SHARED UNDERSTANDING: A New Way for Couples in Gulu to make happiness not violence

OCITTI JIMMY (33YRS) Business man and community activist from Gulu together with his wife and daughter.

Jimmy Ociti is one of the community activists that were trained by Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU). He resides in Goan’s Quarters village, Kasubi Parish, in Bardege division, Gulu district.

The 33-year old who also doubles as member of the Village Health Team (VHT) in the area is using a two pronged approach to address Gender Based Violence in his community. Jimmy has always helped women to access family planning services, but after being trained by CDFU, Jimmy realized that he had to encourage men to get closer to their wives and seek family planning services together.

This move has helped to create peace between couples because men and women are now choosing to spend more time together and get to appreciate the challenges that affect them.

They develop a shared understanding as couples, and this has reduced the cases of violence against women and girls Many times, violence in this community stemmed from alcoholism, ignorance, poor parenting, and moral decadence. In the instance of ignorance, for example, the men in this village had been of the mind that family planning methods led to infertility and at best resulted in children with disabilities. In the training the Jimmy received, he learned that men could take an active role in reproductive health services, which is often left to the women.

When men join their wives or women in seeking family planning services, it enables them to appreciate the challenges that women encounter, and this has caused many of them to give more of their time to their families. Jimmy started mobilizing women and men for dialogues and focused on consent, spacing their children, and having a number that can be fed, schooled, and taken care of in their families.

 Sharing information concerning sexual and reproductive health rights, in particular the benefits of family planning enabled the people in Jimmy’s community to change their mindsets and practices. “As a result of my interventions in community, men now know the benefits of family planning and appreciate it since most of their wives are still in the youth bracket.” If one visits Jimmy’s village, they will see men accompanying their spouses to the health centers/ hospitals to seek family planning services. This is a positive change in the thinking of what is generally a Ugandan mentality

WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – Tackling negative social cultural norms

LONGOK MICHEAL (aged 39), District Senior Probation and Social Welfare Officer, Amudat district.

Michael Longok is the Senior Probation and Social Welfare officer in Amudat district. He has chosen to use his position and training from Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU) to tackle social cultural norms that violate the rights of women and girls.

The 39-year-old father of three has witnessed the suppression and oppression of women and girls in his district, which is largely the order of the day. To make matters worse for the girls, boys’ education is prioritized.

Other disturbing practices among the Pokot include wife inheritance, control and ownership of resources, Female Genital Mutilation, child marriages, and forced marriages.

“Many times, young girls are married off to elderly men because they can fetch between 40-50 cows, a sign that they are being sold. In Amudat, many women also believe that if men or their husbands beat them, it is a sign of love,” a disturbed Longok reveals.

Using his position, Michael has been able to hold community dialogues and to use other platforms to educate people about respecting the rights of women and girls.

“As a result, the women now speak out against issues, and take on the challenges that affect them, confidently,” he says.

Working closely with community activists and CDFU has helped Michael and other stakeholders in the district to take useful steps towards addressing these issues. However, violence against women is a deep-rooted cultural practice in Amudat, which remains a challenge.

“Every woman and girl must enjoy their rights to the fullest. While there is still so much work required to achieve that, it is not impossible. We need more sensitization efforts and activities rolled out in the villages. The use of change agents who have seen and benefited from the training would be vital. They need to practice what they have been taught, to uproot the deeply rooted cultural practices against women and girls,” Michael concludes.

THE OPENING – Fighting FGM through drama in Amudat District

NANGIRO PRISCILA NAKOLIO (43 Years) farmer and member of Natukuman drama group in Kamikithen village, Lochengenge parish, Amudat district

In Lochengenge village, Lochengenge parish, Amudat sub-county, in Amudat District, a 43-year-old Nakolio Priscilla Nangiro was one of the people who endured the cruelty of the knife before she could be regarded as an adult.  In the past, Priscilla had been a major advocate for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) but today, she is an agent of change, championing the end of what she can only describe as a painful and dehumanizing experience.

“Everybody was surprised when I openly started talking to members of the community and calling for an end to FGM. They thought that it was a joke, until I mobilized fellow community members and we started a drama group to educate our people on the dangers of FGM,” she narrates.

Priscilla says that FGM is not only a disturbing practice, but it also makes a woman hate herself, She hates herself because FGM often results in challenges such as fistula and difficulties in childbirth. A woman’s vagina becomes so narrow after being cut that the surgeons, with support from the woman’s paternal aunt, use a horn to forcefully widen her vagina, as a way to pave way for easy penetration by her husband.

Priscilla is a well-known community activist who was trained on the SASA! Together approach to eliminate violence against women and girls by Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU). She reached out to fellow women within the community, including a surgeon, who is now reformed and a member of the Natukuman drama group.

The group is made up of 14 women and one man; and through their skits and dramas, they deliver a message of change to the people in the community, specifically targeting the Pokot community.

One can tell that on a very personal level, Priscilla is enjoying the benefits of being trained because it not only empowered her to do the work in the community, but also gave her the confidence to approach and engage her husband and speak out about the future of their family. She is very proud that the husband is making efforts to reduce alcoholism, fighting and returning home late in the night.

The cultural practices in Priscilla’s community place women in compromising situations because marriage involves exchange of many cattle as bride price for a woman and this gives the men a sense of entitlement to do as they please with the newly acquired property – the woman.

 “When a Pokot man pays 40-50 heads of cattle to the woman’s family, she is reduced toa slave and on arrival at her husband’s home, she is expected to grow food for the home, brew alcohol for the husband, in addition to providing money for the husband’s drinking outside their home. The situation is made worse by the fact that the woman has no say in the decisions made for the home,” she explains.

The practice of paying many heads of cattle for dowry is responsible for the massive school dropout rate among girls as their families force them into marriage in search of wealth through dowry. Some of these girls are married off before they even experience their first menstruation.

 Priscilla feels that more can be achieved through dialogues with the youth, community elders, and religious leaders so that they too can understand the importance of their effort in the move to end violence against women and girls among the Pokot.

“Going out to more members of the community through barazas is one of the best ways to reach the people thus creating a great impact on the ground,” she says.  Barazas are community dialogues.

Priscilla is also focused on raising support to facilitate the drama group’s movement throughout the Pokot community.

CONFRONTING DARKNESS – Deconstructing negative societal patterns for good

ASIO MARY FORTUNATE (36 years); a farmer married with 2 children, a CDFU trained community activist from Kambiizi village, Camp Swahilli Chini parish, South Division in Moroto district

In the Southern division of Moroto Municipality, there is “a darkness” that has often left 36-year-old Mary Fortunate Asio very unsettled. Asio lives in Kambiizi village in Camp Swahili, Chini Parish. The camp, which takes on a slum-like appearance is shrouded by urban crimes such as rampant theft, child molestation, child labor and forced child marriages. It is a dark camp! Asio has always known this about her village and for a long time, desired to do something to dissolve this darkness. She just did not know where or how to start.

 In 2019, Mary saw a light at the end of the tunnel when she attended a training organized by the Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU). The training equipped her with knowledge and gave her confidence to tackle the challenges in her village. She did not waste time getting to work on the issues plaguing the village, and this is how a new chapter began for the community.

The high rate of violence, theft, defilement and child labor have significantly gone down because of community dialogues and one-on-one engagements.

“It was normal for locals in the area to sit together and solve matters of defilement amongst themselves while denying the victim justice. It was all about the men’s ego and they believed that because they were the stronger sex they should rule over women, Fortunate discloses.

For a long time, villages in Karamoja received handouts and this kept the community in a position of dependence and unable to get themselves out of poverty. However, Mary believes that the approach by CDFU is the best because it empowers the people to find solutions to their own problems. This same approach is the reason that the community has seen a decline in violence and a visible change in behavior.

During Mary’s childhood, violence was part of life,

“Women were beaten for anything and everything, including the mistakes made by their children. My efforts to change the society were met with stiff resistance from men, elders, and even some women who thought that the move was aimed at worsening the already bad situation,” she says.

But over time, the situation has been turned around. The community is made up of approximately 1700 households and they need to be reached through house-to-house sensitization, which has proved to be an effective method.