KAMPALA, UGANDA — I was invited by a friend to attend a poetry festival at Nabisunsa Girls School. Since it was my first time to the school, I didn’t expect anything beyond listening to beautiful poetry recitals by high school students. However, after just few seconds in the school compound, I noticed differing hair lengths of the girls at school. Native African girls had short hair while those of other races, including Asian and biracial girls, had long hair.
I walked to a group of students and introduced myself. I asked them why one of the students of Arab descent had long hair and why the native African students did not. They told me it was the school policy. I asked those with short hair how they felt about it. Their answers were mixed, but I noted that those who didn’t like the policy felt that it was discriminatory.
Listening to the debate and disagreements among them reminded me of Evelyn Nalugo, a teenager I had met a week earlier at a friend’s pregnancy shower. Nalugo said she refused to return to school for advanced courses because, she said, she would be forced to cut her hair off. I’d never before met a girl who had refused to return to school because she didn’t want to cut her hair.
I knew then that I needed to write about this hair policy, which is shared by the majority of Uganda’s traditional schools.
I contacted the headmistress at Nabisunsa Girls School but she declined my request for an interview, saying she had been asked several times about the issue and she was weary.
Luckily, other school heads spoke with me.
I grew up in the same system and had to cut my hair off in both primary and secondary school, but in my school all the students were of the same race, and therefore we didn’t feel any discrimination. Talking to Nalugo made me realize how times had changed. For girls like her, the right to grow hair is as important as other human rights.