Poem by Violetta Babirye

As a child, I play with boys 

We play freely: we are all the same 

When we get older, I am introduced to work 

My mum takes me to the kitchen or the garden 

I have to learn to cook, clean, wash, take care of the home

I don’t mind 

I’ve seen my mother and aunts do it 

But I keep growing and getting separated from boys 

They tell me they are not good for me; they spoil girls 

But I study with them in the same class; they are my friends

I’m afraid of getting spoilt because I see what happens to girls who do

I try to keep away 

I excel in school and graduate 

I am told I now have to get married 

I am now a big woman and should hurry up 

I want to believe that, but I hesitate; I’m not ready 

I still want to study; the boys are going for postgraduate studies

I want to work and get promoted; the boys are working to have better lives 

I refuse 

I become an outcast 

To my family, I am an arrogant fool

My prospects of getting married are slim 

I panic but I become more confident when I meet the boys 

The boys I played with and spent time with who are just like me 

They ask me too if I am presently married or have a child or a family 

I am surprised; we are age mates and I don’t understand why they don’t see that

I start wondering if we are different 

If it is the case, then they are superior 

I then have to wake up early to take care of the home 

To cook, clean and wash like my mother and aunts did 

I get scared because I want to study, to work, to get promoted 

I start questioning whether my beliefs are wrong; if I should do as told

But I can’t because I don’t think I am the woman that my mother and aunts were

I make peace with the fact that I will always be an outcast; a rebel; a spinster, forever

I am afraid but I remember the boys I used to play with who are busy making their lives

I tell myself that I played with them and studied with them; I am like them and perhaps better.

Violetta Babirye is a Ugandan writer and editor who believes that both writing and editing are tools for change. While editing enhances communication, writing can be used to create, build or destroy. Therefore, she chooses to use both tools intentionally to create positive change through her work. In her free time, she likes to revisit history, either in books or by physically visiting.
My poem is entitled Par for the course. It addresses gender equality/justice by drawing on the plight that some young women in traditional settings in Uganda face. In 2020, on my graduation day, I was told that I now had to get married. It caught me by surprise and shocked me because that was something I least expected or considered at that time. When I opened up to a couple of friends, I realized they were going through the same thing. I felt it was unfair for us young women to be expected to get married right after graduating while the boys proceeded to work. Therefore, in my poem, to me, equality in the post-pandemic is when both young men and young women have a right to choose when to get married but not advancing the potential of one gender at the expense of another.
Violetta Babirye

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