citizens such that instead of focusing on addressing rape and violence against women, we simply contribute further to women’s violations. By insinuating that Sheebah’s description of her attacker as a powerful, protected man, is a ploy to draw the sympathy of rich, powerful men to her defense goes to show society’s opinion of women as scheming jezebels. Further reading journalist Andrew Mwenda’s response to Sheebah, one questions his entitlement to public sympathy which in the same tone vilifies a woman for seeking.
Sheebah’s identification with the feminist ideology causes many to argue that she could name her perpetrator to end all the character assassination against her. It is not as simplistic claims Sheebah K intellectually knows she could put a name and face to her perpetrator as demanded by the public but emotionally, she knows she’ll just be another mud bath so the perpetrator can walk scot-free. To put it simply, naming the perpetrator isn’t the solution you’re all expecting it to be because unfortunately, the issue of violence against women, and sexually related offenses is one more of power rather than logic; many a time men harass, rape, assault, cat call women for their own ego (to boost it privately, publicly) or even to add to their headcount thus becoming powerful albeit for a moment. You could argue that power denotes political power but look at religious leaders preaching that pregnant school girls shouldn’t be accepted back into school instead of shedding light on how the girls got pregnant through defilement and actually preaching against defilement vehemently; such is the power that without recognizing it, expecting it, analyzing it, relations that pertain to gender are governed by power often and always is exercised against, over women.
Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp memes have all had their say in the matter with many arguing that Sheebah deserves it for the way she dresses. I can argue all year against all the flaws in this argument beginning with the fact that males have been reduced and acknowledged as these incorrigible beasts that any behavior from them is justifiable, excusable at best or that women are to blame for rape if they’re wearing ‘indecent’ clothes, drunk, walking or even alive for that matter but I’ll concentrate on the angle of she brought it upon herself. The go-to argument raised against Sheebah K is that she brought it upon herself by her dress code. What in essence this argument is saying is that “oh no, Sheebah was assaulted by only one man, that’s a little less than I expected, she’s one unlucky woman to attract only one man” because let’s face it, the argument that she dressed to entice is saying that she dressed to entice all males that cast their eye on her meaning she was ripe, calling upon all of them to assault her, attempt to rape her and as such, only one doing the deed isn’t so bad thus she was unlucky for only attracting one man. We need to respect women as human beings for one is not born but becomes a woman as beautifully articulated by Simone de Beauvoir.
Sheebah K is only the tip of the iceberg of what women undergo in a world rigged, and predetermined against their very nature; to observe how society, social and traditional media are handling the issue is to fully understand that there are expectations of victims from their standing socially, economically, politically (when a member of Parliament couldn’t wade off a stalker) and other criteria used to classify who is ideal and isn’t, who would make a more believable story in the courts of justice, court of public opinion, and how to keep women in check. Until such a time when we start off questioning rape allegations by not questioning the circumstances of dress code, sobriety, the choice not to name the perpetrator, victim’s profession and/or occupation, relationship to the perpetrator, and any other factors used to determine how far a woman can be dragged for speaking out, then all women, girls regardless of age, marital status aren’t safe. The argument that the victim could be your daughter, wife, sister, mother, or someone known to you is obsolete; if a matter must be personal in order to appeal to your senses, or logic, to you then it’s imperative that we question that sense you’re alleging to have; you either respect humanity as vested in females, women, girls or you don’t; to have to bring it home in order for it to pose a threat, the urgency to you means it will never be as you’ll always be too unbothered by it until it’s too late by your standards.
Dear Sheebah Karungi, our sincerest prayers, and well wishes are with you in this trying time of your mortified experience, character assassination, and mental well-being and we sincerely empathize with your plight. May you find comfort, confidence, and solace in the decision(s) you take regarding yourself and know that we stand with you when you’re unsure whether or not to even stand; praying that you’ll wither this turbulent storm.
Yours in solidarity,
Nabakooza Georgia Atwijukire