The International Women’s day Festival

When you mention “art” and “the woman” in the same sentence, there is such harmony and blend of the two that doesn’t call for contention whatsoever. The actual embodiment of a woman is art itself, at least that is what the first man thought when he saw Eve. Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Poetry in its raw form.

Written by Elizabeth Namakula

So for this one day in the year, March 8th, one couldn’t help but wonder how art would be used to celebrate such an interesting phenomenon of the human race. Would it call for a sculpture of the woman in all her glory, a painting of her most-prized assets? Or how she embraces art in her day-to-day life to make it comfortable for herself and her loved ones?

Certainly for the international celebrations of the Women’s day at the Sheraton, the answer lay in this last one.

The theme of the festival was how independent is the Ugandan Woman? A retrospect of the past 50 years, present and future perspectives.

Celebrating 50 years of Independence at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Petra Behnsen.

There was a round open debate forum which tackled issues concerning women in health, agriculture, justice, education, and women in top management and business. This took up the better part of the morning.

The gardens swirled with tents of different organizations; Embassies and their partners, NGOs involved in women and banks. Action Aid, Fida Uganda, Concern for the Girl Child, Teenage Mothers Center, Bank of Africa, Alliance Francaise, and Living Earth Uganda were some of the participating organisations.

The pop-up shop

It was a relief to enter the area designated for art, rightfully named the pop-up shop. This was supposed to be a marketplace with designer products produced by women in Uganda. Although that didn’t deter some products like gold rings, necklaces etc, clearly not produced in Uganda, from being on sale.

Uganda ceramics by Vision for Africa, Grassroots Uganda and Maridadi were some of the shops open, selling items ranging from pillows and cushions made in Kitenge, aprons, basket handbags, bed spreads, and decoration items made out of bark cloth. The only thing missing were bikinis in Kitengi material.

The Pop-Up Shops at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Petra Behnsen.

The drawback to this exciting market place was the exorbitant prices charged, but that didn’t deter those that had come to spend. This was a women’s event and no woman would leave the venue without a coveted souvenir.

The crowd was mostly women, of all ages and colour; black and white and everything else in between. They leisurely strolled through the gardens, getting to whatever tent that struck their fancy, while the small children tagged along their mothers.

Parents had a kids zone marked out for them, but the little ones still clung to their mothers. There were a few men, mostly those that had come with their families, because as it turned out, it was a great day to bring one’s family along.

Food was also a central part of the festival. The Sheraton Hotel waiters were on hand to take one’s orders while for drinks, Redds went as far as giving whoever wanted a free drink referred to as ‘Redds Tasting Cocktail’.

Still on the subject of food, Harry Peterson Sekammatte of Jam Gayaza had a tent dedicated to different flavors of homemade jam. Some of the flavors on sale included strawberry and mango:

“I personally believe that while we should celebrate our own cultures, there is no harm in borrowing good things from other cultures, and for me jam is one of them.”

And delicious jam it was, he offered me a piece of bread with strawberry jam on it and I couldn’t help asking where their distribution points are.

Food stalls at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Petra Behnsen.

Learning skills like handloom weaving

It wasn’t just a market place for buying and selling, but also an avenue for women to learn skills if they so wished. No woman can claim independence without a strong financial muscle, and the Textile Development Agency (Texda) was on hand to offer skills in handloom weaving, tie and dye product development and garment production.

The gist was to transform fiber into great fashionable clothing with amazing print designs.

Personally I had believed that handloom weaving belonged to those far by-gone centuries, but Grace Kirabo, who heads Texda, told otherwise:

“Handloom weaving is used in our locally produced Kikoyi wear, kangas, table clothes, bags, napkins and whatever else you can think of. Any woman who wants to acquire this ageless skill can always come to our school in Bukoto, at the radio Simba stage,” she said.

AfriPads at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Petra Behnsen.

Still on the topic of garments, there were also those that we dare not mention. They are not exactly garments yet nevertheless a necessity. It’s been repeatedly said that teenage girls in northern Uganda drop out of school due to lack of sanitary towels.

Women’s Day was a good day to address such an issue, and AFRIpads (Uganda) was on hand to launch the cloth sanitary pads dubbed “A monthly challenge, a smart solution. Wash, dry and wear, works up to one year.”

Surprisingly, I didn’t find many women at this tent, which could only mean one thing. This product may need an aggressive marketing campaign to convince the women that hygienically, it is viable.

Talking about health, Yoga workshops with Ife Piankhi, aerobics with Crysla Sports, health lifestyle and osteopathy with Rebecca Wangi also took place, to show that the independent woman needed to keep fit and have her body image in mind. There were also demonstrations by the Lady Cranes rugby team and lady kickboxing.

Kickboxing at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Petra Behnsen.

Create your future

The subject of art nevertheless continued with the art space; a ground that had been designated for art workshops, debate and photography organized by 32 degrees East Ugandan Arts Trust.

There was also the Create your future, a giant interactive painting jigsaw for all, about the future of an independent woman with artist Violet Nantume.

Viloet Nantume creating the future at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Petra Behnsen.

The vibe definitely carried the tempo of the festival. This was a place for singers, poets and musicians, and it was never dull for a single moment. MC Cotilda livened up the crowd with her incessant jokes as well as her call ups of different musicians.

Sifa Kele, a rock group made of only young women who sing and play their own instruments, rocked the show and Tamba’s soul was infectious.

Sifa Kele and MC Flower at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Petra Behnsen.

On the catwalk

But the real crème de la crème was the independent woman fashion show. There was nothing independent about the show, as it was a collaborative effort between different designers, and the clothes were not sharp-looking suits designed for the working women; nevertheless, they were sensuous, soft, feminine and beautifully made.

The house of Juliana Okore had long flowery chiffon dresses in brilliant mix of different colours, just right for beautiful, emancipated and strong women. Zion house, which emerged the winner of all the different collections on display, had designs made out of sweater material, African Kitengi with cotton jackets as finishing.

Zion Design at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Sarah Bernabe.

Stella Atal resorted to body art; and she is always full of surprises! She had her models almost painted nude, with both legs and the midriff (they just managed with a pant and a bra) in bright colours of orange, black and blue. Later, she simply said: “I love pushing the boundaries of fashion and making art wearable.”

Her collection was simply stunning and MC Cotilda rightly said: “I don’t want to be a man right now” as whispers and questioning looks broke out in the audience.

Stella Atal at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Sarah Bernabe.

Claire Tendo Designs brought us back to reality with clothes made out of organic materials like sisal and bark cloth. Then, the models modeled three of Teddy Nabisenke’s pieces and later she was to say each stood for abstinence, family planning and preserving nature. Concepts totally having nothing to do with the clothes presented!

Design by Teddy Nabisenke at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013. Photo by Sarah Bernabe.

Isabella showcased Kitengi in vibrant colours of blue and orange with a one piece garment accessorized with stockings and head pieces; creating a gentle and feminine look.

The fashion show represented also the end of collaborative fashion workshops which had been taking place for three months, and it was deemed possible to reward the best and dedicated designer at the end.

The French Ambasssador, her excellency Aline Kuster, handed out the awards and certificates to all those that participated. The winners were to receive a mentorship from successful designer, Gloria Wavamunno.

Closing remarks

The after party closed this rather spectacular day, even though the majority of the festival goers had already left. Undeniably, it had been a long day, but an exciting one straight to the end.

The only thing missing was that it was not all-inclusive. A large chuck of the Uganda woman was not represented: Those that work in Owino market, the rural areas and ghetto places.

Could it have been for the fact that she is not regarded as bold, beautiful and independent? Or simply not sophisticated enough to realise the role art does play in her life?

Besides that, it was a great festival and I am certainly looking forward to another one next year. And I hear you say all the independent women out there “Yeah, bring it on!”

See you next year at International Women’s Day Uganda 2013! Photo by Petra Behnsen.

Elizabeth Namakula ia freelance writer living in Kampala, Uganda. Her short story “A World of Our Own” was recently published in the Femrite-collection “World of Our Own”.

All photos by courtesy of International Women’s Day Uganda Facebook-page. Please note that the organisation already now is looking for volunteers for next year’s event.