Some women are still under siege

Growing up in a rural part of the country for my childhood, I had a chance to witness what seems normal in most of our rural communities but has continuously left a trail of despair among women out there. Negotiating sex is not their right. In fact, girls, as a way of preparing them to be “good women,” are instructed by their aunties not to deny their husband conjugal rights, as and when the men demands it regardless of the woman’s desire and consequences thereafter. Infidelity is a preserve for the men, but a taboo for women. Deciding when to get pregnant solely depends on the man’s desire, but with minimal or even no care at all after. It was common for a pregnant woman to carry her husband’s hoe, a bunch of firewood, and food, in addition to her hoe and a child on her back while the husband followed from behind.

Mothers will trek long distances to attend at least one antenatal visit which guarantees them delivery at the health unit, otherwise they wouldn’t wish to do so. Since there is an emphasis on male involvement during antenatal visits, most mothers will save money to hire a boda boda (motorcyclist) who will pretend to be the husband. Family planning is not anything that most men will approve of. Most women have preferred methods that they can conceal from their husbands, but with dire consequences if they are found out. But access and availability of such fundamental MCH services still leave a lot to be desired. Long term family planning methods, although most preferred, are often only available thanks to Marie Stopes Uganda.

Up to now, women contribute the biggest percentage of labor on farms with little or no consideration for their effort. It is still very common for a woman in most parts of rural Uganda to grow crops only to be divorced when the harvesting time comes without effective legal recourse; no wonder most gender-based violence cases happen around the harvesting time. Those who survive divorce hardly see the proceeds from crops since men do the selling.

Ownership, access and use of property leave so many unanswered questions. Women will still seek permission to use the land for growing food to feed the children and family. In an interview with a woman in Namutumba district in Eastern Uganda, she revealed how she hired land from her husband for farming. Another revealed how she had to stealthily sell some maize to a local buyer to take her child for immunization! These and many more cases still happen.

Even with the current strides towards uplifting the women’s plight, some women, especially in rural parts of my country, are still under siege. They lack support for the fundamental functions of a human life. They are less well-nourished than men, less healthy, and more vulnerable to physical violence and sexual abuse. One might sum all this up by saying that, all too often, women are not treated as ends in their own right, persons with a dignity that deserves respect from laws and institutions. Instead, they are treated as mere instruments of the ends of others — reproducers, caregivers, sexual outlets, agents of a family’s general prosperity; the list is endless.