How do women get men who are standing in the way of gender equality to listen to them? Grab them by their genitalia.
That’s the radical suggestion offered by jailed Ugandan feminist Stella Nyanzi.
“Unless you grab and squeeze hard, they’re not listening,” she said, wearing traditional African kitenge, red lipstick and a wry smile before a recent court hearing.
The academic, who has been in Luzira Women’s Prison for eight months, is on trial after the government accused her of “cyber harassment and offensive communication” for penning and posting a poem on Facebook.
The poem, published last September, uses a graphic description of the birth of the Ugandan President and his mother’s vagina to criticize his “oppression, suppression and repression” of the country, which he has ruled for over 30 years.
In early June, Nyanzi’s legal team put it to Buganda Road Chief Magistrate Court that she had no case to answer and pushed for her immediate release. But the judgment went against her. She remains in jail and will start presenting her defense this week. Nyanzi has asked the court to summon 20 defense witnesses, including President Yoweri Museveni himself.
Nyanzi has been known in African academic and feminist circles for decades, but it’s her provocative poetry about the 74-year-old President that has made her a household name in Uganda in recent years.
“Yoweri, they say it was your birthday yesterday. How horrifically cancerous a day!” reads part of the now infamous vagina poem.
“I wish the infectious dirty-brown discharge flooding Esiteri’s [Museveni’s mother’s] loose pussy had drowned you to death / Drowned you as vilely as you have sank and murdered the dreams and aspirations of millions of youths who languish in the deep sea of massive unemployment, and under-emplyment (sic) in Uganda.”
While the language and imagery in Nyanzi’s poetry may seem shocking, she said this “rudeness” is “the only option.”
“Politeness has been taken, it’s been held captive, and they don’t listen any more. So sometimes all you have to say is ‘f*** it!'” Nyanzi said about the Ugandan government, slamming down her fist.
“And then people will hear and take you seriously.”
“Radical rudeness,” which began as a form of anti-colonial dissent in Uganda, calls the powerful in society to account through public insult. Over the past year, two other women have been arrested for using similarly rude rhetoric to criticize the government — one for allegedly threatening to hit the President with her genitals. The women, who were protesting the arrest of the musician-turned-politician who goes by his stage name of Bobi Wine, both retracted their comments. Ugandan women have also used nudity as a form of protest in recent years.
In this challenging climate, it came as a surprise to many when Nyanzi turned down the option of posting bail.
“Bail to go and do what? Bail to go where? To go back and still live in fear every time I write a Facebook post?” she asked. Her case continues this week in court.