By Socrates Mbamalu
Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni recently declared, “the head of the home never goes into the kitchen.” In 2018, when cooking is a basic life skill, on a continent where gender stereotypes have proven to do more harm than good, what do you think of President Museveni’s statement?
In 2018, gender roles continue to be a topic of major contention in public discourse. The roots of patriarchy, unfortunately, still remain entrenched in many African countries and societies. With many still restricting the role of women to the kitchen and the bedroom, Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has been the latest enforcer of this thinking. President Museveni said, “The head of the home never goes into the kitchen. It is now 45 years with Mama Janet, I have never stepped into the kitchen. That is how it should be.” There is no rule book that says women should cook and men should not. Even if there is, it deserves to be discarded.
When Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy analyses patriarchy she talks of the trifecta of patriarchy, the state, the home and the streets. The statement by President Museveni springs a lot of questions. How is it an achievement not to step into the kitchen because one is the head of the family? As a President of a country, Museveni’s statements enforce men to believe they are entitled simply because they are men. Cooking is a skill needed regardless of sex or gender. Taking into consideration that his statement was made as an example of how politicians and civil servants should stick to their proscribed roles, President Museveni has also reinforced patriarchy in the homes and in offices.
In 2016, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari in a joint press briefing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to the criticism of his leadership by his wife by saying, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”
While daily debates on social media by feminists seek to debunk these roles, African leaders simply destroy such work. In a reaction to President Museveni’s statement, the Executive Director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima said on Twitter, “I’m disappointed by this statement from Kaguta Museveni, cooking isn’t a woman’s job. It’s a life skill. All people, men and women should cook. When cooking, cleaning and other domestic chores are left to women, they are denied an equal chance to raise incomes or to be politically active.”
Dangerous gender stereotypes like the ones by President Buhari and President Museveni promotes abuse against women, objectifies women and does a lot of disservice to the fight for equality between men and women.