Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Women do not 'belong' to anyone

By Tessy Aura via UN Online Volunteers

In my culture, a woman belonging to one is not celebrated and rarely tolerated. The consensus is that when a girl is born she belongs to her father or her brothers and when she is of age, she is then given away to another man, her husband who is now responsible for her.
Growing up I remember hearing countless stories about women being evicted from their matrimonial homes just to return back to their birth homes to be rejected there as well; 
Stories about girls who spoke out of turn and thus never got married or got divorced; stories about women who suffered immensely because they never found a man to love them enough to take care of them physically, emotionally, mentally and financially; 
Stories that served to warn me against being too independent or else risk being alone and being banished to a life of economic destitution.  
The consensus being that there is no silver lining to being an independent woman.  Further, not having a father, brother or husband in your life to manage your independence was the quickest road to poverty. 
The other day I learned that our language does not even accept the ownership of property or the implication of it by women. I was visiting my grandmother, and when it was time to leave I told my uncle, “It is time for me to go back to my place.” 
And surprised he asked, “Are you married now?” and I responded “what does that have to do with me going home?” 
He made me aware that when a woman says that she has a home or a place, it is assumed that she is either referring to her parents’ home or her husbands’ home and since my mother was in a different country they knew I was not going there so the latter option was the only possible one.  
But in actuality, I was going back to my apartment that I religiously paid rent for every month so while I didn’t own it, the only other human being who contributed any money towards it was a woman, my mother, who had been paying her own rent since she was in her 20s and owns multiple homes and properties that are in her name and her name alone– with money she earned.  
So, I asked my uncle, “what about when my mother says she is going home?” He and the other men in the room all laughed and said that my mother was an exception and not the rule and that I needed to change how I spoke, be less argumentative, and more docile if I ever wanted to get married and not go through the same suffering my mother did. 
I had always had trouble internalizing these stories and practices as the norm because I was raised by a single mother who defied these odds; a woman who was independent, a woman who despite the death of her father and the absence of her child’s father was able to celebrate herself and not tolerate anyone, irrespective of their gender, putting her down. 
Further, when I was old enough to understand my grandmother told me stories about the adversity she had to go through to ensure that the income she earned went towards educating her children and not my grandfather’s pockets to decide how the money was handled. 
The women in my blood have prioritized education and independence and strived to make that our legacy.  
It is this being the reality for the future generations of women that my mother and her mother have fought for and not the cultural practices upheld in my community that contributed to me having my first job at the age of 16, completing high school and going to college and subsequently attaining a Masters’ degree by the age of 23. 
For every remark about my intelligence and independence being a flaw, I was encouraged to sharpen my skills, read more and work harder to achieve all that I wanted in life.  
For every time I was ridiculed for being too smart, and every time I tried to “dumb it down” to be more feminine and confer to men as the only possible authorities in the room, my mother insisted that I speak up and let my presence be known. For every time, I was told to focus more on being pretty and silent to attract men, I was motivated to be opinionated. 

So although, the stories the masses chose to share are of women who were doomed for their intelligence and independence, the consensus of the women in my family has been that it is imperative to share their success stories about their intelligence and independence and that is why my story is one that defies those tales. 
Through not shaming me and instead sharing with me their stories about their choices and struggles and how they have all contributed into making them the woman that they are today, they have shaped the woman that I am today.  
They have instilled in me the same legacy of sharing to make a difference, sharing to inspire, and most of all sharing to encourage acceptance and freedom.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Embracing Denial Is Not Shameful

By Immaculate Nakimera via UN Volunteers


I was raised by a single Mother after having lost my Dad at a very tender age. Before I was born, my Mum and Dad had given birth to my sister and brother. My sister was the first born while I was the last. As we grew up, my sister was always in a boarding school while my brother and I were in day schools. She usually came back home for short holidays.  I spent most of the time with my brother  and he become my childhood best friend. He was a friend whom I entrusted with my secrets and he entrusted me with his.
I associated so much with my brother and other mutual friends. I was the only girl in the group and always wore my late Dad's clothes to fit in the group. At time in my community, women mostly wore dresses, skirts and it was rare to find a woman wearing troussers. By then, ladies’ trousers were not so common and were rarely sold in the market, but I felt more comfortable wearing men’s clothes.
My Mum never bought me troussers and never wanted me to wear them, most especially on Sundays for Church. On such occasions, I used to wear dresses but never liked them because I always felt uncomfortable in them. Troussers were the perfect fit for my lifestyle. Whenever I wore men’s clothes, I was always mistaken for a boy and it was hard to be identified as a girl. Usually in the evening after school, we used to play football and I could be the only girl among boys, yet I could only be identified by a few friends. I was a good footballer and I believe I inherited the talent from my late dad, because during the 70s, he was a football player in one of the Ugandan football clubs.
Almost 90% of the people in my community new me as a boy due to my characters and the few who new my true identity, were my school mates and friends. Sometimes when I moved on the streets, people usually looked at me critically; I always heard them make funny comments about me. These comments always made me feel uncomfortable and out of place, which always made me to wonder why God made me a girl, but there was nothing I could change or take back.
Change is a fact of life. Every human body goes through change and this was the toughest process I encountered in my life. By then I was around ten years old when my breasts started to grow big. I usually wore big shirts and a jacket to hide them, because I never wanted to be noticed as a girl. I lived with this self denial for along time until I come to realize that, in every tough situation, there is always something good that comes out of it and I believe God does not make mistakes. All the tough situations I encountered made me stronger, focused and courageous.  I discovered my potentials which made me know who I am.
At the age of 14 years, I joined a boarding School which was a single sex School. My Mum took me to this school because she wanted me to change my characters. It was a different environment according to what I was used to. We wore dresses for uniforms all the time, and the school had strict rules. But though my sorrounding changed, I never ceased to behave like a boy. It was a part of me, something I had grown up with and still feel today.
I still wear trousers, though ladies’ trousers and there is no change in my looks because some people still look at me on streets, wondering my true identity. I no longer hide my breasts in denial. I appreciate what I am and who I became, because it’s unique. Not every woman looks like a man and not every man looks like a woman, but I look both. When I wear a dress, I look a lady and when I wear trousers, I look more of a gentleman. I take this as a gift and I intend to use it in the movie industry. I have a dream of becoming a Hollywood Actress and I believe with my character, I will be a great asset to this industry.
Any girl out there who may be or have gone through the same situation like I have, don’t feel ashamed of yourself, embrace what you have.  Wear clothes which make you feel comfortable and don’t mind what others say about you. It’s the 21st Century, with different kinds of fashion clothes.   Choose to be happy, love yourself and your life style. It’s your life and we all live once.  What matters most is who you are on the inside and not at the outside.

About me:
My name is Immaculate Nakimera, aged 26 years. I live in Uganda and I hold a BSc in Physics attained from Kyambogo University, Uganda. My interests are; writing, acting and outdoor sport.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Do You and Be Awesome

By Nurul Nadhira via UN Online Volunteers

Back when I was younger, I used to have trouble wearing hijab. I was quite young when I hit puberty and although I've been explained about my duty to cover the hair, I still had difficulties wearing it. It wasn't rare to see a girl wearing hijab in schools. 
In fact from where I come from, wearing hijab in some schools are compulsory. But I looked around at society and I thought wearing hijab prevented me to be part of society, to do the things most girls do at my age. I got rebellious, taking off my hijab every now and then so I could flick my hair like other girls and feel appreciated when boys talk to me. I wanted to be like one of the popular girls in school, be part of the group that every single person adores.
That phase was challenging and difficult for me.
I browsed through magazines, looking at the beautiful outfits women wear and I was very unhappy the fact that I can never wear clothes like them. From what I see, my religion was at fault because instead of allowing me to be accepted by society it is like a barrier that keeps me away from reaching out and be like other people. Of course it was very silly of me to think of it that way. 
I am in no way degrading my religion and I know religion is personal to everyone. That was a thought I had when I was younger, but I grew up and learned and I love my religion now. My parents knew how vulnerable I was back then as I was in that teen phase so they allowed me to take off my hijab with the promise that I will wear it permanently one day. 
For some reason I was glad that my parents wasn’t forcing me because that would have just made me rebel even more but at the same time they knew where to draw the lines and pull me back when I drifted too far. Little did I know back then that you don't have to change who you are just to be accepted by society. Just because I wasn’t wearing a hijab that does not mean the society would love and adore me.
There is always something wrong with me where the society is concern.
I’m too short, I shouldn’t take off my hijab, I should be skinny, I should have longer hair, I should be this I should be that.
There are friends who love me regardless of what I wear and friends who judge me when I take it off saying that I am a disgrace to my religion. There are also friends who praised me for taking off my hijab, comforting me by saying that I look prettier without hijab. Instead of feeling like I finally belong, I actually got more confused. I started feeling insecure with myself more often. 
Trust me during that age when you’re just growing up and the world is not about Barbie and cartoons anymore, you will be desperate to find anything or anywhere that you belong to, to find a pack on your own and feel wanted. 
I thought I should be a certain size to be pretty, talk and act in a certain manner to be loved and do things that put me at risk just because I wanted to be that cool kid everyone likes. I even tried wearing makeup which only made my skin worst because I have a sensitive skin because it’s what society did so I had to do it too. Being accepted by society was more important than what my parents’ opinions are. It wasn’t a pretty phase for me honestly.
I regretted some of the mistakes I made but I was thankful that after going through that phase I realized certain things.
What you wear is not significant but how you are as a person is.
My true friends love me because of my personality not because of other reasons. You should never lose yourself just to belong somewhere. When we become older, everything in this world seem like a wide canvas ready for us to explore and paint it as how we like it. Some of us had smooth sailing while some went through rough experiences before they found answers to their questions.
So I want to let you girls out there today know that it is alright to be different.
You don't have to be someone else just to fit in.
What truly matters is how you value, respect and love yourself.
Everyone is different in their own way and a person shouldn't be judged based on what they wear, their beliefs, gender or their skin color.
If you feel that you are alone and you don’t have anywhere to belong, you should know that there is always one place where you belong and that place is your heart. It is the only place that matters and it is why you should always cherish and love yourself. We all are different but that is what makes us unique.
Today, I can say that I am comfortable being me and what I wear does not prevent me from doing anything. Wearing a hijab does not make me feel oppressed. I don’t feel insecure with my appearance and I eat like a champion. I exercise because I want to be healthy and I take good care of myself because that is how I appreciate my body. I do the things that I love even if that means it is not cool for society’s standard. In fact I am happier now because I have truly come to love and respect myself.
So never be ashamed of who you are.
You do you and be awesome.