All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Add your voice!
Feminine Hygienic Products
Brittany says: Hygienic products are plentiful, but they will not necessarily be the same brands you are used to. Dove shampoo and soap is fairly easy to find. They also sell an Indian line called “Himalaya” which is excellent and has a variety of soaps, lotions, shampoos, and toothpastes. I was also able to find organic/natural soap fairly easily (in a curio shop for tourists).
Things like makeup, nail polish, and perfume can also be found in supermarkets and pharmacies in big cities and town, but the product quality is not great.
Brittany says: Oral contraception is very cheap and very easy to get. You do not require a prescription and can purchase generic (but mostly reputable) birth control pills from one of the plentiful pharmacies. I purchased three packs of a German-made brand for $1USD.
Condoms are ubiquitous in pharmacies and large chain grocery stores. You can also usually find them in clinics and hospitals.
Brittany says: I am married so I did not date. However, I can say that men in Uganda love the idea of dating a foreign woman, and often asked me if I could hook them up with a friend or sibling. As such, local men are over-eager and you should carefully consider their intentions and authenticity before getting serious.
Also keep in mind that almost all men in Uganda date several women at once. This practice is very socially acceptable, so assume that a man you are dating is also dating at least one other woman, even if he doesn’t tell you. Take proper precautions.
Types of Men
Brittany says: Student/Educated Young Person – They usually speak very good English, may have traveled internationally (or will have aspirations to do so), and will be easier to talk to and relate to than many other Ugandan men. They will be interested in exchanging ideas and cultural practices. They will know some interesting places to visit, eat, and drink, and will usually be happy to take you. You will not feel obligated to pay for them, as they will usually have some (though limited) spending money.
Uneducated Street Guy – They will have picked up some English through TV, movies, and music, as well as trying to talk to tourists. They might come off a little rough around the edges, and this is either because they have bad intentions or because they’ve had a rough upbringing. If you befriend this type of person, they will have lots of hidden, very African-type places to show you around town. But you may find yourself paying for their meals and transport.
Brittany says: Not at all. President Museveni recently signed a law making it illegal to be gay. Not only that, but according to the new law, if a straight person knows a gay person and does not report that person, they too can be prosecuted.
Brittany says: The answer is a definite “no,” though the answer is complex. Women in Uganda are strong – they work their fields, raise their children virtually on their own, and often have a full-time job (selling things at the market, cleaning houses, etc). It is often said that if you buy something in the market from a man, his money will go toward alcohol, but if you buy from a woman, you know the money is going to the upkeep of her household.
Women are respected in society by men in small ways, such as getting a seat on a minibus when it’s full. Yet, when it comes to household decision-making – and politics – men have all the power. I believe that, in the mind of most Ugandan men, women are inferior. This is even true if the woman is foreign, as I (and many of my female colleagues) experienced sexism in the workplace.
Brittany says: There are a few cultural differences between travelers and local women. First and most important is language. Even though most women in Kampala can speak English – and some very well – they much prefer speaking Buganda and will revert to their language whenever they can.
The second is education. A Ugandan education is quite conservative and traditional. Even if women make it through university, their creativity and innovation haven’t been stretched in the same way as a Western education will do. This affects everything – from the way they approach a problem to the things that interest them and to the way they see the world and their place in it.
The third is family. A Ugandan woman is tied to her family in a way Western women aren’t. She will often live with her own family until married, and she has many familial duties to attend to. This leaves her less free to socialize, go out, pursue hobbies, etc.
Then there are the small things – the fact that we might sit down at a table where they are eating without ourselves having food (very rude); the fact that we rush greetings and get straight to the point; the open way which we talk about everything, but especially men and sex. This makes local women uncomfortable and creates a barrier between us and them.
Brittany says: Kampala does have a small Muslim population and there are gender restrictions associated with going to the mosque. Other than that, I do not know of any restricted areas for women. However, there are certainly areas in seedy parts of town where a woman would be unwise to visit, lest she be perceived as a prostitute.
Perception of Foreign Women
Brittany says: A white woman doesn’t need to say where she is from in order to be treated differently – her skin announces her foreignness for her. However, if I am asked my country of origin, it is either with genuine interest (an attempt at cultural exchange), out of politeness, or to practice English. About half the time I tell people that I am from Canada, they respond by saying a cousin or an uncle lives there. It seems that there are many Ugandans abroad, and the ones still in Uganda enjoy meeting someone from a country they can say they have a tie to.
Brittany says: Private taxis are probably the safest method of transportation, providing you have the phone number for a reputable taxi man. The same can be true of motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas). As soon as you hop onto a motorbike (or into a taxi) of someone you don’t know, there is a risk, especially at night. The driver now has the power to take you anywhere he wants, including to an isolated place, where he can rob you, or worse.
Public taxis (minibuses) are generally safe to take, though I have received advice to only hop in if there are other women inside. Once I was in a public taxi alone (with only the driver and the boy who takes the money) but nothing bad happened. I would never have done this at night, however.
Shady Areas for Women
Brittany says: Do not walk in the center of town after dark. You should also never walk on any isolated street, or any that do not have street lights.
Brittany says: Ugandan women never show their knees, and often even cover their calves. Though they sometimes wear trousers, they most often wear dresses and skirts.
It seems that wearing tight tops, sleeveless tops, or plunging necklines is much less taboo than showing one’s knees. I would, however, recommend not wearing anything too scandalous on top, since you will already receive much more attention than you could ever want.