Janice* is the type of woman who – when she walks into a room – people stop to look at. She sits down at our table, holding her fashionable oversized handbag close to her during our conversation.
As our conversation begins, she tells us excitedly that she has recently started working – a job all her own – but, when we express congratulations, she seems almost embarrassed. “My money is probably only like pocket money to you but at least now I don’t have to ask anyone for airtime and I have money to get a boda boda to town whenever I want. Do you know what it feels like to have to ask your parents for money to buy sanitary towels when you are 25?”
Janice lives at home with her parents and her siblings, choosing to return to Arua after completing her studies in Kampala. Her mother was the third of her father’s three wives, and the only wife who did not leave him like the others chose to. Life in Arua may be peaceful, but it is also hard for women. “Women are expected to work harder than men because men here are lazy.” Janice is bisexual and has had both male and female partners. Her last relationship with a man ended because she became involved with a woman. Not wanting her partner to find out, and unsure how he would react, she broke up with him instead. She was afraid he might reject her. Or become violent towards her. Or worse: hurt her by spreading rumours about her. She keeps her two groups of friends separate.
She met her queer friends through a friend who runs the WERAIN organisation in Arua. Without him, she and other women she now knows would not have met and become friends. She would have been totally alone. Apart from her sister – who, even though they are very close and share everything, was shocked and surprised – and her queer friends, no one knows she is bisexual. She cannot think about telling her three brothers; they would reject her and be mean to her. She laughs out loud as we ask about whether she has spoken with her parents. “I don’t think that they would reject or disown me I won’t ever take a chance by telling them so long as I am dependent on them.” Janice’s dream is independence: to have her own place, a nice car and enough money…lots of money! She wants to be a business woman in charge of her own life, without anyone telling her what to do or how to live. Not tied down to any man, or woman. She does, however, really want a child. When the time is right, and when she has a good career and money, she wants to find a man, get pregnant, and then raise the child on her own.
As we conclude our conversation, she shares a thought for women like her: “Women, especially queer women, need to stop being so hard on themselves and other women. Your loving men, women or nobody is no one’s business so don’t let other people hurt you or make you feel bad because of how God made you!”
*not her real name