Gone Are The Days When SRGBV Went Unnoticed

by Baguma Filbert Bates (Uganda National Teachers Union)

I am currently the General Secretary of Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU). I was born in Kigezi, the famous Switzerland of Africa. I grew up in a typical rural set up where I attended school. The environment was full of all the kinds of Gender Based Violence you can dream of.

Men woke up to go to bars while women did all the work and fended for their families. As if this was not enough, men sold their wives’ household harvests to go and drink. Any woman who questioned this was battered and chased from the house for a night or nights. This was the agony of the village woman.

Imagine a woman carrying a baby on her back, a basket of sweet potatoes on her head and some firewood, pulling a goat on a rope. Come rain, shine, this was the order of the day. What a difficult life women lived!

I was made to believe that women were supposed to do all the domestic work and feed the family, while men’s duty was to drink alcohol and beat women at leisure.

I believed that women were supposed to sit on mats while stools and chairs were for men. As a young boy, I started imitating what I was observing and I used to refuse to sit on a mat. Whenever I was told to go and put firewood in the cooking stones, I would do it hesitantly because I knew it was the work of women and girls.

Whenever we were at home, house chores, kitchen work, sweeping and washing was the work of women and girls. As a boy, I was to fetch water, collect firewood and graze goats.

However, when I started school, boys and girls were treated equally in most cases, apart from when it came to corporal punishment. Then boys would receive stronger beatings with the cane than girls.

During physical education lessons, boys would remove shirts and girls would remove dresses. When some girls did not have knickers, they would remain in their dresses. This was bad because everybody would know that she did not have knickers.

When I was in primary five class (P.5), I started being used as a perpetrator of School Related Gender Based Violence. I was a short, young, innocent boy whom two teachers used to send to bring the older girls in class to their living quarters. This was a daily routine and the teachers would change the girls every other day. The girls would come back in time for the evening assembly.

I didn’t know the game they were playing. At that time, I could not even think that a teacher would have sex with a learner. Until when we were in primary six, and the girls started revealing that some of the teachers couldn’t punish them because they were friends. And in deed if you made a mistake with one of those girls, the teachers would either punish you or he would caution you not to repeat the mistake.

In primary six,  I was a member of the school choir. We competed and won at zonal and county levels and qualified for district level. At the district level, each school was to bring only 50 members of the choir. It was at this time that I was psychologically tortured by our own choir master (RIP), who replaced three of us boys who were in three items with three “girlfriends” who were not in any item, under the guise of going to cook for the choir. Yet the school had hired cooks. Imagine – after washing and ironing plus borrowing black shoes! I was a good dramatist and a singer but since then, every time I hear the word ‘choir’, I feel the pain and tears flow inside my body. I hated listening to music and role playing since then. My talent was curtailed as a result of School Related Gender Based Violence by an unprofessional teacher.

In my primary seven, the same teacher forced me to join the choir and I refused. He resorted to caning me in assembly every morning. I was caned for five consecutive days and I swore to him that he could do everything he wanted but I would never join the choir again. After five days, he gave up. It was a painful experience. Imagine the stress I went through as a learner.

It was unfortunate that these girls and others in lower secondary dropped out of school, sometime after P.7. teachers exploited them and destroyed their future. How I wish I had been empowered to report this mess to the school authorities. I would have saved their future.

In secondary school, exploitation of girls by teachers was the order of the day. Student “members” in Senior Secondary 2,3,4,5 & 6 also abused the girls in Senior Secondary 1. Imagine the innocent young girls excited to have joined secondary school, only to be welcomed by SRGBV torture.

After my O level, I joined the teacher training college. To my utter shock, the choir master whom I had a nasty experience with in primary school taught music, dance and drama at the college. Alas! It was darkness at noon for me.

He knew my abilities and he put me on the list of choir members. This time I feared being expelled and participated in a drama competition titled, “The Hydra”. It was about HIV/AIDS. By this time, the choir master was an AIDS patient. He exploited many female students during visits to other colleges for drama presentations.

He was not the only tutor who was exploiting innocent students. One of them wanted to impose his girlfriend on us as a sports prefect but I led a campaign and we rejected her. He got annoyed with me. One day he gave us an assignment and a female student who was sitting next to me copied my work. The tutor wanted revenge, so he gave me 0/15 and gave her 14/15. I told him that if he were to mark the final exams, I would fail. I knew he was not an examiner and therefore giving me a zero in an assignment did not mean much. Indeed, I passed very well. What lessons do we learn from such teachers? Do we have such teachers in our education institutions? Watch out, our children may fall victims if they are not ready.

After the teacher training college, I joined my first place of work. I was in the department of English. Learners who spoke their home language were spotted by their peers and every Friday at 2:00pm was hell for them. We would punish them for speaking their home language, and I later realised it was too much corporal punishment. Indeed it was horrible.

We had a teacher in P.2 who would mark pupils’ books while touching the private parts of the young fat girls. His wife was also a teacher in the same school. When rumours about what he was doing spread, he was transferred. But the habit grew until he impregnated a pupil in a school where he was a head teacher. He was arrested and remanded.

At this point, I was a union branch leader and the case was brought to my attention to help him as a member of the union. I told the family members that the union does not stand with defilers. The family bribed the parents of the poor girl, who were living in absolute poverty, so that she would not appear in court. The teacher stayed on remand in prison for about two years and the court later cleared him because the complainant did not report to Court. The district retired him in public interest. He accused me of not helping him as a member of the union. He alleged that I wanted his children to suffer without education and die miserably. I asked him whether the one he had defiled was not a child with the same rights as his children.

School Related Gender Based Violence was not a big issue in our union agenda although we had activities to empower female union members. The cases we handled related to challenges female teachers go through.

At this time, I was fighting SRGBV but I didn’t call it that because the concept was not in my vocabulary. I was only defending colleagues as a human rights activist and a labour unionist. It was indeed great work. As a union leader, female teachers confided in me and narrated what they were going through at their work places.

When I was a branch chairperson in Kabale District, a female teacher was transferred five times in one term by the area inspector of schools. He had demanded to have a love affair with her and she declined. He would transfer her and call the head teacher of the school to reject her on arrival. He wanted her to get tired and give in. When I learnt of this from her friends, I called her and said I wanted to intervene but she told me that it would escalate the situation. I went ahead as a leader without her consent and confronted the area inspector. He denied it and accused her of inefficiency but never followed her again. She was then accepted by a school and settled there. This was one among many cases of this nature.

When some female teachers requested to be transferred, some unreasonable education department officers took advantage of their position and invited them to come to the office over the weekend. Guess what followed!

Some female students and female teachers were taken along for workshops, seminars, conferences and meetings only to be exploited under the guise of giving them an opportunity. They give them titles like “take away” or “side dish”.

In 2015, UNATU selected teachers/members from all regions of Uganda to attend the hearing the stories session about SRGBV. During the sessions, there were many testimonies and during these revelations, I realised that indeed, I had done a lot of work in the field of fighting SRGBV.

From this activity, I was nominated as one of four change team members and I continued my work of fighting SRGBV. I have had the opportunity to interact with very many members during our union activities and every time I have an opportunity to talk, I mention SRGBV. Surprisingly, every time you mention it, someone follows you to help her find a solution to what she’s going through.

Unions must stand out and take the lead in the fight against SRGBV. We must not only be seen to fight SRGBV but also name and shame the perpetuators and their sympathisers. I have chosen to be a champion and an ambassador. I am mobilising other union leaders to join the crusade against immoral and wicked behaviour against girl children and the mothers of this world.

Say no to SRGBV. Save the lives of the would-be victims of SRGBV. The girl children and the mothers of the world deserve better treatment as dignified human beings with rights to respect and protection.

It is now. Don’t hesitate! Save the innocent souls. It’s up to you and me to bring about the change we would like to see. We must be seen to act more, speak less. SRGBV is real, it has tormented many. It is a monster.

Together, we can eliminate SRGBV!

The views, opinions and words written in the article are solely those of the author. The article reflects the author’s journey, view point and progress in their own words.

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