Will “the Ruhindi women” change how we think of women partnerships in a family unit?

Actually, I have not lived long enough to explore the family enterprise part in the equation. I am also not certain about opening that particular Pandora’s box so let’s not. Let’s instead open the one about the role of a woman in a family unit; as a partner or as a shadow.

Some men marry women they work with, women they share interests and passions with. They get married to women with opinions who may hold positions of power. A lot of people have said they would enjoy that but insist that the role of a “wife” is to submit and be quiet. What if your wife makes a formidable partner? I have been wondering, for days, what happens when these women speak out publicly, on social media, blogs and other media, in support of Amama Mbabazi. Would we perceive them as being dutiful or would we ask ourselves about the difference between family and government? We don’t always have a clear separation in Uganda, and this has been written about extensively in the media and many a spittle has flown across bar tables following army promotions and ministerial appointments. While I am a strong believer in equal access for all and not just family members, I have began to wonder about how this will change the perception of the role of women in the family unit if they play the role of equal partners with the men they are related to in the public space.

I stumbled upon a note on Facebook that talked about the women related to Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. It was the language of the note that struck me more than the content. The author called them “yellow girls” and “five feisty women who are all out on the war path”. But the author, one Drew Ddembe, also called them “the Ruhindi women”, a name that returned to their life before marriage and one could argue, one where they might have learned to be who they are now. Mzee Ruhindi probably had the kind of resources a father uses to make sure his children turn out the way his have.

[Respectfully borrowed from Daily Monitor because it is such a great picture. Click on the picture to be redirected to the accompanying Monitor story.]

The Mbabazi couple recently told their love story in which the PM said he was a liberated man “so I give my wife and daughters their due place.” His wife was involved in the NRA struggle and has held a number of positions in the government and in the NRM party. I have read Opinion pieces written by Nina Mbabazi, who has been commended for her IT expertise. Hers, I think of as a question of access; access to information and to education. Alice Ruhindi has been in the limelight as well, defending her family. Then there is Hope Ruhindi Mwesigye who has served in the government. Long story short, while these women have husbands, fathers and brothers-in-law, they are also actors in their own right. Their paths might not have been pristine, but that is not an issue that is gendered so it is one I am willing to investigate here.

We have been witness to a high profile divorce due to domestic violence where then-Vice President Kazibwe got no sympathy from the public so we know we don’t always do well with this cross between the public and private space. We don’t know how to deal with women like this; who they are in the public space confuses our expectations of them in their designated roles in the home. I will grant Drew Ddembe the “all out on the war path” because some conversations have been charged, and being unable to achieve distance with family issues might be a part of it.

I would still like to watch this, given the increase in the number of women as actors in the public space, and maybe something good will come out of it. This family is especially interesting because the brothers are not involved in politics, and should Mbabazi run for Presidency, we might hear more from, and about, the women in his family.

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