As I browsed through the various news reports on the internet about the ongoing ‘Me too’ campaign, my curiosity drove me to the comment section. A barrage of comments, understandably, castigated the male species for being in large part a useless lot and a burden to the female species. In fact, there were many comments about how one should never trust a man; be it a father, uncle, brother or close relative; with the care of one’s female children. Commentators, women in the most part, sounded warnings to those who dared to counter this argument.
It is understandable that in a world where men have come to enjoy privileges that women can only dream of, in a world where men have dominated every aspect of life, that women can finally be at the forefront of a discussion. However, I think there are ways to move forward- and there are ways that keep us down- and even move us back. In this case, women just didn’t want men to take the back seat, they wanted them thrown off the bus.
In the heat of discussion castigating men that have committed horrible crimes against women, we shouldn’t forget that there are men, in all sorts and forms, who have played and still do play key roles in fostering the rights of women. In my case, these men are my brothers. They fought hard for my rights as a young girl growing up in a world that can be unkind to women.
Indeed, the campaign to protect the rights of women and the girl child reminds me of how important men are, if we are truly to win any progress. The men who dare to stand up for the rights of the girl child, the men who dare to defy the social masculinity that has come to undermine progress for the girl child. Writing from a society where progress in women’s rights and power seems more the norm than an anomaly, but growing up in a masculine shaped world, I have come to appreciate the role of men in raising the girl flag.
See I was born at a time when my mother country, Uganda, was in a period of intense civil war. The night I was born, my then 13-year-old brother David was in hiding with my heavily pregnant mother. My mother gave birth to me in the middle of the night, and complications led her into a coma, but before she passed out, she told my brother, ‘hold the baby and at all cost do not let her get cold, your father will take her when he comes in the morning.’ My brother says that I screamed so much the whole night that he started crying too. He worried that the rebels would come before my dad arrived, and that the only thing that kept him safe was the thought that my mum lay in deep sleep besides him, he had no idea she had passed out. As it turns out, my father was in no condition to care for a newborn and 9 boys in the middle of war, so he sent me off to his mother, my grandmother, where I spent the first 10 years of my life.
When I was 10 my brothers were young adults in their early 20s, and fresh on the job market. They decided that I needed a better chance at education than what was offered. On the deep environs of Gomba. I had to leave my granny and come home to my parents. At this point, my parents had over 15 children living in their house, many of them taken on after deaths of relatives. My brothers saw I had very little chance of thriving. Even as father insisted I could walk 5 kilometers to and from school. The schools nearby were catholic schools, and my father insisted on me going to the protestant school far away. This was because he knew the headteacher there in case he had to plead when the tuition delayed. My brothers thought it was too much for a 10 year old. I remember one of my brothers having to smuggle me, literally away from my parents, to offer me a better chance at an elite school where he taught.
The experiences and shock I got from this change are for another day, but this move literally saved my life. Staying with my brothers, I blossomed. They believed in me in ways I never imagined, they still do. They planted in me the idea that I could be the first in the family to go directly to university. They, having had to use the long painful route of upgrading, made me believe that I could do better. I remember moving around with my brothers and meeting their friends, and every time they would ask them who I was, my brother David would say, ‘this is my little sister Suzan, soon to be professor.’ I was in primary school. It is funny how the things we hear get stuck in our heads.
My brothers fought many hard fights for me. They refused the idea that I should wait a year before joining high school because my father had no means. They refused to listen to the warnings of ‘she is a girl, you will invest in her and she will disappoint you,’ they refused to believe I wasn’t good enough… Because my brothers believed in me fiercely, believing I would be a professor one day, they gave me confidence and a desire to succeed that has never left me. I remember my brother telling me boldly when I was in high school, ‘Suzan, you now either study hard and get a scholarship to university, or find something to do after high school.’ Being a primary school teacher in Uganda, he knew it was a long shot trying to apply for private study at university. But his belief in me gave me the motivation to study hard and get a scholarship, because my parents could never afford to pay.
At University, my brother would jokingly tell his friends that he will expect nothing less than a first-class degree from me. At that time, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, but my brother knew that being a woman from a poor family, the only option I had available was to excel in school, and excel I did.
And it’s not just my brothers. My friends, many of them male, have been my greatest cheerleaders in many academic pursuits. They ignored my physical imperfections, and made me believe my brain would take me wherever I wanted. I have leaned on the shoulders of many of these brave men wherever I was at crossroads, and all the fickleness in the world that I come with has not stopped them from being my pillars of strength. Indeed, while many females around me were worried about my advancing years without children or a man to my name, a male friend encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to Norway. ‘You are too bright to conform to people’s expectations of what a woman should be,’ he said, ‘just apply, I know you will get it.’ And this I did, leading to the beginning of my Norwegian adventure.
Even after my master’s degree when I took a hiatus from my academic adventures to raise family, my friends, my husband, and my brothers still urge me on, to pursue my dreams, to write, for that has been my lifelong dream. So today I raise a glass to the men, to the lions, to the unsung heroes who dare to let women and girls shine! To my brothers, known and unknown.
By: Suzan Mbatudde Skjold