Uganda: Rethinking the meaning of gender
At the most basic level of understanding, gender is commonly defined as the state of being male or female, typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones; otherwise known as the state of being feminine or masculine. For instance, a woman who is assigned female at birth is automatically expected to fulfill feminine roles and conversely, a man who is assigned male at birth is expected to fulfill masculine roles. This definition however, fails to provide a more complex understanding of gender that is intimately linked to larger structures of power.
Therefore, contemporary definitions of gender must challenge current and historical power relations such as colonialism, nationalism, and capitalism in order to rethink the meaning of gender inequality. Amina Mama, a renowned Nigerian feminist and scholar, understands gender not only at the basic level but also as a concept that is inseparable from larger structures of power such as African nationalism, colonialism, and capitalism. She states that neoliberal economic structures imposed by the west highly contribute to the subordination faced by women: “During the 1980s, the deleterious impact of structural adjustment packages on all but the duplicitous elite living in the capitalist periphery exacerbated the feminization of poverty to such an extent that the gendered nature of global economic strategies and their consequences could no longer be denied.” (Mama 69, 2001) In her essay, Mama certainly places gender at the center of inquiry and questions the meaning of African identity:
“The intellectual challenge of identity lies in the exercise of adding gender to the arsenal of analytical tools required to rethink identity, so that we can deepen our understanding of power, and increase our strategic capacity to engage with and challenge its destructive capacity.” (Mama 71, 2001) In other words, gender needs to be the central mode through which identity and power structures are challenged. Institutions like the government, economy, media, family, and education systems are intertwined and all play a major role in impeding gender equality; thus, gender needs to be placed at the center of government policy in order to combat the deeply engrained patriarchal power systems, like structural adjustment.
WOUGNET indeed places gender at the center of inquiry making it a feminist organization whose mission is to combat male-dominated power structures. WOUGNET is committed to creating spaces for women and girls and promoting the use of ICTs. The organization is facilitated by powerful “women who dare to differ and sabotage the patriarchal precedents of received ‘identity politics’ being reproduced by the old regime,” by “developing their own individual and collective agency,” (Mama 71, 2001)
Gender, in addition to being commonly defined as the socially constructed form of the assigned male and female sexes, must also be understood as concept intimately linked to larger systems of power. Legacies of colonialism, nationalism, and capitalism reinforce uneven gender roles and reproduce women’s subordination. WOUGNET helps to alleviate the societal subordination that Ugandan women face by promoting gender equality through the use of information and communication technologies.
Tasha Kara, is a Student at McGill University in Canada and working under the WOUGNET Information Sharing and Networking Program in Kampala, Uganda