On November 3, 2014 my colleague and I set out for an eight-hour road trip heading to the West Nile region to do a situational analysis. The aim of the trip was to:
- Map the organizations currently working in Arua & Koboko
- Speak with local authorities to gain information /statistics on the situation of women in both areas
- Meet and speak with women and men in an attempt to gather information in order to gain an understanding of the current household levels of incomes.
- To hear from the women on gender based violence, specifically how it affects them
With the information collected, we will write a proposal for a skills development initiative to empower women economically and support women’s rights. Community based organizations will implement the project in the selected areas.
The trip was long, tiresome and hot but somewhat tolerable as we had a driver. The roads are ok for the most part but nothing like my field trips from Gulu to other parts of the North where war heavily affected these communities. Arua was one of the areas that was sometimes a battlefield between Kony’s rebels and the Uganda Police Defense Force (UPDF).
The days are long – meeting with local officials and groups of women from 8:30 to 6pm and sometimes later. Here is a summary of our meetings:
- Arua: meeting with the secretary of the Arua NGO forum to discuss which market women we would support who earn a living from petty trade.
- Koboko: (2 KMs from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 12 KMs from South Sudan) meeting with the Koboko Civil Society Network (KOCISONET) who are implementing an Action Aid funded project on good governance, building democratic awareness and human rights. They will also implement a USAID funded governance with 21 women groups among other beneficiaries.
- Koboko: Focus groups (with women and men separately) to learn how households make decisions concerning money and how they plan for it: who actually brings in the money, how is it spent and who calls the money shots. There were several interesting findings:
- Patriarchy has a heavy influence on household decision-making, land ownership and inheritance. So for instance girl children do not get land from their families because they are expected to marry and get land at their husbands’ homes.
- Women do not get land at their husbands’ homes and when they are widowed, they float around with nothing of their own because they are almost always chased away by the families of their husbands and they cannot return to their homes. These are the women who fall through the cracks of the system and culture and patriarchy has put them in this situation.
- Polygamy is common and is affecting women’s efforts to sustain their households with their meager incomes. Polygamy is part of the cultural practices of the Islam religion but not all polygamists are Muslim! Sometimes men neglect their older wives for the newest ones. Some men do not tell their wives they are HIV positive and because of this many women do not access the Anti Retro Viral drugs. The men seek treatment and receive ARVs yet the women do not as they not aware they are even infected.
Literacy is a common issue as women are either left out completely and have no chance for even basic education and the little that they receive does not suffice in today’s fast changing world. The men we spoke with all understood English and spoke it well plus had jobs with NGOs or taught in high school. For many women groups, we always required a translator in a country that boasts an English school system.
Okollo (55 KMs South of Arua) where met with more than 120 women to discuss how the household economies were unfolding. Similar challenges emerged on the power of polygamy: lack of access to family planning and the violence and neglect that occurs when women do not continue to bear children.
On our return to Arua we learned of other issues for women in this community:
- Trafficking of girls from other parts of Uganda and Arua to work within hotels.
- Real issues for women were not well represented by the women leaders in Kampala and many policies fail to positively impact women in the rural areas both in economic terms and in exercising their rights.
- Emerging drug use by men and youth taking vast amounts of money from the entire household.
Chobe safari lodge on the Nile: It had been a long week so we made time to stop for lunch and to take a breather. On the way into the lodge, we saw 4 giant elephants in the park, and tons of baboons. Hello from Uganda!
Dispatch #2 | Working together to advocate and support women’s equality
In the few days that I have been with SIHA, I cannot put into words how much work is left to help women in so many African countries. SIHA currently works in six countries of the Horn of Africa; Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Somali and Somaliland.
My first project was to research laws that advance or prevent equality for women in Sudan. The findings are pathetic and there are many issues. Current laws don’t recognize rape in marriage, sexual harassment, human trafficking or female genital mutilation. The law requires that a woman who has been raped must have four witnesses in order for her case to be considered. Plus in order for this woman to access medical attention, she must report her rape to the police and if she is lucky she will not be jailed for adultery. In July 2013, Sudan passed the controversial Armed Forces Act, which requires all civilians to be tried in a military court. There are no measures in place to ensure reparations for rape or sexual crime victims nor are there any psychosocial support services for many of these women.
Raising awareness about the different issues facing women in various parts of the world is important to making gender issues a shared responsibility. We live in a globalized, digital world where the click of a button allows you to share life saving information wide and far!
Story telling is a powerful way to hear women’s voices and to support to women around the world. This journey has reveled to me that women must support each other if we are to achieve equity in a timely manner. Women’s equity and equality is a shared responsibility for women and men. Women give birth to our children, they raise the children yet they remain limited in what they earn, what they do, and how they should behave just to mention a few areas. These barriers must be removed, and women must be recognized for their contribution. For my male readers, support the women in your lives and those in your communities. Step outside the norm and raise the bar!
Finally, it has been said: To educate a man is to educate an individual, but to educate a woman is to educate the society. I am calling for a balanced approach. In different parts of Africa, and in different pockets of the thousands of rural areas, I am certain different approaches need to be applied. Do your part wherever you find yourself, I will do mine. Together is better!
Until next dispatch, I am signing off!
Sending you smiles from Kampala
Dispatch #1 | A Call for Inclusive Initiatives: Women Are Pillars of Society
I am a woman born and raised in Kenya with a university education from a variety of Western Countries. All my life I have lived oblivious to the fact that women across the world are faced with challenges that cannot easily be overcome. These challenges are mainly because of the constructed masculine societies women live in.
I am now back in Africa, seeking opportunities to put my theoretical knowledge to work at the front line. Being here brings forward many opportunities and allows me to look at life differently. These dispatches are an overview and a reflection discovering myself in this new role.
My observation of different societies where I have lived has led me to conclude that patriarchy is the norm. In rural Kenya boys are more important than girls - they are the preferred children. This gives them an automatic right to education and a preference over the girl child in other areas such as inheritance rights. The norm is that girls, at least in rural areas, have less worth than boys. Girls are expected to perform all household tasks such as fetching water and firewood, cooking and cleaning. Boys are free to loiter and get back to the house to eat, do their homework and sleep. Boys will sometimes watch over cattle, sheep and goats in the fields depending on culture and tribe.
I come from a family of eight: a mother, father, five brothers and one sister. I am lucky that my father and late mother decided that both boys and girls should have equal access to education. As a matter of fact, my sister and I got a better education as we attended better schools (boarding primary). That was not the norm. If there is shortage of school fees, girls are expected to give up their study places first
My journey from a village on the outskirts of Kenya has allowed me to observe many sides of this issue of girls and education. In the 90s, there was a fierce campaign to support the girl child. I was young and I did not know what that meant as I had it pretty good. Fast forward to 2009 when I found myself in class at University of Victoria questioning many of the programs we implement from our western NGOs.
One of the things I questioned was the notion of exclusively girl driven projects. Without a doubt, girls must be supported to attain an education without any discrimination. As we were fiercely supporting girls to classrooms we were excluding boys creating a gap and leaving them bored, idle, widening an already existing gap. This was a perfect opportunity for military leaders to indoctrinate child soldiers in many of the worldwide conflicts.
A second issue is how these programs have affected the family. Traditionally women take care of the family. When projects specific to women began, some women faced harsh reactions from their husbands who felt that women were being favored by NGOs. Domestic violence increased as women found unhappy husbands waiting to take what NGOs had given them. During my research in Gulu, I encountered women who mentioned that the NGOs had finally started to recognize the need to include men into certain projects. What these women confirmed to me is that when NGOs invited men into skills development, or other areas of community development, men began to change their behavior. They shared small household tasks and no longer abused their wives or snatch the rewards provided by NGOs. That is profound and shows inclusivity is what needs to take root.
Finally, most of these projects are implemented in urban areas forgetting that many of the challenges are in rural and remote areas of sub Saharan Africa. There are many children orphaned through the epidemic of AIDS. There is a need to educate both girls and boys and we cannot select one child over another in areas where the need is so great.
Education is a right and should be a right for every child in the world. I am not discounting the hard work of Non-Government Organizations, religious groups, international agencies or Community Based Organizations. I am painting a picture of the need for inclusion into all humans. Diversity is our strength and working together unites us more than it divides us. We are all the same in terms of basic needs regardless of where we are placed geographically. How will men and boys learn to respect girls and women if we leave them out of the collective work and pursue girls alone?