About three years ago, Rose Muloni graduated with a first-class degree in Bio-Chemistry.
This did not come as a surprise because her performance had always been far above average throughout her school life.
Whereas most bright students will usually excel in a particular category of subjects, Muloni was lucky to excel at both humanities and sciences. She says she wrote her history papers as though the story was her original script, and did mathematical calculations as though she invented the calculator.
To say Muloni was a gem would be an understatement. Even the bright students referred to her as an academic wonder.
Year after year, she won academic merit awards and prestigious bursaries. If any parents are proud of their children, Muloni’s must be honored to have brought forth such a bright girl.
Usually, it is uncommon to have brains and gorgeousness in one package, but Muloni had both. She is one of the scenarios where one would be tempted to say God was unfair.
It is easy to assume that with such attributes, she has it all. Having graduated with excellent grades, with a good managerial position at her workplace and driving a posh car, what else would a 28-year-old want?
Her biggest dilemma, however, is that all her potential suitors think she is too bright for them. You would not blame the men either. Society has branded bright girls as unmanageable; rendering them non-marriage material.
“I had failed to understand why most potential men shun me after our first interaction, until one told me in a text message that I outreasoned him on our first date,” Muloni says.
POLICY ON EDUCATION
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics’ education sector gender profiles statistics, the government’s policy provides for equal opportunities in education and other sectors for both sexes.
The government, through the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development formulated the National Action Plan on Women and the National Gender Policy to help advocate for gender equity at all levels in all aspects of life.
The ministry of Education and Sports, in collaboration with the government and the international community, have in addition put in place various initiatives. The policy emphasizes equal opportunity for both boys and girls. It focuses on promoting gender parity in enrolment, retention and performance in education.
For some of these policies, however, the reality on ground leaves a lot to be desired. Factors including, but not limited to, the socially constructed roles of females have a major effect on their school performance and finishing rates. In most cases, girls are expected to do domestic chores (sometimes at the expense of school), and are vulnerable to early pregnancies.
Findings further reveal that on average, whereas the literacy rate is higher for girls than boys at primary three, the reverse is true at primary six.
However, numeracy remains a challenge for the girls at both primary three and primary six, and hence needs to be addressed. Within the age group 10 to 19 where the upper primary to secondary population is found, more females than males were reported to be literate. However, the other age groups do not show wide variations in the literacy rates between males and females.
Overall, the gap in the literacy rates grows wider among the sexes as one’s age increases beyond 20. There is need to appreciate the implication of the social roles played by both boys and girls within our communities, with respect to the wide gap in the literacy rates. In the age cohort of 15 to 24, findings showed that males are generally more literate than females.
This could be explained by the obstacles and persistent resistance to gender equality in literacy, especially in the rural areas where traditional attitudes are predominant in addition to the inadequate education infrastructure and materials to meet the ever-increasing demand.
These statistics put into perspective why any girl beating the odds to keep in school and perform better than boys would be one out of the ordinary.
Asked if he could marry a girl who is evidently brighter than him, Joseph Mugisha, a marketing executive, says that is a no-go area for him. He justifies his answer with the assertion that such girls are overconfident and very strict with life.
Does that spell insecurity on the part of the man? Mugisha insists that as a man, he wants to always be in charge of his home, and bringing in someone brighter than him might put his position in the home at risk.
Steve Mulawa, who is now thinking of settling with Miss Right, says his search excludes the Miss Bright type. Asked if he would not want to have his children share on the brightness in the DNA, he shyly smiles, as he responds: “I have not seen many girls with beauty and brains. Most bright girls are not beautiful,” Mulawa says.
When I challenged him that his argument is a mere cliché, he insisted that on average, “you will find a handful of women who are physically beautiful and also bright”.
Mulawa adds that he would choose beauty for brightness; after all, “my wife is not coming to sit for any exam at home”.
ARE BRIGHT GIRLS ACTUALLY COMPLICATED?
The adage that bright girls are usually overly controlling and unnecessarily too sure of themselves could actually be a mere social construct. Women were culturally meant to be in the kitchen and homemakers in most African cultural settings.
With the generational shift, women are no longer confined to the kitchen. Some have taken the woman power a notch higher by occupying high-profile positions. In fact, most women bring a bigger loaf of bread to the table in some families.
Unfortunately, some men are still grappling with coming to terms with this fact. They live in the shadow of deception that women are still in the position they occupied centuries ago.
For the women who have hit the glass ceiling, the temptation to brand them unusual, quite often with a negative connotation, is real. Having fought their way into what ideally was a man’s territory sets them apart as more than just women.
Does that mean bright women risk missing out on some societal joys? The reality is that in this chauvinistic society, bright women still struggle to gain acceptance especially from the males.
Quite often, you will hear people ask questions like ‘who is the man in her life?’ when a woman achieves something. The questions do not come because people want to pat the man in her life on the shoulder with congratulation, but, rather, to ironically sympathize with him.
Some women have suffered to this effect that no man is willing to take them on as wives. It gets even worse when such women get marital challenges and society does not even care about the man’s responsibility in the family woes, but just conclude with lines of ‘is a bright woman manageable anyway?’
SHOULD BRIGHT WOMEN BE WORRIED?
Naome Komugisha, who was the best student in her entire secondary school life, says she is not bothered about what names her male counterparts or society may choose to give her. She adds that the ‘Miss Bright’ idea is just in the mind.
“To be a bright human being is worth being happy about irrespective of whether one is male or female. It is immaterial of who is bright,” says Komugisha.
“The underlying factor is that the bright person is useful to society.”
She adds that the ‘Miss Bright’ brand is not manifested in old age. She recalls that even back in primary school, she had to endure being isolated and nicknames like ‘bookworm’ because of her academic performance.
Komugisha says it’s an unfortunate occurrence which will hopefully die out gradually as society continues to come to terms with the fact that both males and females are equal.
WHEN IS SHE TOO SMART FOR HIM?
The issue of a woman’s level of brightness, and whether this is a threat to a man, remains a question about the man’s esteem. If some men still feel challenged by a woman excelling in what they feel is their territory, it is a question of what defines such men’s worth.
It is a shame for anyone in this century to think of potential in relation to gender. Bright women, too, can make good friends, spouses or mothers.
Academic excellence may contribute to reinforcing one’s esteem but cannot, as a single factor, form one’s character.
Despite the social stigma tagged to bright women, they continue to soar high in career and positions of influence.
The value of Miss Bright, just like any human being, should be defined by her character, not the scores on her report card.