Stella Nyanzi

Ugandan medical anthropologist, human rights defender, social justice activist, politician, poet and Facebooker

Stella Nyanzi (born 16 June 1974) is a Ugandan human rights advocate, poet, medical anthropologist, feminist, queer rights advocate, and scholar of sexuality, family planning, and public health. She was arrested in 2017 for insulting the Ugandan president. In January 2022, she was accepted to live in Germany on a writers-in-exile programme run by PEN Germany, with her three children.

Quotes edit

  • My multiple identities empower me to fashion my writing into an effective weapon fighting against injustices meted out by holders of abusive power onto underprivileged groups in society.
  • In my experience, there is much greater currency and power in my deployment of irreverent idioms of satire, mockery, and ridicule of oppressive power.
  • The transgressive reversal of my role as an elite academic who chooses to write for (sexual and gender) minorities, poor people, and the political opposition party members further enhances the shock element within my audacity.
  • Not only is an educated Ugandan woman expected to respectfully serve and sustain the status quo, but her methods of resistance are also expected to be polished, refined, respectable, and temperate—not abrasive, rude, and hard-hitting. I deliberately defy all these expectations.
  • Codes of politeness demand that colonized, dominated, and subjugated peoples do not talk back to their captors, colonizers or oppressors. Politeness blunts the tongue of criticism, ridicule, satire or irony. On the other hand, radical rudeness breaks down the doors to the arsenal of verbal, literary, and linguistic devices available to launch a counterattack against corrupt militant brutes in government who use bullets, prison sentences, and mass graves to silence their opponents.
  • In fact, as expressed in one of my poems written in prison, I wear my prison sentence for poetry as a badge of honor.
  • Double standards demand that feminine respectability bars women from articulating, writing, or deploying words, concepts, and ideas deemed to be taboo subjects.
  • Good girls and respectable women are trained to avoid taboo topics and “bad words” particularly in their public articulations.
  • Using taboo topics to poetically break silences surrounding government failures and violations of human rights is unavoidably loud. Whoever hears or reads the poems in which I deploy taboo topics stops, stands still, and thinks for a while about the issues being raised. It is effective!
  • Custody and punishment for writing freed me of the fear I previously held of being imprisoned. Physical and emotional torture during my two terms in prison radicalized me in unexpected ways.
  • I encourage emerging writers to practice writing daily if this is possible. Writing is a craft that gets better with practice. It is impossible to write a perfect script, and thus while editing and revision make finished products better, it is necessary to let go of revised drafts by submitting them to potential publishers.
  • I think if I weren’t a mother, I probably wouldn’t do at least ¾ of the activism I’ve done.
  • In a way, motherhood keeps me very grounded.
  • Now, I am sure the poor woman in her grave… is shocked every time I perform my own version of womanhood and femininity
  • I feed my children with takeout, once in a while, and sometimes we even buy street food. But ‘a good woman’ doesn’t do that, for example. These stereotypes trap us, and they make us feel like failures if we cannot meet these very high standards.
  • I think it is very liberating to embrace the many forms of motherhood in all its diversity. We must not be trapped by homogenous ideas of motherhood
  • I wear lipstick, I speak like an academic, I take off my bra… and this is usually not what politicians look like.
  • When I die, I hope my children will be proud of me as a woman who at least tried to change things, instead of just waiting for the dictator to die.
  • I learnt that politics is a dish I love to eat… No one is going to make the world what I want to make it to be, unless I do it myself.
  • I don't get inspired by high and mighty women, it's everyday women. It's grandmothers, stepmothers, second wives, all swearing at their men.
  • I fled to get my voice back. I fled to get my mind back. I fled to get my freedom back.
  • That is another form of women’s participation in politics: that they may come and sit at the table, using whatever means, but when they get to the table, they forget the core values of women empowerment, feminist agendas, and they participate with those who oppress us through models of patriarchy and misogyny that must be combated.
  • But do women have agency to enter politics on their own? Or must we be beholden forever to male patriarchs, and misogynistic dictators, to whom we are answerable for our political participation?
  • The third layer of participation for me are women who become enablers. They are not working with, but right from the word, ‘go’, they enter politics to enable those who are oppressed, suppressed, and abused.
  • These women are working, no matter where they are placed within politics. They entered political participation with the heart of the masses, the heart of the people, with the will to work against oppression.
  • For many women, there is a great cost to pay, to challenge the status quo, because they benefit from it. Their children benefit from it. Doing the sort of activism that I do, threatens to take away from one’s status, or privilege, or wealth, or whatever it is they benefit from.
  • I am aching for the world I live in to become a better place for my children.
  • A lot of what I do is really related to my position in the world as a woman for whom a lot of things don't come easy. Public health services don't work, the education doesn't work for my children, we struggle a lot and that's why I do what I do.
  • The ultimate prize in the fight for freedom for my country is death. Many have been murdered. Many have disappeared and we don't know where they are. So the ultimate prize is death.
  • Motherhood is important for me because everything I do is about creating a better legacy for my children.
  • I use nudity because it's a weapon of the weak and the poor. The cost to pay is called shame, but I think I'm not ashamed of my body. It's a beautiful big mama body, and I am glad to deploy it for war.
  • When I put my nipples on the frontline, I learnt they fight harder than any bazookas. Men don't know how to deal with that.
  • Men with guns can't shoot at nipples.
  • I also get a lot of motivation from my children because if I didn't have children, I would not need to change the world.
  • I have been a victim of bad legislation and I want to change it. I want to make legislation that's for the people.

External links edit

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