Hilda Twongyeirwe is a Ugandan writer and the editor of a book called I Dare to Say: African Women Share Their Stories of Hope and Survival, which will be reviewed in this paper. The book comprises of testimonies from different women who are members of the Ugandan Women Writers Association and FEMRITE, which brings the human rights violations that take place in Uganda today.
The women who get to tell their life stories are in the age bracket between 13 and 70 years of age. All these women got blemished by the injustices inherent in a society in which they live. It is the kind of society where men and women are not treated equally, and women have to go through horrifying experiences – just because they are women. The book addresses issues, such as physical struggle and emotional pain that women go through, caused by unhappy marriages, poverty and war atrocities, lack of proper health care and other basic amenities. The author addresses these cases into different chapters, the first being about the discord and abuse in marriages, and the second being about HIV and AIDS diagnoses. The third chapter is about the war and its effects on women; the fourth is about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) while the last two chapters vividly portray the agony, with which these women struggle in their day-to-day life. These stories show African women voicing outrage, agony and sorrow in a brave way, all in the face of people who believe in and wish to uphold entrenched cultural customs and norm – which is the cause of their suffering (Twongyeirwe, 2012).
In relation to the psychology of women, the book tells the stories of struggle, courage and challenges, which face women and womanhood in the male dominated society in Uganda. It takes a lot of psychological strengths, courage and endurance to make it in the described society. Women in such society have to put up with an unfair social setting and dehumanizing environment. Having psychological strength or strong mindset, filled with hope that they find in religion and children, hoping one day things will get better, these women keep going on with life.
The theme of hope in surviving and reclaiming is clear in the opening chapter of this book. The book explores the feelings of love and pain that African women in the context carry. It is because the pain that these women undergo comes from the people they love, in the name of their blood relatives, spouses and children. Women are forced to carry huge burdens of pain inflicted to them by the societal customs defined by patriarchy. The society expects these women to suffer in silence and never resist the manner, in which the society treats them. Most of African women bear these burdens in their hearts as they gather the courage and strength to defy these injustices (Twongyeirwe, 2012).
True stories of African rural women in this chapter show how women have suffered in the society, some of whom have vowed to fight for their rights all the time. For instance, women in traditional African setting are treated as part of the family labor force but do not receive any of the profits gained from their hard work. Despite all that, these women still work hard to feed their children and families, and they have grown wiser by loving while still suffering, and they have a hope for better days. They have endured the pain and suffering, and they have had sleepless nights thinking and have made decisions that have changed their lives, and some have picked broken pieces of their lives and have found hope for tomorrow.
The book describes the untold sufferings that women have endured under the HIV/AIDS scourge. The stories open up to the people of such a society, with the message that HIV/AIDS is real and affects people. A story that shows the realm of the HIV/AIDS scourge is where a young woman finds love, hoping that she will get a life she always hoped for, only to realize that her entire family was sick. She does not realize it until her husband and her baby died. She also realizes that her husband was married and had eight children and died of AIDS (Twongyeirwe, 2012).
In the third chapter, the stories are of agony and resilience, the atrocities committed against girls and women in war-torn Northern Uganda. The stories depict the effects of armed conflict on women and girls. Although everything is in ashes during the war, the women telling the stories manage to have some hope for a better life. Girls are abducted from villages, taken away to rebel camps and kept in dehumanizing conditions. They would be gang-raped, starved and dehydrated to the point they would drink each other’s urine. Some of the storytellers lived with the rebels for more than five years, but they hung on to the hope until they found a way out of the situation (Twongyeirwe, 2012).
In Beyond the dance, a story of a woman named Judith expresses the troubles of women who are forced to go through involuntary circumcision. Judith tells her story about how she, her cousin and their friend were pressured to get circumcised in 1976. At that time, women did not choose to get circumcised, but it was what women had to do so as to get respect as well as get married. Those who did not get circumcised peacefully would be ridiculed and later circumcised by force. Rituals and training got performed at this time; the girls were forced to dance and were taught how to bewitch people who behave badly, among other activities. Girls would have developed complications from the FGM, but they had to endure and live that way.
In an overall overview, men in the societal setting from this book are seen as being better than women. The society treats men like masters, while women and children are treated as sources of labor and wealth to the man – master in the family. Women are expected to toil the whole day to provide food for the family. They are expected to go to the farm, fetch water for the family, split firewood to cook for the family and keep them warm. Women should give birth to children for the family to be complete. Where a woman cannot give birth, she is treated like a worthless object, and the husband has to get another wife. The women who only give birth to girls are also regarded as being less valuable compared to those that give birth to boys. The traditional rural African society setting depicted in the book is unfair to women, treating them as lesser beings. In the second chapter, for example, we see a man naming his daughter after his frustrations and lamentation that he was ripped off the bride price – since his wife only gave birth to girls (with only one boy).
The book shows a lot of hope and courage for the women who undergo suffering and unfair treatment but still find a reason to keep working hard to support their families, children and loved ones. The title “I dare to say” shows that it takes courage to tell these stories for the part of victims and witnesses. The storytelling in this book is therapeutic, creating hope for a better future. The witnesses to the horrific events are able to tell the stories of horror, and that is an initial step in overcoming these horrors. There is a thread of faith in the stories of the book that brings hope. They are given a voice by this book, a voice that goes out to reclaim the dignity of each woman who has been a victim, as well as those who are faced by such acts in the society. The voice these women get from the book gives them the power of unity, gives the courage and hope for all women and girls in such a male-dominated society.
The stories of this book show high level of resilience. The resilience is shown by the fact that despite the tremendous difficulties these women go through, they carry on with life and do well. The story of Judith, for example, who says that the woman in her died during the FGM, shows us that she persevered although most people thought she would never give birth, but she went on with her life. Later she gets married and has more than three children. An interesting story is told in the first chapter: a woman is unable to have children and her husband marries another woman who bears children but disregards the first wife for being barren (Twongyeirwe, 2012). The woman does not give up. She works hard in the farm and feeds her family, including her co-wife’s children (the co-wife who hates her). The story is compelling because despite her co-wife and the society treating her as an outcast, she is still able to toil and get enough to eat, and even feed her co-wife’s children. Very few people can do an unstinting thing like what she did.
Through all these stories of struggle, courage, hope and womanhood, the writer is trying to get across the message that is powerful and cuts across all cultures. The message is that irrespective of how bad situations that are beyond our control get, with courage, resilience and hope one can gather the required strengths to overcome all these challenges and become stronger than ever.
This book is dedicated to the unsung heroines of Africa. These are the people who play an imperative role in the traditional rural African societies like the one in the stories of this book. The unsung heroines are these women who bear all the burdens of the entire society. Such burdens include raising children, feeding the society despite the numerous challenges, being beaten by their husbands for reasons that are not justified, and being treated unfairly for being women. These women are unsung heroines because they still manage to raise their families in wars, poverty, diseases and others hardships but they are never celebrated as being heroines.
Twongyeirwe, H. (2012). I dare to say: African women share their stories of hope and survival. Chicago, Ill: Lawrence Hill Books.