Written by Because of Her team

Started in 2022, the Annual Because of Her Women’s Exhibit seeks to preserve the rich history of Ugandan women and celebrate their amazing work. The exhibit also aims to educate the public about the lives of these women and what it took for them to make a change as a form of advocacy for the equality of women and girls in Uganda.

History has always centered men to the exclusion of the contributions of women, whose work has often been underlooked and whose ambitions outside of the family structure have been kept out of the public sphere. Recognising this gap, Uwera Portia and Kenyangi Keshia, co-founders and curators of the exhibit, have dedicated themselves to honouring the essential roles women have played as pioneers, teachers, and heroes as well as celebrating their duality as mothers, sisters and friends.

The exhibit uses the storytelling technique to present the lives of the women being celebrated in a way that fosters a connection with the exhibit’s guests. The curators want as many women and girls as possible to see themselves in the stories portrayed for them to see the bravery, resilience, joy and ambitions of the women who came before them. In presenting the stories in this manner, the exhibit also creates a space for men and boys to see the spaces women have occupied from time immemorial as well as understand their struggles and the need for change in our society.

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The Annual Women’s Exhibit serves as an incredible vehicle for raising awareness about different issues affecting women and girls in Uganda such as period poverty, access to education and domestic violence among others. When presenting these stories, the curators make sure to focus on what these women and girls stood for and what made them work to make a difference. This provides an authentic and contextual look into what it takes to create an equitable society for women and girls in Uganda.

The theme of this year’s exhibit was “Nature v Nurture” and through this, the curators have been able to challenge harmful gender stereotypes and norms, by examining the historical challenges, preconceived notions and cultural-religious beliefs that have hindered feminist progress. They worked to show these notions and beliefs to be socially constructed and not gospel truths that cannot be changed, as they have been presented throughout history. By recognizing the historical roots of discrimination and bias, we can work towards creating more equitable societies.

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The 2024 “Because of Her” Annual Women’s History Exhibit, drew close to 2,000 visitors to celebrate women’s history and learn about the issues women and girls in Uganda face in a unique space that combines learning, artistry and leisure. The curators of the Because of Her Women’s Exhibit want to foster a culture of utilizing leisure experiences to educate the public about important social issues in an effort to make the information as accessible and digestible as possible.

One of the key portions of the exhibit is always the pre-colonial and early colonial stories of women that bring much-needed context and understanding to the lives of women in Uganda at the time. Women’s achievements and advancements and general participation in public life have been erased from our public knowledge and this is precisely one of the aspects of our society that the exhibit exists to challenge. The centrepiece of this portion of the exhibit was the story of the Female Uganda Martyrs who had been excluded from one of the most defining stories of Ugandan history. Seeking to rewrite the story, the 2024 Because of Her Women’s Exhibit told the stories of women who had faced religious persecution much like their male counterparts. Women have time and time again been excluded from religious leadership as there was seemingly no place for women, yet women have been involved from the very beginning with Princess Clara Nalumansi being among the first groups of Ugandans to be baptized and face persecution under the Christian faith.

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Additionally, this portion of the exhibit always shows the historical pieces from previous exhibits to allow first-time visitors a chance to interact with the information and make these stories reach as many people as possible. In 2023, the historical piece centred on the practice of Caesarian section births in Uganda before colonialism and that of 2022 was the story of Queen Muhumuza ‘Nyabingi’ of Kigezi, a freedom fighter whose story has been intentionally erased from the struggle against colonialism in Uganda.

The second portion of the exhibit portrayed stories of women during the period of colonialism, independence and the early Ugandan government. In this portion, stories like that of Rebecca Mulira, Uganda’s first women’s rights advocate, Theresa Matovu, Uganda’s first female TV producer credited for the introduction of children’s shows to Ugandan television and Joyce Mpanga, who championed the implementation of affirmative action in Ugandan universities are celebrated. This part of the exhibit exists to celebrate the women who made lasting changes and fought for the rights we enjoy today. The second portion of the exhibit also seeks to raise awareness for different women’s rights issues firstly by educating the public about the deliberate nature of oppression and secondly by showing what it took to make a change in our society and what more remains to be done.

The third and final part of the exhibit focuses on celebrating contemporary inspirations like the Late Joan Kagezi, a prosecutor who dedicated her life to bringing justice to the families who had lost their loved ones to domestic and other violence at the hands of powerful men, Florence Kasumba, an actress in multiple critically acclaimed movies including the Marvel movies who serves as an inspiration to Ugandan creatives and Yvonne Namaganda, Uganda’s youngest hero who at just 10 years old lost her life saving her classmates from a school fire and Because of Her, the lives of 19 children were saved. This portion of the exhibit seeks to correct the culture of celebrating women when they passed on as well as inspire more Ugandans to make a change for the better by platforming everyday inspirations that can make the fight for equality tangible in the eyes of the public.

The closing ceremony of the Women’s History Exhibit, held on March 24, 2024, at the Sheraton Hotel, was a memorable and vibrant affair. The event, graced by the esteemed Minister Justine Kasule Lumumba, Minister of the Office of the Prime Minister (General Duties) as the guest of honour, featured a panel discussion under the theme “Investing in Women.” This discussion underscored the crucial role of investing in women and the impact of empowering women to succeed in all spheres of life.

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The evening unfolded as a heartfelt celebration of the achievements of Ugandan women, highlighted by stirring poetry and vibrant performances. Guests were treated to a tour of the exhibit and given the chance to interact with some of the women celebrated which featured notable women such as Mrs Theresa Mary Matovu, Uganda’s first female television producer; Patience Poni Ayikoru a young activist and founder FemmeTalk WestNile, Ukkonika Prudence Proprietor Bella Wines and Nalwanga Ssekabunga, the nation’s pioneering female neurosurgeon, who were in attendance at the ceremony. The ceremony underscored the indomitable spirit and significant contributions of Ugandan women and what more can be done by our community to continue and support efforts towards gender equality.

This exhibit not only enriches our understanding of the past but also plays a critical role in challenging prevailing gender stereotypes. Promoting diverse and authentic representations, influences contemporary culture, literature, art, and media, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable representation and understanding of women. Gendered history provides crucial insights into power structures within societies. By studying how gender roles have been constructed and perpetuated throughout history, we can better understand the intersections of gender with other forms of oppression, such as race, class, and sexuality. Understanding historical patterns of discrimination and progress can inform strategies for a fairer future.

In conclusion, the annual “Because of Her” Annual Women’s History Exhibit celebrates the untold stories of women in Uganda as a vehicle to catalyze for social change, challenging us to reflect on our historical narratives and inspiring us to build a more equitable society. The exhibit’s success and growing visitor numbers reflect a burgeoning interest in and appreciation for the essential roles women have played and continue to play in shaping not only Uganda but the world as a whole.