Rise Up

This Activist-Blogger's Grassroots Movement Confronts Male Entitlement

How a Ugandan blog is challenging misogyny by amplifying women's voices.

by Alice Rowsome
Aug 28 2017, 6:00pm

Photo via Alice Rowsome.

Because of my Hater with Humour blog everyone was calling me a hater. I don't mind," Lindsey Kukunda told VICE Impact. "But people kept saying: 'You know Lindsey, you are the only one complaining. This isn't what happens to women. We are empowered.' So I said, 'Okay I'm going to challenge you.' And that's when Not Your Body born was born."

Kukunda is the founder of Not Your Body, a blog that aims to give a voice to those affected by sexual harassment in Uganda.

"Everyone was telling me I wouldn't get any stories, but I got stories that went beyond men hissing at women, which is so normal in Uganda. This was extreme," she said. "However, all of the girls that wrote to me had the same reaction: None had reported the men to the police."

Why? They felt they were to blame -- not the guy. It inspired the writer-turned-activist to challenge what she sees as the way Ugandan society has an entitlement over women's bodies.

VICE Impact met up with the 33-year-old in the country's capital of Kampala, to speak about sex-ed, shorts, and turning a blog into a local grassroots movement.

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VICE Impact: This idea that women are to blame for sexual harassment seems quite an entrenched and accepted view in Uganda (and elsewhere!) When did you personally realize that the way women were being treated wasn't right?

Lindsey Kukunda: I always thought it was abnormal. Always. I remember this one time I was waiting for a taxi and this man said, 'Jump in baby!' .

Jump in baby? I thought, 'Who the fuck are you?' I was only a teenager. I would say that the police case is when I broke. By that point it was do-or-die.

What police case?

Around two years ago, I was walking through a petrol station in shorts after a hike with a friend and I grabbed a group of men's attention. Abuse turned to violence. I got scared. So I went to a police officer and asked him to ask the men to leave me alone. He looked me up and down said, 'Isn't this what you wanted?' And I just looked at him and said, 'Are you serious? I'm going to report you.'

He showed me his name tag and said, 'Go on, report me.' And added, 'You are disturbing the men. You are disturbing us. Get out of here.'

When I went to the police station the next day, a police officer asked me why I hadn't come straight away. I told him, 'I was upset, I was crying.' And they refused to let me file a report. But I kept coming back.

It's especially difficult because they think it's trivial. But to me it's not. If someone comes into your office, you hear them out. Period. Do not tell them what is and isn't serious.

Women came to you with stories on Not Your Body, but do some come to you for support?

They do, especially the women that in Uganda are not considered moral. For many, it's very important that they have that support from friends and family, even if their families are making life difficult for them. They want that support.

(Photo via Not Your Body)

Do you think there is a strong culture of shame in Uganda?

Definitely. This guy, for example, that tried – but failed – to hit on me said, 'But you tempted me. You were out at night. What kind of woman is out at four in the morning.?' And he began threatening me. That'd he'd expose me.

That's how Ugandan women are kept quiet. Men try to shame them. Determination, resilience, and also an element of shamelessness is needed.

Comprehensive sex education was recently scrapped by the government. You sat on a panel to design the new one. Can you tell me more about that?

The government wanted sex-ed to be in line with 'our values and culture.' I had a problem with almost every part to be honest.

'Why are you deciding for young people?' I'd ask, 'And who is going to pay for this ignorance? The kids. Not you, the kids. You'll have high teenage pregnancy rates because of ignorance.'

READ MORE: How Ugandan Locals are Supporting Refugees Through Eco-Entrepreneurship

What's next for Not Your Body?

I've been invited on TV shows, but I want my own show. If that fails, I'll go to YouTube.

I just want a platform aimed at young people where these issues are challenged. The 18-to-24-year-olds on my forum and are the ones who I need to help make the change that Uganda needs to see.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

rights for women
grassroot movement