May 16, 2010
My last post talks about how concerned I am about making my research the best, and as thorough, as I possibly can. This is still very much the case. But I found through the course of my interviews that the stress I was feeling and the struggle of forcing my interest in the topic was making me miserable, which has led me to tweak (or detour) my research in a new direction. This new direction neither invalidates my previous research or builds on the topic of cultural revival, it takes the background from my previous interviews and picks out the specific point that piques my interest: women’s empowerment.
While this topic is certainly nothing new (there have been women’s empowerment programs for decades), its place in Acholi society is unique. First of all, the typical family structure prevents the woman from having much of a voice in decision making whether for the kids, how the money is spent, or where she lives. But for some women, this changed when organizations like the World Food Programme began distributing food in IDP Camps – just to women. This placed the women in positions of power, making them the breadwinners for the family, essentially reversing the traditional gender roles. Now that people are moving out of the camps, women want to maintain their status as the “breadwinner,” but many husbands feel threatened by this. In many cases, this shift has resulted in domestic, gender-based violence against women.
Another aspect is that of girls’ education. If a family has two children, a boy and a girl, but they don’t have enough money to send both to school, they will almost always send the boy and leave the girl at home. This is simply because eventually, the girl will be married and sent to live with her husband, and the family will have received nothing in return for spending money on her education. Several young women I have spoken with have said that the war was actually good for them. That it showed the people the importance of educating their girls.
Given that the wore has caused so much damage and trauma, can we look at these two areas and say that the war was actually beneficial for women, in a broad sense? And now that many organizations like CARE International and ACORD are directly targeting women for economic development projects, how are they training communities and husbands and children on the importance of women’s empowerment? How are they affecting the cultural structure for gender roles? Should they be changing cultural practices?
These are all questions I will attempt to confront in the next few months. I had planned to be finished with my research by tomorrow and then be able to close this chapter of this trip. But the thought of researching and writing a thesis on my previous topic for the next year made me miserable. Why, you might ask? It’s simple: As much as I admire Acholi cultural practices – the energetic dances, the colorful costumes, the unique music – I cannot be personally connected to it, and part of me feels that as an outsider, I shouldn’t be. But for women’s empowerment – I feel that womanhood transcends cultural boundaries. No matter where I am in the world, I can find and relate to women and I can truly sympathize with what they’re going through. I’m not saying that I have ever been through anything that most of these women have experienced – death, kidnapping, rape, murder, devastating loss, decades of war. But I do know what it’s like to grow up as a woman, constantly fighting the stereotypes and societal rules placed upon our gender. And in this sense, I feel that I can have a personal connection with my research. I can read these articles all day, every day, and I can interview participants on such a more intimate level. In short, I can be passionate about it. My interest in this has even led me to consider a graduate degree in women’s studies and explore job opportunities and internships with CARE.
So for the next few months, I will probably be outrageously busy conducting my research, working on CreatEd, and getting the first cartoon published. My research should take 2-3 days a week. CreatEd kicks off with some serious organizational meetings on the 19th, and the program begins in schools on June 1st, so I’ll be with CreatEd 2-3 days a week at that point. Then we have the cartoon project (I saw Vinny’s cartoons today, and this thing is going to be so great!). Soon, the artists will be editing in Adobe Photoshop, and I’ll be traveling around Gulu and Kampala begging for grants or partnerships and seeking out the right publisher.
To summarize: Think I’m on vacation, now?