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Professor Sylvia Tamale delivers inaugural lecture on Nudity, Protest and the Law in Uganda

It was an afternoon filled with airs of satisfaction on the 28th of October 2016 when Prof. Sylvia Tamale delivered aninaugural Lecture on  Nudity, Protests and the Lawin Uganda in the Main hall of Makerere University.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs Associate Prof. Ernest OkelloOgwang, acting on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Professor John Ddumba-Ssentamu handed over a plaque to Prof. Sylvia Tamale in recognition of her effort in fulfilling her obligation of delivering an inaugural lecture as required of any Professor world over. Professor Sylvia Tamale, who was described as “the first” in a number of respects becomes the first woman to deliver her inaugural lecture.

The Vice Chancellor’s procession together with the Guest of Honour-Prof. Sylvia Tamale was ushered into the Main hall with dancing and the sound of the drums from Nyange Performing Artistsgracefully strolling in alongside the Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs, the Ag. Principal-School of Law, law dons and the academiafrom other fields of study all donned in their prestigious academic gowns.

Congratulating Professor Sylvia Tamale, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs of Makerere University who represented the Vice Chancellor Prof. John Ddumba-Ssentamu welcomed the audience comprising invited guests, that included High Court Judges, members of the Diplomatic corps, the family of Prof. Sylvia Tamale, intellectuals/scholars, staff, students, members of the legal fraternity and well-wishers.

He particularly congratulated the entire Oloka family for the support rendered towards Professor Tamale, citing a pledge by Professor Oloka Onyango on the 12th of November 2015, when he said his wife Professor Sylvia Tamale would be the next in the row to deliver an inaugural lecture.

In reference to the Topic of the inaugural lecture Nudity, Protest and the Law in Uganda, the Vice Chancellor reiterated Prof. Sylvia Tamale’s observation that the past few years in Uganda have witnessed several incidents of women stripping naked as a way of protesting what they perceive as gross injustice.   He highlighted that Prof. Sylvia Tamale’s inaugural lecture attempts to analyze this age-old strategy from the perspectives of law, gender and power.  The Vice Chancellor wished Professor Tamale the best in her academic advancement and to come up with more knowledge and innovations that will propel the nation to advancement.

In a citation that introduced her to the audience by the Ag. Principal School of Law Dr. Damalie Naggita-Musoke, Professor Tamale who was promoted to the rank of Professor in 2013 was referred to as a Lady of Firsts.  She completed her PhD in record time at the University of Minnesota, despite the constraints faced by International Students. She was said to have her country at heart and that despite her international repute, Professor Sylvia Tamale  chose to come back to teach at home in Makerere University, becoming the first Dean of Law from 2004 up to 2008.  She is the founder head of the Law gender and sexuality research centre at the School of Law that is to be developed into a full department.   Professor Tamale has written widely and serves on a number of Boards worldwide on top of being a visiting professor in a number of Universities.

Dr. Naggita noted that although Professor Tamale was in the year 2003 voted by the media as the worst woman of the year alongside Joseph Kony who was voted as the worst man, Professor Tamale’s efforts towards attempting to mitigate unjust law  was misrepresented then, she noted. She said with such works, this misrepresentation would be clarified she said.

The Chairperson of the Inaugural Lecture Committee Professor Elly Sabiiti welcomed all to the event, which he said was the fourth of its kind since the committee was instituted, and the first by a Lady Professor. He said their target is to have five Inaugural lectures every year. He explained that inaugural lectures give opportunity to Professors whether newly or long appointed to share their knowledge and to update colleagues on their talent, present and future research. He said through such events, professors share their achievements which he said is central to the lives of the academic career.

He called upon all professors intending to hold their inaugural lectures to express their intentions to the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of academic affairs.

Prof. Sylvia Tamale, in her lecture that attracted a large audience eager to hear about this contentious topicput the scenario into context by giving a historical overview of publically naked bodies and protests. She mentioned that although Uganda has in the recent past experienced several incidents of women stripping naked in protest of the perceived gross injustices which she described as an age old strategy, the lecture aimed at analyzing it from the perspective of the law, gender and power. She described the institution of the law as comprising written legislation, unwritten customary law and the Religious principles.

The Law Don who has also distinguished herself as a feminist explained that her analysis of the situation was guided by post structural feminist’s understandings of the human body as a site of both power and control, and how the law responds to naked protests. She said that the women are attempting to re write the script on their bodies by using nakedness as an instrument of power and to subvert the law to effect justice.

In her discussion where she uses illustrations from recent incidents of women stripping naked as depicted in the media, Professor Tamale divides her paper into sections like Reading the Political body. Sheemphasizes that although the choice of topic may seem imaginable, the reality is that the law touches every aspect of day to day life. She goes ahead to give a historical overview of naked body protests in Uganda and Africa way back. The feminist law don further delves into the gendered meanings of power and the body, detailing the place of the body in relation to power and gender.  She then links this to Law, culture and religion in as far as naked bodies are concerned exploring the law as it relates to nudity in protests.

In her conclusion, Professor Sylvia Tamale sums up her discussion with the call for appreciating the essence of naked protests which epitomizes the body as an instrument of control as well as a source of disruption.

Article by:  School of Law, Communication Office