L.I.S.A.: What is your PhD project about and what got you interested in the chosen topic to begin with?
Amon Mwine: My research is on the male promoters of gender equality – male legislators who are ‘selected’ by women rights activists to speak to gender issues on behalf of women – in the context of the Ugandan parliament. I enquire into who these men are, and why women opt for male representation on gender equity issues in parliamentary debates. I also interrogate cases in which some of these men supportive of gender equality are constituted as ‘champions’.
My interest in researching male actors in gender debates in parliament is motivated, in part, by my past experience as a male undergraduate student taking a course on Gender and Development at Makerere University, Uganda. A critical question that I and indeed other male Gender students were constantly asked was – “how, for God’s sake, do you ‘do Gender’ [take gender studies], when you are a man?” We were often ridiculed by other students who sometimes inferred that our desire to do gender studies was influenced by sexual motivations ‘to do women’. In my local Bantu speaking language – Luganda “doing women” is loosely translated as “Nkola Bakazi” equivalent to saying, “having sex with women” or “fucking women”. This kind of ridicule of men studying Gender and Development courses was not confined to the university. I encountered similar attitudes in a remote village - approximately 280 Kilometres away from Kampala where Makerere University is located. During the break from my second semester, a certain elderly man asked me what I was studying at the university. In our conversation, I proudly shared with him how I had been offered a course on Gender Studies and how I was being sponsored by the government of Uganda. He later told me how disappointed he was, that I could “waste” such an opportunity of going to a university in the city, only to spend taxpayers’ money on studying women.
While these are two separate incidences located in different times and social spaces, the questions raised in each of these are posed in a way that queried my masculinity as if ‘gender’ was synonymous with femininity, and as a man, learning Gender Studies was violating what is meant to be a man. Meanwhile, all this was happening in 2001 when development discourses had already embraced Gender and Development (GAD), “an approach that sought to tackle women's subordination through an explicit emphasis on socially and historically constructed relations” (Cornwall, 2000: 18).
So, I wanted to interrogate the kind of discourses that produce the ways in which men are constituted in gender equality debates. I wanted to work towards developing feminist politics which engage critically with women’s oppression in ways which do not reproduce men and women as binary opposites, as perpetrators and victims in relation to patriarchal power.