She would be told to fill her mouth with water and keep it there whenever her husband attempted to pick a quarrel with her. The reasoning was that this would prevent her from answering back. She was told that a woman is, at all costs, submissive to her husband. That one of her primary roles as a wife was to cook for her husband and family members, all the time. She was urged to take care of her home, nurture children and tend the garden. That it was abominable for a woman to divorce her husband. Such was the briefing a woman, five decades or so ago, received from her mother or aunts before she joined the institution of marriage. These are the virtues that described a woman then.
82-year-old Dorotia Ssenkindu, a widow, says long ago, before she could be married off, a woman was supposed to behave in a certain way.
“She would stop playing certain games, like jumping the rope,” says Ssenkindu. Besides such games being considered childish, Ssenkindu says there was a possibility of her losing her virginity – her pride, something that would have her parents, especially the mother, blamed for bringing her up poorly. Some sections of society today demean virginity.
Yet that is not all. Women today dress in all colour and fashion. They wear open-back dresses and tops which leave their navels exposed. Ssenkindu says soon-to-get-married women then dressed in a manner that never exposed certain body parts considered sacred such as the breast and thighs.
“Since a girl’s behaviour was more important than her looks when it came to one family choosing a bride for their son, anything that would portray her as ill-mannered – and particular attention was put on dressing – and thus bring shame to her family, was avoided,” says Ssenkindu.
Rehema Julieth, a recent university graduate holding a law degree states that, today’s women become exposed to the outside world at an early age. “We meet responsibilities while still studying so this breeds a mind of progressiveness and survival at an early age,” she say. She continues, “I’ve lived and studied in Dar all my life; at the age of 23 I feel like a very independent woman capable of surviving on my own. And there are many of us out there.”
There are varied perceptions about today’s woman, however. That she needs reasons why she should be submissive to her husband or she would rather be single. That she prefers to pursue her career than nurture the fruits of her womb. That she can cheat, fight and file for divorce, an assertive woman.
“Today’s woman calls her husband by name! I find this very disrespectful,” says Gladys Nassanga, 42 and married for 19 years. “She minds about work and career. Some do not even want to have children because giving birth will change the shape of their bodies or stand in the way of their careers. Something has happened to today’s woman,” muses Nassanga.
What men say
Ashraf Musiime, 37, seems to concur; “There is a tendency by many a woman today, because of education and exposure, to disregard the good virtues from our traditions and cultures – respect for a man and taking care of a home. Good virtues that make a wife beautiful,” claims the businessman.
Taking care of a home, Musiime says, involves organising the house, cooking and minding the wellbeing of the people in her home. The trend today is hiring housemaids to do house chores.
What’s gone wrong?
Angela Crystal Newman Kavulu, a radio presenter, says it is not a subject of what has happened to today’s woman. Rather, she says, it is times, not the woman, that have changed. While noting that behaviour like cheating on spouse are not desirable, Kavulu disagrees with the suggestion that today’s woman lives on a different planet.
“Yes, there are those who take it to the extreme like when she becomes financially independent and thinks that is all she needs, but that is not universally the case,” she argues. Instead, she says people ought to understand women.
“It is not that she wants to quarrel, but rather to express her views and to be heard. Surely, you cannot send someone to school, give them some education and expect them not to speak.”
Newman says today’s woman has choices. “A man then considered his wife as property he bought just like he bought cattle. She would be beaten to death and it would be considered an unfortunate incident.
This is not the case today. Today’s woman is enlightened and has choices.” Sandra Kaitesi, a student at Makerere University says today’s woman is rather focused. “She knows what she wants and pursues it,” Kaitesi says.
Edith Naluyima Biibi, a banker with Barclays Bank, says the woman has not changed, but she is just different from the one that lived 50 years ago. “We love and respect our husbands and care for our homes,” she says. “The difference is in fashion and lifestyle, culture and faith.”
On fashion and lifestyle, Biibi explains, “You don’t expect a (corporate) woman to put on a traditional clothing and go to office in it. Back then, however, she would put it on and head to her garden.” Biibi explains the significance of faith: “She was made to accept to live with as many co-wives as her husband wished.
“Today, because of her faith (Christian) save for the Muslims, of course, she doesn’t share her man with other women,” she says. Christianity teaches and strongly advocates for monogamous marriages.
Where there are Christian women staying in polygamous marriages, Biibi says various reasons could explain that. “She might be worried about her age and desperate for marriage,” Biibi suggests. “She could be trapped in the marriage because of financial favours from the man and the fear of living without them once she quits the marriage or because of family pressure that doesn’t allow her to quit.”
Newman emphasises the significance of change of times. “I tell you if you brought that woman, the woman who lived five decades ago, she may not survive today’s environment.”
Colin Asiimwe, a panelist on NTV Men and Account Director at QG Group Advertising argues that it is circumstances around women that have changed. “Like it is for men, women have pressure to build and live in a descent family,” he says. That pressure, Asiimwe says, comes from society that expects her to be a bread winner because she works and earns, which he says was and should be a man’s primary responsibility.
Biibi says every woman should be looked at differently basing on, among other things, their inner character which she says explains their faithfulness in marriage, decency in dressing or otherwise.
Today’s woman has been misunderstood- Asiimwe
What describes today’s woman?
She wants to provide for her family and have a respectable home. She has choices; she chooses who to marry, when to have babies and how many. Today’s woman has rights. For instance, she cannot live in an abusive relationship.
Is this woman misconceived? How?
Yes. That women are money hungry, too ambitious, and are cheaters. True, there are those who cheat, and they are not fair to themselves, but not all women do that.
Why the misconceptions?
It is born out of fear and lack of understanding. I mean, if both men and women live in the same economy and both pay for airtime or fuel, why shouldn’t a woman work?
Any cause for worry?
Where there is monetisation or materialism in relationships, there is cause for worry. It is important to know that it is the intangible things that are most precious, aspects like trust and honesty.
Colin Asiimwe, recently married, is a panelist on NTV Men and account director, QG Group Advertising (both companies found in Uganda)
Today’s woman simply has more choices-Crystal Newman
What defines today’s woman?
Today’s woman is educated and empowered. She has gone to school and has a contribution to make. She wants her views and opinions heard and appreciated. She can work and sustain herself. She has choices.
How is this woman misunderstood?
When women speak out, people say she is answering back, that she is assertive and disrespectful. They say women like to quarrel.
However, she just wants her views and opinions heard and appreciated.
Why the misconceptions?
We are living in a new generation. I think people need to understand that we have a levelled ground today where a woman is entitled to her opinion and suggestions. Yes, we can learn from our parents but it is unrealistic when people expect us to do the very things we saw our parents do.
Then, a woman would wake up, put on scurf and go to a garden. Today she wakes up and heads to the corporate world so you expect her to dress differently.
Any cause for worry?
I don’t think there is. People in marriage relationships need to be very committed. They need to work at their relationship and make it better. You have got to do your best to get the best out of something.
Angela Crystal Newman Kavulu, is a Ugandan radio personality, a mother and wife.