By Kampala Sun Writer
Hell broke loose in Mbale City on Saturday, June 11, when teenage semi-naked girls marched from the cricket grounds to Mbale Secondary School sports grounds in the name of culture.
Pictures and footage of half-naked young girls, said to have been mobilised from Bugisu sub-region, with their breasts painted white and their hips and upper thighs only covered with rugged banana leaves, while performing at the Elgon Cultural Festival, circulated across different social media platforms.
The act has attracted criticism from different sections of society.
The Uganda Women’s Network, in conjunction with Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA), has asked law enforcers to arrest the organisers and charge them with abuse of the Constitution on the rights of women, which demands that women be accorded full and equal dignity with men.
Mary Harriet Lamunu, the executive director of UWOPA, noted that cultures that undermine the status of women are prohibited by Article 33 (6) of the Constitution.
“The objectification of women and girls has proven to be one of the ultimate causes of violence against the female gender. This action of parading naked girls is disgraceful, especially as the country grapples with a spike in cases of defilement, child marriage, and teenage pregnancies,” Lamunu said, vowing not to look on as such acts continue to mount violence against women and girls.
“We call upon leaders, especially cultural leaders, to engage their communities and abolish customs and practices that dehumanise and sexualise women and girls,” she said.
Briefing journalists on the same at Hotel Africana in Kampala on June 17, Miria Matembe, an advocate for women’s welfare, said laws and policies that are meant to protect women and girls are weak.
Matembe condemned elders who looked on as the young girls were paraded, calling them (elders) ‘hyenas’.
She demanded that the organisation responsible for the event be banned.
“We have done a lot to uplift the rights of women, but when I see such happening in my country, I regret the time we have wasted,” Matembe said.
Eric Mukhwana, the publicity secretary of Inzu ya Masaba, a cultural institution, said the event was not the official Imbalu (circumcision) launch, which is held every even year in Mbale City ahead of the circumcision period, adding that it was a private arrangement by the locals.
The alleged festival organiser, Priscila Kainza Mungoma, when contacted, admitted having been behind the event, but referred our reporter to pick her comments from various social media platforms.
“I have already explained and cannot explain further,” Mungoma said.
Cultural leaders speak out
The leadership of Bugisu cultural institution has disowned the event.
Geoffrey Wepwondi, the prime minister of Inzu Ya Masaba, told New Vision that the acts that were performed during the Elgon Cultural Festival in Mbale were not part of their (institution) norms.
“The institution was not part of the event and neither was its leadership notified about the arrangements,” he said, faulting Ahmada Washaki, the Mbale City resident commissioner, for allowing the event to take place.
Washaki confirmed having authorised the event, but denied allegations that he was among the organisers.
He said the act was regrettable and vowed to engage the people involved to revise the practice.
Bugisu cultural institution currently has no leader, given the many disagreements among clan heads over who should be the leader.
The throne fell vacant after Bob Mushikori died in January last year.
Bamasaba women react
Prof. Sarah Ssali, the dean of the School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University, said the event crossed many lines, including children’s rights, women’s rights, ethics, and morality.
“Those who organised the event should show us how consent was secured and those who permitted the event should explain what safeguards they put in place.”
Dr. Mary Gorreti Kitutu, the Minister for Karamoja Affairs, asked that Mungoma, the alleged organiser of the event, be guided.
“Currently, we are grappling with girls’ problems, such as pregnancies. I would think holding Christian conferences can equip them better.”
Christine Kakayi, Ugandan living in the UK, said: “How can anyone exploit those innocent girls like that? How many were defiled that weekend? We are ready to support these girls get justice.”
Tina Musuya, a women’s rights activist, wondered: “Did the organisers also strip themselves naked? We must let go of all harmful practices and create safer and equitable ways of living.”