In many aspects, women have become vulnerable to exploitative labour through what has now turned into modern-day slavery. These are mainly exported to the Middle East to serve as maids or cleaners working under harsh conditions and exposed to inhumane and degrading treatment
By Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa
As Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate the International women’s day under the theme #BalanceforBetter, it’s important to reflect on our achievements towards the promotion of social justice and empowerment of women.
While women are instrumental in contributing to the growth of our economy, they still face glaring challenges although these can be dealt with.
In many aspects, women have become vulnerable to exploitative labour through what has now turned into modern-day slavery. These are mainly exported to the Middle East to serve as maids or cleaners working under harsh conditions and exposed to inhumane and degrading treatment. Recently, media was awash with Hon. Minister Kiwanda’s controversial Miss Curvy pageant where women’s bodies were fronted as tools of sexism and tourist attractions.
Although the controversial pageant was later endorsed by the Speaker of Parliament on 27th February 2019 amidst criticism from the public, I am still convinced that it was a daring strategy meant to demean women in their entirety. The Minister was quoted saying that, “We have naturally endowed, nice-looking women who are amazing to look at. Why don’t we use these people as a strategy to promote our tourism industry and be part of the ministry’s Tulambule initiative that aims to highlight Uganda’s tourist attractions?” From the look of things, it seems curvy women have been added to a list of tourist attractions, including National parks, wildlife and spectacular waterfalls.
The unfortunate bit however is that this pageant demoralizes women in society and reduces their dignity. It further violates several legal frameworks on promotion and protection of women’s rights to which Uganda is a signatory. These include; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1979) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol (2005) ratified in 2010, among others which guarantee rights to women.
In that regard, Article 1 of the CEDAW defines the term “discrimination against women” as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
Further to that, Article 2(d) of the Convention urges governments to refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation.
Similarly, Article 3 of the Maputo protocol provides for the Right to Dignity and states that every woman shall have the right to dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition and protection of her human and legal rights, it obligates State Parties to adopt and implement appropriate measures to prohibit any exploitation or degradation of women and to ensure the protection of every woman’s right to respect for her dignity including protection of women from all forms of violence, particularly sexual and verbal violence.
Accordingly, and in a bid to domesticate the above Conventions, Uganda adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995 which protects a wide range of human rights including women’s rights to equality and freedom from discrimination.
Article 33 of the Constitution states that “women will be accorded equal dignity with men.” The act of making women use their sexual attributes to attract tourists is a violation of their dignity as enshrined in the above law and an act of discrimination since their counterparts, the men are not anywhere in this controversial contest.
Therefore, the contest is a backtrack to the strides made towards women emancipation and economic empowerment and as such in contravention of this year’s celebration theme #BalanceforBetter.
Although the above-mentioned laws are in place to guarantee protection of women’s rights, majority of the public lack adequate knowledge about such laws. Unfortunately, the duty bearers who are charged with legislating measures to reduce exploitation of women appear to be the same exploiting this ignorance.
The Miss curvy contest is akin to the 18th century act of parading slaves for sale at auctions that was rampant in the United States and Europe. It also resonates with Sara Baartman, the South African woman taken to Europe in the 17th Century by her employer under false pretense and paraded at circus shows for money due to her large buttocks.
It should be noted that some women have already fallen prey to this contest because of their vulnerability and less power to discern acts that can be equated to acts of inhumane and degrading treatment.
Surprisingly, these acts are championed by our leaders who should have been expected to do otherwise. As the world celebrates women’s day, let us have a keen resolve as a country to devote time to changing mindsets of leaders and all those who matter and are charged with a duty to fulfill and protect women from outright exploitation.
Let us desist from objectifying and sexualizing our women and girls in the name of tourism.
The writer is the executive director of the Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET)