In parts of beautiful, lush, pastel coloured Uganda, poverty and limited opportunities affect many, particularly women (as with many parts of the world). But two 60-year-old trailblazers, Ugandan Catherine “Kata” Othieno, and her friend and mentor of 20 years, Finnish Riitta Kujala, are unapologetically challenging cultural standards and transforming families in their community day-by-day.
Kata is a nurse and the founder and Executive Director of COFCAWE, which teaches and promotes sexual health and gender equality (she also promotes family planning and the use of condoms and birth control). This passionate mother of eight overcame rape by her uncle at age 9, another rape (which resulted in pregnancy) in her teens by a classmate, and a marriage to a kind but promiscuous husband who refused to use protection and thought HIV/AIDS only affected whites (which lead to their divorce). But she was also blessed with a father who educated her, welcomed her home to raise her child and continue her education after being assaulted, and empowered his daughter with a steely will. Riitta is a feisty brave educator/nurse who came to Uganda in the late 1980’s to help champion women’s rights. The two built an instant and remarkable friendship, have been roommates since 1993 when Kata divorced her husband, and went on to work together, teaching ground-breaking workshops to women, and men! Riitta also acts as a bridge between the Ugandan program and the Finnish government. At the time of the film she was returning to Finland for good, and wonders if she will experience reverse culture shock.
Riitta is badass, and it’s so fun to watch her no-nonsense way of teaching — using her pointer on a diagram of a vagina to instruct a stunned class on the sensitivity of the clitoris. The smirks and blushing do nothing to deter her lesson. In a culture where women’s sexual pleasure is not even a passing thought for many men, these men are happily receiving an education about women’s bodies that men everywhere should be open to. Many are eager to learn how to better please their wives, and in one of the docs lighter moments (and it has many), one man inquires how long he should touch a woman. One minute? Two to three? Which arouses dismayed chuckles from the female participants (and a scolding from Daizy Kimbowa: the third star of the film).
But it’s far from fun and lessons for Kata and Riitta: an anonymous letter is sent to the Ugandan government accusing the women of being lesbians, actively teaching the children “perverse sexual behaviour.” The allegations are intended to feed into growing anti-gay sentiment and it threatens the women’s incredible work. A new battle looms, but these two warriors won’t back down and their final showdown together begins. (Note: it is incredible to see the many men who help the women fight the injustice and support their wives being in the program).
This documentary is too remarkable and rich to give away in a review: I laughed and cried so hard during the doc that it left me exhausted by the end. And I felt so much gratitude for getting an opportunity to learn about these two sheros (as well as see them in action). Their heartwarming friendship is unforgettable. And their determination is inspiring.
Intimate, empowering, candid, and unapologetic, this film takes viewers into the heart of the fight for equality and leaves us changed for the better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the founder of The Winehouse Mag.