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Uganda: V Day Campaign against Gender-based Violence
Friday 18th February 2005
On February 15th 2005 , the V Day Host Committee met with the Media Council from approximately 3pm to 5pm , to discuss the matter of staging the play entitled the Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. We were informed that a complaint had been received and Council needed to determine whether the complaint had any merit. We were also informed that the Council was concerned about the public outcry caused by our intention to stage the play.
At the Council's request, we provided the script, background about the play, its author, as well as examples of where the play had been successfully staged. We also discussed our objectives as well as impressing upon them the abhorrent statistics about the prevalence of violence against women in Uganda .
At approximately 7pm that day, we received a telephone call from the Chair of the Media Council that we would not be allowed to stage the play. Though disappointed with the ruling, we cannot say that we are surprised.
In view of this development, we think it is prudent to share with you some issues, which have always been at the heart of our quest to stage this play and indeed, why we choose to participate in the V Day Campaign.
The Host Committee, amongst many other organizations work, on a daily basis, on issues around violence against women. We see testimonies of women in conflict areas who are abused by their so-called protectors. We see testimonies women of who have suffered domestic violence at the hands of their spouses, brothers, and uncles. We also see testimonies of women who continue to suffer the effects of female genital mutilation and lack the protection of our laws. We work with for an end to gender based violence and discrimination within the private and public sphere. It is for these women that the play is intended.
The play is also intended for those of us who remain silent in the face of such suffering, and to interrogate ourselves as to why we remain silent, why we remain unmoved, why we allow these issues to be ignored whether through banning or censorship.
We note, however, Uganda has yet again achieved a first by outright banning of the performance. We had hoped that Uganda would be renowned for something entirely different. As with the battle against HIV/AIDS, where we, as a nation chose to address the pandemic in an open and honest way, we sought to advance a campaign against violence against women in a frank and unabashed manner.
It is ironic that a vast amount of energy and resources has been spent on condemning the use of the word vagina, rather than on condemning the actual violations that the play clearly addresses. This is tantamount to silencing women's voices and is, and has always been, the major obstacle in addressing violence against women in a substantive way.
The point is that this production like any other has a different effect on different people. For many it has been liberation and for others, it has been encouragement to continue silencing the voices of women, a sweeping of uncomfortable issues under the carpet while advancing defences such as the protection of our culture and the moral sanctity of our nation.
We were well aware that the use of the word "vagina", a technical term, would cause discomfort amongst some, and outright hostility amongst others. Indeed, in some of the 76 countries in which the play has been successfully staged, organizers and performers have been initially subject to threats, violence, abuse, and ridicule. It has then spurred on some MPs in Kenya , for example, to seek amendment of the sexual offences legislation. There are many other examples in other countries where communities have been mobilized to deal with gender-based violence.
The issues raised in the play are of such relevance and significance to us all that we will not become mired in soothing the sensibilities of a vocal few. This play needs to be performed in its entirety or not at all.
You may also be interested to know that in the Uganda production, are a number of young women who have experienced sexual violence. They saw the play in Kenya , and were determined to be a part of its production here. According to one, it transformed her life, and she is slowly rebuilding it after her trauma. There are millions of testimonies the world over to that effect.
Furthermore, rural women pushed for the play's production in Kenya , while many elite women were totally against it. Despite the public silence of some of our colleagues, we have had numerous calls to stay our course and continue the campaign. The most generous supporters have in fact been national non-governmental organizations and individuals who have given of their time and services on a voluntary basis to ensure that these issues are put at the top of the national agenda. These include the cast, crew, and the public relations team. In short, the Vagina Monologues is relevant to many people.
We know that a campaign of this kind does not have the massive appeal it has without having some deep resonance, as evidenced by the thousands of individuals and groups who have been able to participate in the campaign this year. Since 1998, the event has grown from less than 100 productions to well over 2000 in 2005.
This experience demonstrates that many need to think and rethink, to learn, and unlearn. While we shall not gratuitously stage the play on that day, and thereby allow the unwarranted hysteria to continue, and succumb to running battles with those who wish to silence our voices, we shall remain focused on our objective, which is to move the issue of gender-based violence to another level where responses that are more effective should be seen.
The V Day campaign will continue until the violence stops.
Akina Mama wa Afrika
ActionAid International Uganda
Uganda Women's Network (UWONET)
In solidarity with women everywhere.