We, the feminists in Uganda strongly protest and condemn in the strongest possible terms the suspension of 26 female students from Uganda Christian University’s Kabale affiliate college for conceiving before marriage. It is retrogressive and discriminatory in an institution of higher learning that is supposed to be nurturing, mentoring and imparting knowledge and information on equal access and rights observation. Punishing females only for being pregnant without putting punitive mechanisms on male students/partners involved is discriminatory and unworthy of a University. We need our universities to propel us forward and not to perpetuate attitudes and practices that violate women’s rights and undermine efforts aimed at achieving gender equality and social justice for all in Uganda. This has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with patriarchal control of women! It is astonishing that this kind of moral surveillance on adult women is happening in the year 2014 after the milestones we celebrate of achieving equality of education opportunities for all Ugandans, men and women, boys and girls. Never before has the statement that women’s rights are being rolled back been clearer than it has in the last 12 months in Uganda!
Universities have certain minimum requirements they must fulfill that include equal access to education and knowledge. A university cannot be qualified by only its religious status/ affiliation and just as a private club cannot operate a “Whites only” policy, so it is illegal for a private university to impose a policy that essentially affects “Women only.” We are tired of patriarchal religious orthodoxy infiltrating secular spaces and turning those spaces into yet another avenue for propagating fundamentalist beliefs. Jesus wrote on the ground as he said, ‘He who has not sinned should throw the first stone’. Such words speak volumes about the principles and values that the Son of God held in helping us understand that it is not for us to judge and condemn. Ours is to guide, support and point out the way in love. Jesus never judged and never made irrational decisions even when hell broke loose as he was led to suffer death on the cross for our redemption. Such is what is required from Uganda Christian University’s Kabale affiliate college and from Bishop Barham College Principal, Prof. Manuel Muranga. The University has the responsibility to guide students, keep them usefully occupied as they build their academic skills and knowledge and help them enhance other life skills like negotiating adult relationships; you can also preach the gospel so that the students’ body, both male and female students are in a better position to make informed choices. When they make choices like in this case to be sexually active before marriage, as an academic institution you should be interested in finding ways in which you can positively influence change in behavior. “Do not judge so that you are not.”
What punishment has been accorded the impregnators? How is expelling female students only and retaining the ‘would be fathers’ a promotion of gender equality and equity? Who are they to send them away? Making decisions for God on moral grounds! In any case, if they aborted, would the university know they were pregnant? What is sin—that which is visible? In that case, does the university also suspend thieves, liars, et al basing on morality? Jesus was compassionate. He would have forgiven them and told them to ‘sin no more’. But College Principle won’t! ….and God came for sinners!
We respect the right of every person to practice the religion and faith of their choice. However, we shall not remain silent when there is infringement of fundamental rights on religious grounds and especially so in spaces such as universities. Uganda’s Constitution clearly upholds the principles of pluralism, diversity and tolerance and we are deeply concerned about the human rights violations committed by the University administration in violation of the Bill of Rights. In particular, it violates Article 21: Equality and freedom from discrimination of sex, privacy rights; Article 27: Right to privacy of person…, Clause 1 states that no person shall be subjected to (a) unlawful search of the person…They were found to be pregnant during random tests. Article 30: Right to education states that all persons have a right to education; Article 33: Rights of women; Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men. The female students were suspended without affording them a hearing. What happened to the right to a fair hearing as spelt out in Article 28 of the National Constitution?
By this call for action, we express our solidarity with the expelled students and ask that all higher institutions of education remain safe places for learning and protection against different forms of discrimination and inequality which leads to injustice. Today, we the members of the Uganda Feminist Forum (UFF) raise our voices in defense of the rights of the young women and shall not accept that women’s rights be disregarded, denied, dismissed and abused in our backyard. We demand that justice be done and the young women be readmitted into the university. We demand that the students be given support and counseling instead of disrupting their education opportunity. We also demand that the male partners take responsibility for this matter and stand up to be counted as real men by defending the rights of the young women. We demand that all the above be achieved by the end of May 2014, failure of which the government of Uganda should revoke the Charter of this university for violating women’s fundamental rights to education and reproduction. We demand that the Minister in charge of higher education and the Minister of Gender, Labor, and Social Development pursue this matter to its logical conclusion. UFF joins voices with other civil society actors, the mothers of the young women and all peace loving Ugandans to demand for the completion of the policy and guidelines for handling cases of students who get pregnant while at different levels of our formal education system. Education is a Right. Inaction or delayed response has political costs.
‘No woman is free until every woman is!’
For more information, contact:
The Uganda Feminist Forum (UFF): email@example.com
Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE): firstname.lastname@example.org 0414 286063
Dated 19 May 2014
Click here to download a PDF of this statement.