I was on a flight from Entebbe to Nairobi on June 30 when I read The New Vision's front page story titled "Mother cuts off defiler's penis."By the time I finished the story, my spirits were up and I have been in a great mood ever since.
According to the article, Angelina Kyomugisha was weeding her banana farm in Mbarara when she heard her 10-year old daughter cry out. She went over to have a look, only to find 40-year-old Geoffrey Mugarura defiling her little girl. Kyomugisha did what every mother ought to do in such situation - she pounced on Mugarura and cut off his penis. Then she flung it into the bush.
Neighbours helped search for Mugarura's severed penis till they noticed a dog running off with something in its mouth. They threw a stick at the dog till it dropped what was left of his snack. At this point in the story I had to control my laughter for fear being thrown off the flight. At hospital, a doctor confirmed that they would refashion what was left of Mugarura's penis so that he could at least urinate with it. As for any other business, the dog had taken care of that.
When I got back to Accra, I called Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe of Akina Mama wa Afrika in Kampala. She told me that FIDA-Uganda had sent a delegation to Kyomugisha's village and would be handling her case. The significance of this incident is that if men do not get the message that the bodies of women and girls are not as accessible and disposable as toilet paper, they will learn the hard way.
Kyomugisha probably never attended the UN's Conference on Women inBeijing, 1995. She has probably never heard of the Africa Protocol on Women's Rights or the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, ratified by the African Union. She might not know that Ugandan women's rights activists have been trying to get a Domestic Relations Bill passed for over 10 years now. Kyomugisha might have known that in Uganda, defilement of children carries the death penalty, but she definitely has never heard of anyone paying such a harsh price for ruining the life of a child. But certainly, she had heard stories of the hundreds of girls raped and even killed by relatives, acquaintances and neighbours. And she might have been familiar with what Toyin Mejuini who runs Women Against Rape, Sexual Harassment and Exploitation (WARSHE) in Nigeria calls the rape and beg phenomenon.
Rape and beg refers to the many powerful delegations sent to intimidate parents, especially mothers of victims of violent sexual abuse. These delegations usually include local elders, traditional rulers, clergy, respected opinion leaders, and even senior members of the family. If the parents still insist on pursuing the matter, they face other obstacles with the legal and law enforcement system till the victims are victimised all over again.
Kyomugisha might not have known much about all the guarantees African governments committed themselves to at the conferences in Vienna,Beijing, Addis Ababa, and other places, and all the promises they made to promote and protect women's human rights and bodily integrity. But she definitely knew about rape and beg. And she was not about to be begged. She was not going to wait for the creaky wheels of justice to slowly crank into action and run out of gas. She was not about to be told how to be a good mother and member of the community, and not wash her dirty linen in public. Kyomugisha took one look at the monster standing over her daughter and decided, 'this will be the last time you do this to any girl.'
Was it right for Kyomugisha to take the law into her own hands? The politically correct answer is no, but permit us to say a resounding yes. Our colleagues at Action Aid have launched an international anti-violence campaign called 'Women Won't Wait.' Kyomugisha has definitely heeded that call. She has decided not to wait. Kyomugisha has sent out a message loud and clear which we hope will be heard way beyond the shores of Lake Victoria, 'Stop abusing and killing our children. Stop violating women. Stop the culture of impunity. Protect women and girls from violence.' Since domestic violence laws, conferences, workshops, rallies, popular theatre and protests have not managed to drive the message home effectively, perhaps the thought of the wretched Mugarura's penis in the mouth of a fleeing dog will do the trick. Enough is enough.
Feminists are not calling for the castration or emasculation of men. Our position is a lot simpler than that. If men decide to use certain parts of their anatomy as weapons of mass destruction to wage wars on the bodies of women and girls, they will be disarmed and demobilised.
To mothers or guardians of young girls, keep something sharp handy. And make sure you take time out to pat a dog over the coming days. One of their brethren in Uganda has done a great job.
*Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi "is a co-founder and the Executive Director of the African Women's Development Fund. This article first appeared in the New Vision, Kampala.