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April 25, 2012 — U of T history course on powerful women takes students to Uganda

by Jessica Lewis — Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012

April 25, 2012 — U of T history course on powerful women takes students to Uganda

Group shot of the class with Mr. & Mrs. Matembe. Photo by Ana Glazirin.

By Jessica Lewis

Studying someone's biography is one way to learn about the people who create history. Another is going to meet the subject of that biography as a group of history students recently did.

The students of the Elite Women, Power and Modernity in the 20th century course travelled to Uganda where they met with female parliamentarians and activists.

The course, taught by history professor Nakanyike Musisi, focused on themes of African elite women in print with issues of methods, knowledge and politics.

"It is common for courses on African women to concentrate on the poor and those who don’t have power," said Musisi. "The overall aim of the course was to show that the history of African women is not necessarily a history of victims. It shows how a very limited but important group negotiated power in a century of increasing patriarchy."

One of the women the students focused on in their readings, former parliamentarian, activist and Minister of Ethics and Integrity Miria Matembe, is still alive, so they were able to meet her in Uganda. Students learned more about the art of biography as they each had to come up with questions for a two-day long interview with Matembe at her home. They also met and wrote biographies about many female members of Ugandan parliament, such as the honourables Betty Nambooze Bakireke, Beatrice Atim Anywar and Rosemary Nyakinonyoro.

"Being in Uganda helped the course come to life," said student Shaunasea Brown. "This trip has been beneficial in broadening my understanding of gender politics in an international respect. Meeting and listening to the stories of several powerful women who are active in advocating for human rights has been very inspiring. Their selfless drive and tenacity is something that I haven't really been exposed to at home. That has been very thought-provoking for me in the sense that Uganda, along with many other African countries, are considered underdeveloped, yet they are exceptionally progressive when it comes to issues of gender inequality and that is something the world can learn from."

By going on this trip, students were able to see what has and hasn’t been showcased in history. They were shown how a strong woman comes in many forms, how to remain objective on political and social issues and they picked up interviewing skills.

At a year-end forum for the class, Musisi beamed at her students while they shared their own autobiographies, reflection papers and photos from the trip.

"If I can do something for my university, be a mother figure, be a role model, that is what is in there for me," she said.

The trip to Uganda was part of the International Course Modules (ICM) program, which enables students to travel to different parts of the world to learn directly about the phenomena they are studying in their course.