Press Statement From V-Day Uganda 2005
This is a day of celebration. It is a day that we come together to pay tribute to the hundreds and thousands of people in Uganda and elsewhere who contributed their support through donations, and ticket sales for the banned V-Day performance of the play The Vagina Monologues.
As we all recall, the purpose of the V-Day Campaign was, first, to highlight the appalling violence meted out against women and girls in this country. The other was to mobilise resources for our sisters in Northern Uganda, who have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict. The violence committed against women and girls has been one of the most devastating aspects of this conflict. These atrocities carried out by both the LRA and the UPDF, have occurred for the most part without redress for the victims. It is a source of great shame and discomfort that fellow citizens of this country are living under a regime of terror, displacement and despair even as we sit here today.
Violence takes many forms, from that which is sanctioned and normalised by cultural practice to that which takes place in the context of conflict. Violence against women and girls has yet to be adequately dealt with by the state and all our other institutions. Every minute somewhere in this country, a woman or young girl is subjected to one form of violence or another. Women are raped, battered, physically assaulted, mutilated, forced into marriage, forced to stay in abusive marriages, forced out of marriages, abducted, forcefully impregnated, forced to abort, it is endless. All of this happens, and society looks on in muted silence. It buries its head in the sand, looks the other way, trivialises the problem and moves on. In Uganda, where we boast of traditional family values, it beggars belief that we all allow this pandemic to go unabated. It is tragic that many of our religious leaders and institutions, especially here in Kampala that boast about upholding moral values, sit idly by as millions of women and girls undergo this degrading, appalling treatment.
And the minute women open their mouths to speak; to say enough is enough; to hold a mirror up to society and say ‘look, this is how you treat women like me, but we are taking it no longer’, then all, descend on these women like a tonne of bricks. They are demonised and condemned. They become the enemy who must be silenced at all costs for daring to do the unthinkable. For these are women who dare to hold society to account. Many religious leaders and others were virtually out on the street, strenuously opposing the play. Why one wonders do they not condemn with equal vigour the acts of violence we read and hear about every day in our media? It is these same voices, which include faith based groups that now oppose measures to protect the rights of women in the context of marriage. One wonders what they are upholding, moral values or patriarchy?
Whether it is through the benefit production of The Vagina Monologues, or demanding state measures for the protection of women’s rights, or even exposing abuse, the establishment regards women who do this as very dangerous. It looks for ways to ‘keep these women in their place.’ And that becomes its sole preoccupation. Rather than take up its responsibilities, it seeks to vilify those who call on it to do so.
On 15th February 2005, The Media Council followed this pattern with consummate precision. It caved in to the hysterical pressure from members of the public and also from certain sections of government, by censuring the play The Vagina Monologues. This it did on the grounds that the play ‘corrupts public morals’. The Media Council chose to silence a play that has been staged in over 76 countries and translated into over 35 languages. A play which has mobilised public attention and action to bring to an end the crisis that is violence against women. A play which has led to greater understanding of the impact of violence on women’s lives, and created opportunities for dialogue and the development of strategies to address it. Zimbabwe, staged The Vagina Monologues soon after it was banned in Uganda, in a church hall in Harare. MPs in Kenya, Members of the European Parliament have actually taken part in this play. Pakistan, Egypt, Burkina Faso, India, The Democratic Republic of Congo – all of these countries and more have staged this play. Adults in Uganda on the other hand, according to the Media Council ruling, are not capable of making up their own minds about The Vagina Monologues. It paternalistically decided to ‘shelter’ the public from this play, and in our view inadvertently played into the hands of those who use the apparatus of the state to illegitimately silence all forms of dissent. Its credibility and ability to analyse issues independently has been severely compromised as a result of the decision it took on this fateful day.
Throughout the saga of The Vagina Monologues, we were heartened by one thing. Many thousands of Ugandans were outraged by the hypocritical and hysterical outcry, and the ridiculous ruling by The Media Council. They connected to the issues that the play was expressing and engaged with it in a mature, sober and carefully thought out way. We received messages of support and solidarity from so many people, including government officials, MPs, the media, radio stations, and other members of the general public both here and internationally. Of all the tickets that we sold, only 20 people claimed their money back. The rest donated it in solidarity. This is a powerful form of protest and refusal to capitulate to the hypocrisy displayed by so many, not to mention the abuse of the rights of this country’s citizenry to freely associate and express their views.
We wish to thank you all for your wonderful support. Your generosity has enabled us to collect so far, Ugshs 20,563.562.00 (USD $11,805.00) for our sisters in Kitgum and Lira. We wish to thank you all for sticking by this campaign. Your support has been a great source of strength and has given us the impetus to continue.
We remain committed to working for an end to violence, intolerance, inequality and injustice. With your continued support, we know we will succeed.
And to our sisters and daughters in Kitgum and Lira, you are in our hearts. Go with this very small token of our solidarity. Your courage and determination in the midst of all the devastation, is a testament to your strength and an example to us all. We undertake to strengthen our efforts to bring to this terrible conflict to an end.
Thank you all very much.
V-Day Uganda 2005