Law Student Of The Week – Charlotte Ahabwe

Charlotte Ahabwe is a fourth year student at the Makerere University, Uganda. She runs a movement called ‘Feminism Reloaded’ and works with several NGOs in Uganda, particularly ‘Akina mama wa Afrika’. Follow our chat with her below. 

Did you set out to study law? If yes, what inspired your decision?
Yeah. From when I was a child, I have always wanted to be a lawyer. What really drove me was I really want to take up something that would fit within my character. Also, I also wanted to do justice. Usually, anybody who comes to law school aims at that. As a child, seeing a lot of injustices around, I felt if I study the law, I could be of help in one way or the other. However, since I have been to a law school, I now know that some of the things I thought were injustices are not, in the eye of the law. Notwithstanding, my desire to see justice is unwavering as I am involved several social services, helping prisoners and other members of the community, teaching them the law. I see myself getting towards those things I originally set out to achieve.

Tell us more about yourself and you drive to emancipate the girl child.
I think there are a lot of injustices done to the girl child today and what makes it worse is the fact that albeit efforts to raise awareness, these violations are still rampant. Even in elite societies, you find that there discrepancies in the way the girl child is treated compared to the way the boy child is. I see a problem in the society; there is a problem with the way we are raised. Many think it’s in the nature of the boy child to be superior to the girl child and to have a particular treatment attached to him simply because he’s a boy. That boys have more entitlements than girls and this simply isn’t right. For example, in an average home, although each child have equal assignments and tasks to complete, the girl(s) are the ones made to do cooking and other chores. This problem is one of inequality. Another example is where girls in relationships are beaten by their partners and still remain (sometimes even defending their partners) because they’ve been raised to understand that they are supposed to bear such situations. Even where such a girl does something wrong, no one has the right to beat her up.
I believe this mentality needs to be changed as people are equal and everyone should be seen as individuals first before any other thing.
We started this drive (Feminism Reloaded) in a bid to raise awareness about injustices done to the girl child, particularly violence. I am working with quite a large team on this.

How do you combine your passion to drive this movement alongside school work?
There is actually not much to combine since the movement is somehow related to my school work in various aspects. I learn a lot from the movement to benefit my school work and vice versa. So combining them is not too much work. However, some things fall out of school work, for example, awareness activities, meetings and so on. These take time, however, they are all worth it.

From your experience, what is/are the most violated right(s) of the Ugandan girl child and what possible steps can be taken to correct such menace?
I would say the violation of the freedom from discrimination and the right to equality. Most of the other violations stem from the aforesaid violations. It is important that people are made aware of these injustices. Some persons see these violations as the how the society is and should be, for example, Female Genital Mutilation. The society as well much begin to change some of its peculiarities that are unfair to the girl child. Gender, which is the role attached to particular sexes, in many society is usually unfair to the girl child. In Uganda for instance, in an average family, you find where couples go to work together but on getting back, the woman is the one made to take care of the house, kids and the man, whereby the man just sits and watches news. I don’t think this is fair. I am not then saying there should be a reversal of roles, but nobody deserves unfairness. It’s not like men should start to do the house work but there needs to be a change in the way children are raised. Girls should trained to value themselves equally as boys and boys shouldn’t be made to feel more important just because they are born male. Both should also be taught respect for each other. So essentially, one of the ways we can reduce these violations is to have a fundamental change in the way children are raised.

Any challenges you face in this drive?
Yes. There are quite number of challenges. First of all, many males are opposed to our ideology. Although I have met men who are in support our movement, but you find more men not wanting to hear what we have to say at all. There is a friend of mine who even told me to me that the bible has made it clear that man and woman can never be equal. They don’t understand that our clamor mainly if for the girl child to have equal access to opportunities and treatment just as the boy child because we are all humans. So the challenge here is that many people, including the girl child do not understand the drive. They mentality of the emancipation of the girl child is the reversal of roles, which is wrong.
Also, people do not want to get engaged in the drive, particularly the girls. They believe once they are identified as feminists of persons who believes in gender equality, then they are not attractive to men.
Another challenge is culture. People have construed culture in certain kind of way and they find it difficult to change from what they were taught at home. They feel anything different from that is a brain wash which belongs to the western world and not Africa.
Religion is also a challenge. People construe religion in progressive ways it benefits them and in retrogressive was where it still benefits them. This is where you find people who say that even from the bible, a man and a woman are not equal.
Finally, people misconstrue the difference between sex and gender. People often say that a man is born different as he is stronger, and the woman is born with a child bearing role, therefore they are different people who are meant to be doing different things. I agree that both are biologically different however, in actual sense, girls should not be subjected to roles they are not biologically inclined to do. For instance, there is no special gene in girls making them better cooks. You even finds some better male cooks than female cooks. Some women are also physically and mentally stronger than the average man and vice versa. It is important to point out that here is no clear cut line depicting the strengths and weaknesses of both men and women. These are some of the challenges we face.

What aspects of law catch your attention?
I love International law and Human Rights law. I feel human rights law should be taught to even those not in law school. An aspect I like from human rights is that of fairness, that no matter who a person is, everyone is equal before the law. However, the law cannot solve all these problems aforementioned. Also, the laws are written but need to be put in practice.
Any other interests outside law?
Sure. I love business, social justice work and interior designs.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Of course done with school, working, practicing as a lawyer in the private sector, volunteering probably for pro bono work and probably doing my Masters, because I also want to be a lecturer.