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When the Ugandan feminists convened for the 9th convention of the Uganda Feminist Forum (UFF2022), one of the points echoed at the convention was to grow the movement through feminist evangelism. A young feminist organizer and law student Marion Kirabo brought this to life when she established the first feminist forum at  Uganda’s largest and oldest institution of higher learning Makerere University. Kirabo said that the idea stemmed from two main events. 

The first was her publicized participation at the UFF2022 as a panelist, which sparked the curiosity of her peers about the existence of a  feminist community in Uganda. They kept asking her how they could be part of a feminist forum. The second event that sparked this desire and informed the direction the forums would take, was the international conference of women and gender studies that was hosted by the school of gender. The panel was moderated by Prof. Sylvia Tamale who spoke about an existing gap between feminist theory and practice and the importance of bridging this gap. These two events made Kirabo realize that there was a need to provide a sense of community among feminist students at the University as well as grow together in terms of feminist knowledge and praxis. 

On the 5th of April 2022, Kirabo under the organization she founded, NextGeneration Women Initiative with support of the Makerere School of Gender Studies and Akina Mama wa Afrika hosted 50 students for the first feminist forum at Makerere University. The theme for the first forum was Break The Bias; Challenging myths and stereotypes around feminism. Kirabo says that it was necessary to start off with this theme, owing to the fact that in conversations with her peers, she found that many women resonated with feminism, but the negative stereotypes surrounding the ideology kept them from identifying boldly with it. “Many young feminist practitioners I know are not well informed about feminist theory and yet if we are to strengthen our activism and make it institutional, we need to be grounded in feminist knowledge,” Kirabo says. The session which was hosted at the Makere school of gender studies had a rich panel of feminists who tackled the theme from different angles. Lecturer and former dean of the Law Faculty at Makerere,

Professor Sylvia Tamale handled the academic side of the subject. She introduced the audience to feminist theory and the racist, patriarchal, capitalist contexts it is meant to address. She delved into gender theory and how social conditioning formulates our attitudes and behavior to reinforce and perpetuate oppression. During the forum, students shared their understanding of feminism and the stereotypes identified such as that feminists are misandrists, anti-family, anti-natalists, and generally deviant. Executive Director at Women’s Democracy Network, Arituwa and feminist activist Ivy Deborah Naggayi unpacked and addressed each of these stereotypes. 

Kirabo who longs to see more women participate actively in political leadership started her organization NEXTGen women initiative to provide this support to women. The Makere Feminist Forum will be a vital appendage to their efforts. She hopes that this forum will be a feminist intellectual well from which young women can draw the feminist theory that can unite them and empower them to assert themselves in spaces of power and influence.

“We grew up without a counter-narrative to patriarchy. We  grew up thinking that head prefects in school were supposed to be boys and their deputies girls” Kirabo says and adds, “Even today young women and girls are growing up thinking all they have to compete for politically are positions of secretary, assistant, deputy, and few people are coming out to counter the narrative.”

She says that holding forums like these will provide a counter-narrative to the one that the patriarchy perpetuates about women’s place in society. The feminist forum will be anchored to the Makerere School of Women and Gender studies and hosted on a biweekly basis.

“I don’t believe in leaders being the end all, be all for in their communities. That kind of cult-like dependence on one powerful leader is what Kirabo hopes to do away with because it results in systems crashing once the leaders are gone. By cultivating a feminist culture at the university rooted in feminist theory and practice, Kirabo hopes that the forum will continuously give rise to powerful transformational young feminist leaders. 

To keep up with the Makerere Feminist Forum, follow Nextgen_women on twitter, UgFeministForum and amwaafrika