How have African men understood the shifts for women’s rights that have become integral to international declarations and grassroots activism? This article draws on ethnographic research from Kampala, exploring how ordinary men and women from urban Uganda understand women’s rights and notions of masculinity. The findings relate to 69 in-depth interviews conducted with men and women and several group discussions. In order to engage in discussions and seek a greater understanding of the issue, the author spent 5 months working with local carpenters and 10 months in a centre for domestic violence prevention.
Although women’s rights discourse is quite new in Uganda, women’s political participation is relatively high in the Ugandan government. Women’s political participation has increased considerably under the government of Yoweri Museveni by placing issues of gender equity on the national agenda and by publicising women’s political rights through the media, political campaigns and celebrations. It has been successfully framed in a way that most Ugandans find acceptable. Women’s political participation revolves around principles of gender equity but has so far not challenged male superiority and authority over women, especially in the private sphere. A critical reflection on gendered power relations within the domestic sphere, such as marriage laws and the division of labour within the home, is still widely perceived as unacceptable.
The article concludes that conceptions of masculinity are complex and fluid with multiple understandings of male authority and power. In Uganda, a new variant of hegemonic masculinity that incorporates some aspects of women’s rights while retaining many aspects of male authority can only be understood by analysing how women’s political participation has been framed in the cultural context.