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In Urgent need of a working dog

A working dog is needed urgently by women. A dog that can go to the garden and farm, work to earn income to look after the household, cater for school fees and clothing for children, for medical care; and, in its excellent form probably help the women in their household chores.

Margaret Olero, 46, is one of the women who will do anything to get such a dog. Olero says she is chocking on the burden of looking after her 7 children, her husband, in addition to undertaking all the daily domestic chores. This she has done for the past 24 years. Olero says it is the cry of many a woman in this part of northern Uganda to get a dog that can work in order to convince men that they need to work to get food to eat and meet other household needs.

Members of Aminamong women's group in a meeting

Members of Aminamong women’s group in a meeting

Olero says her husband, just like many here 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 the dog not working,” Olero says.

That is why, 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 the 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  five children still living with them. And before leaving for the farm at 7am, she must have prepared warm food for the husband to break his daily hangover, and prepared food for the children to carry to school.

In the schedule she has memorized like the front of her palm, Olero has to return back home from the garden at 11am to prepare lunch in time for the children returning from school. Then at 12pm, she takes the goats to tether as she heads to another garden to weed for the next one hour and half. Lunch between 1:30pm and 2:30pm is the break before she embarks on washing the family’s clothes or going to fetch water and firewood. By 4pm, Olero must head back to the garden to do more digging that will 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 a recent research by the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) which found that rural women in Apac and Kole districts of 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, and the few who do work mostly to get money for drinking-a sort of mandatory duty for men in this part of northern Uganda.

“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 the 273 women meet the burdens single handedly,” the research 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 supposed to be done by men.

Akello and her mother laying bricks in Bar Opok village, Apac district

Akello and her mother laying bricks in Bar Opok village, Apac district

Akello has to fend for self and family from her brick laying

Akello has to fend for self and family from her brick laying

Jacinta Okwer, 45, is one of the women who has earned her (and family) livelihood from bricks for the past 20years “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,” she says.

After her mother failed to pay school fees 12 years ago, Judith Akello, 29, got married to a young man who was earning good income from buying and selling agriculture produce. Akello 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. “My husband was working, but we were going hungry. Making bricks was the only way I could make some money to support the family. That is what I have been doing for the past 10years,” Akello says.

But why wouldn’t a man who earns money use some 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 how respect for their rights can be assured,” reads part of the 46-page research report.

“Women need more sensitization about their rights and more empowerment,” says Tommy Obote, a Counselor with Women and Children Advocacy Network, an NGO based in Apac. He says sensitization is needed to teach all men to respect their wives and undertake seriously their responsibilities of earning money to look after their families.

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 Local Council leaders passed a by-law requiring all men to pay school fees and buy clothes for their children, or risk arrest. The police and LCs in Adyang parish ordered for the arrest of any man who beat his wife. In both cases, many 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 Bar Opok village in Kole district. She says that is why many women have resigned to submitting to everything their husbands say, even though the women are responsible for generating all the resources that meet the household needs.

apac-wougnet1 039

Olero takes her goats to feed

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 hard emotional and economic task for the women in this part of northern Uganda.

Yet for some women, like Phoebe Ojok, 65, 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,” Ojok says. A number of NGOs have been drawn into Apac, Kole and Oyam districts (Lango sub-region) to help women out of this situation. In almost every village, there is a women’s group benefiting from activities of an NGO.

“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, the Member of Parlaiment for Oyam. She says many men in Apac, Oyam and Kole 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 Lango sub-region.

“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 are men who have psycho social problems that need to 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.

Lillian Ebong speaking to fellow women on Radio Apac

Lillian Ebong speaking to fellow women on Radio Apac

“Our men need counseling,” agrees Lilian Ebong, 28, the Secretary for youth in Owang Central, Apac Sub-county. She says while it was highly believed that low levels of education were responsible for the bad treatment women were facing, getting an education is not a sure way for a woman to have better life in the home.

The WOUGNET research notes that though 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 and graduating as a Grade III teacher, Cecilia Tonga, 30, says her husband hid her certificate so that she never goes to teach. “When I reported him to Apac Police Liason 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 200shillings to allow you to go to the meeting. Our men need a lot of counseling,” echoes Tonga.

It is this counseling expected to provide “a working dog” and thus encourage men to turn to work that helps the men meet the needs of their households.

Ultimate Media

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