Ugandan Women of Apac Complaining of their Lazy Husbands
Members of Momot Atwero farmers group Akokoro.

Ugandan Women of Apac Complaining of their Lazy Husbands

Our men need a lot of counseling- cry the women of Apac. Only two women of the 283 interviewed said their husbands take care of their usual duties.

By Gerald Businge
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First published: August 21, 2008

A dog is needed urgently by women in Apac district. A dog that can go to the garden and farm, work to earn income to look after the family, cater for school fees and clothing for children, for medical care, and, in its excellent form probably help the women in doing household chores. Many women in Apac are willing to offer anything to get such a dog.

Margaret Olero, 46, is looking for a saviour in such a dog. Olero is chocking with the burden of looking after her 7 children, her husband, in addition to undertaking all the daily domestic chores, while her husband leaves everything to her as he has done for the past 24 years. Olero says her husband, just like many in Aminamong village, Akokoro sub-county in Apac is waiting for a dog that can work (go to the garden and earn money for the family) before he can get convinced to start working for himself and family.

"He always refers me to a popular saying by many men in this place that how can he work when dogs still eat free food. When I ask him how he expects me to get food and meet all family needs without his help, he asks me whether he is not more valuable than a dog which eats every day despite not working," Olero says.

Women in Aminamong Akokoro said their husbands don't work at all
Women in Aminamong Akokoro said their husbands don't work at all.

Strange as it may sound, as Olero wakes up early in the morning to head for the garden, she hopes for a miracle to meet a dog that can work so that she can call her husband to see how the dog is working in order for him to get convinced to join her in the garden, or to go and work elsewhere to earn money to look after himself and his family.

But until such a dog appears, Olero will wake up daily, head to the garden alone to grow food for her and her husband, and their 5 children still living permanently with them. Yet before leaving for the farm at 7 am, she must have prepared warm food for the husband to break his daily hangover, and prepared food for the children to take along to school.

In this schedule she has memorized like the front of her palm, Olero has to return back home from the garden at 11 am to prepare lunch in time for the children returning from school. Then at 12 pm, she takes the goats for feeding as she heads to another garden to weed for the next one hour and half. Lunch between 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm is the break before she embarks on washing the family's clothes as well as going to fetch water and firewood. By 4 pm, Olero must head back to the garden to do more digging. For she must ensure a steady supply of food and income, after selling some of the harvest.

"I have to return home in time to prepare supper. I would not mind all this daily work if my husband was also working hard to look after family needs like school fees, clothing and buying soap or salt," Olero says in an interview with Ultimate Media.

This situation is confirmed by an April 2008 research by the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) which found that rural women in Apac district, northern Uganda are bearing all household responsibilities, in addition to the usual household chores.

The research on the information needs, information sources and concerns of rural women in Apac found that many men don't work, According to the research report, the few men who do work mostly to get money for drinking-a sort of mandatory duty for men in Apac.

"Only two women of the 283 interviewed said their husbands take care of their usual duties (like buying soap, salt, sugar, clothing, etc). Eight said they do it together with their husbands, while 273 women meet the needs single handedly," the report says.

In areas like Bar Opok village, Adyang parish, Akalo sub-county where poor soils do not favour agriculture, women have taken to brick making, an activity that is traditionally associated with men. It is from bricks that most families earn a living (by the women).

"These bricks you see are our food store, our money store. It is from here that I have bee buying clothes for my 10 children, meeting school fees and food," says Jacinta Okwer, 45, who has earned her (and family) livelihood from bricks for the past 20years.

Jacinta Okwer and Judith Okello in Bar Opok village making bricks
Jacinta Okwer and Judith Okello in Bar Opok village making bricks.

After her mother failed to pay school fees 12 years ago, Judith Okello, 29, got married to a young man who was earning good income from buying and selling produce. She thought unlike her mother, she would not have to earn a living 'romancing' mud every day. But two years in the marriage, and she had to join a group of women making bricks. "He was working, but we were going hungry. Making bricks was the only way I could make some money. That is what I have been doing for the past 10years," Okello says.

But why wouldn't a man who earns money use some of the money to look after his family. Many women interviewed in the WOUGNET research said asking a man for money to look after the family is one automatic way of a woman inviting a thorough beating. "Many women asked whether they have rights, and if they do, how respect for their rights can be assured," says the 46-page research report.

"Women need more sensitization to demand their rights," says Tommy Obote, a Counselor at Women and Children Advocacy Network, an NGO based in Apac. He says sensitization is also needed for men to respect their wives and meet their responsibilities.

But previous efforts by authorities to encourage men to fulfill their responsibilities and to stop beating their wives have ended in more burdens for women. In Aumi village, Bala sub-county for example, the LCs passed a by-law requiring all men to pay school fees and buy clothes for their children, or risk arrest. The police ad LCs in Adyang parish ordered for the arrest of any man who beat his wife. In both areas, arrests were made.

"But if your husband is arrested, it is you the woman to look for the fifty thousand (50, 000) required to get him out of cells. Our men are poor and they don't have money. In addition, it is a taboo for people to hear that a man was arrested because of you (wife)," says Margaret Otyang, 48, of Aumi village. She says that is why many women have resigned to their fate- submit to everything their husbands say, even though the women are responsible for generating all the resources that meet the household needs.

But the WOUGNET research shows that even for the women like Olero who have mastered how to raise money to look after their households and undertake all household chores, the challenge for the rural women become greater when a woman gets pregnant, sometimes with complications, and has to cater for self pre, ante and post natal.

A number of NGOs have been drawn into Apac to help women out of this situation. "While this is good, men have been left behind. Many programmes target women yet it is the men who traditionally have control," says Betty Amongi, Apac women MP. She says many men in Apac are suffering from psycho-social trauma related to war. The area was greatly affected by the 1980-85 war that brought the current government to power, while the early years of the Lords Resistance Army war had their own adverse effects on Apac.

"Men here used to have cattle and were in good control of their families. All the cattle were taken away during the wars. Because of the resulting poverty, the men could no longer take charge of their families. Many resorted to drinking. These men have psycho social problems that can be solved through counseling and sensitization," says Amongi.

The MP says that broader government programs like the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture, universal education and prosperity for all programmes need to take this fact into consideration and ensure counseling services are additionally given to men here.

"Our men need counseling," agrees Lillian Ebong, 28, the Secretary for youth in Owang Central, Apac Sub-county. She says if men are not counseled to help women in looking after their families, many women will continue suffering to look after their families through tilling the gardens with the rudimentary hoe.

"Digging with local hoe is very tiresome. We need to be helped with an ox-plough. We can share it among ourselves in the village group," says Phoebe Ojok, 65. According to Ojok, the ox (bull) costs about 350,000 shillings, while the plough 300,000 shillings. "We also need our children especially girls to get education beyond primary school," Ojok says. But she is quick to add that even if girls are educated, it will not help if men here are not helped to change their "negative attitude".

Although many men expect the women to look after the households almost single-handedly, many men do not want their women to be empowered (read better off). For example, despite grinding out a difficult education here in Apac and graduating as a Grade III teacher, Cecilia Tonga, 30, says her husband hid her certificate to stop her from ever getting a job to teach. "When I reported him to Apac Police Liaison Officer, my husband claimed that he had forgotten when he placed my certificate", Tonga says.

Though the husband allowed Tonga to become a member of a local women farmers group, she always has to ask for permission to go to the meetings of group, where she is the chairperson. "Sometimes, you have to bribe him with 200 shillings to allow you to go to the meeting. Our men need a lot of counseling," she says with emphasis.

It is this counseling that women are counting on to provide "a working dog" and thus encourage men to turn to work that helps in meeting the needs of their families.

By Gerald Businge
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First published: August 21, 2008
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Gerald Businge is a media practitioner and features Editor at Ultimate Media Consult in Uganda. He is a graduate of Mass Communication and several journalism and leadership certificates. He has been a practicing journalist since March 2001 and has worked at The New Vision as features writer, and has written extensively for different newspapers, magazines, newsletters in Uganda and internationally. He currently does fulltime media communication consultancy work as well as writing and editing at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd where he is a founding member and CEO. You can get his attention so long as you are interested in and you are working for a better world.