To bear all. Stripped. Unclothed. To have nothing on.
That image and word kept swirling in my mind the whole weekend. It was prompted by a story I read in the Saturday Monitor (18th May 2015), under the heading: “Women Undress Before Migereko, Gen Aronda”. These are two male ministers in the Uganda Government, and they had gone to a District in Northern Uganda, called Amuru, to help settle a land boundary dispute. The duo arrived at the sight of naked elderly women sitting on Apaa junction and yelling out traditional slogans condemning the boundary demarcations. The women said the demarcation is a move to push them out of their ancestral land.
Two things caught my eye in that story – one was the action of the women and the other was the reaction of the men (the two male ministers). The picture of the elderly women made me think of my grandmother. We know that in a country like ours, covering of the body is taken very seriously, especially by the elderly. The elderly are known to be extremely modest, and the most you will see of their uncovered body parts are probably their legs (most times the ankles and below, as elderly women tend to wear long clothes), or their arms. And sometimes, depending on how close you are to an elderly woman (grandmother or mother), you may see her bare chest, if you bump into her as she is dressing up. But it is rare to see a stark naked elderly woman. And because it is such a rarity, from a people who are generally revered for their age and modesty, you know that once an elderly woman decides to undress in in full view of the public, her anguish is much more than her shame. You know that the thing for which she has decided to strip bare hurts her more than her public image.
The elderly women were baring all for what they saw as a grave injustice, not just against them, but against their people – past, present and future. In that moment, they were communicating that there was no longer anything to hide, that they had nothing to lose in going all the way to bare their heart and soul for all to see.
The reactions by the ministers was also interesting. As reported by the press – the sight of the naked elderly women caused Migereko to break down in tears, while General Aronda looked on (seemingly unmoved), though avoiding looking at the women. I wondered what must have gone on in the minds of those two gentlemen. What did they really think in their heart of hearts? Would they brush these women off as ‘shameless saboteurs’ of Government programs or would they take to heart, the message of the injustice that the women were trying to relay?
We encounter injustice everyday, everywhere around the world, and because it is everywhere all the time, it is very easy for us not to see it, or to ignore it, or not to see it for what it really is. Can we dare look at injustice in it’s naked form, in it’s rawness, not covered up with pretty words, and slogans on T-Shirts and UN Conventions and the endless streams of meetings and symposiums that discuss injustice? Can we stare at it’s nakedness, feel the anguish and hopelessness that people feel, when injustice robs even the elderly of their dignity, robs them of their humanity? And when we face the nakedness of injustice, how do we react?
Do we cry? Do we look away? Or do we act?