Beauty from Ashes: Finding Peace After Violence
By Ijuka Agnes Barongo
For 13 years, Caroline struggled with a marriage that drained her physical, emotional and psychological strength. She had dropped out of school in Senior Three for lack of enough school fees for herself and her seven brothers. As in many families, the girl child dropped out as her parents preferred to spend their meagre funds to educate their sons.
Caroline ended up in a customary marriage at the age of 16 years. It was evident from the start that her husband would not provide for her and their children.
“He did odd jobs like digging in people’s gardens. Whenever I delivered a baby he abandoned me and went drinking instead, gambling away the little money he’d earned,” laments Caroline, adding that “At one point he went to the extent of selling off land to finance these bad habits.”
Caroline was left to struggle with her children, doing a variety of odd jobs - from selling fish to second hands clothes –to feed her children, clothe and send them to school. “My husband did not offer any support and this is what begun the beatings,” says Caroline, who is now 29 years old.
Bride price is major source of violence against women and girls and it becomes the source of economic gain for the girls family.
“Once paid, Bride Price binds girls and women, robbing them of their rights,” says Margaret Lolen, District Gender Officer for Moroto District. ”We need to sensitize and equip girls and women about this and where they can get help,” adds Lolen, who notes that while several organizations support interventions to change harmful cultural practices and attitudes, it take time to change behaviour.
According to the Uganda Health Demographic Survey 2011 42.7 per cent of women in Karamoja are subjected to violence from men who feel justified to beat their wives for any reason. This situation is worsened by the shifting of gender roles and responsibilities over time.
“Historically, men herded cattle, and spent long periods away from home, which allowed the wife to adjust to nursing her baby and keeping the homestead,” says Patricia Lokeris, Co-ordinator, MUFUMI and head of the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Shelter in Moroto Town. “By the time he returned after some years, the woman had ‘recovered’ and ‘healed’ from child birth, weaned her baby and regained her energy as she kept the homestead running,” Lokeris adds.
“At first I endured beatings, thinking I could keep in the marriage and try and earn money for the upkeep of my children,” Caroline reminisces on the harsh realities of her life under violence. “I tried a hand in tailoring, earning UGX50,000 on a market day. On other days, I would earn 5,000 for repairs of clothes from people from the communities.” Caroline recollects
Caroline’s persistence paid off when she saved enough money to buy three cows. This is when she decided to leave her husband, who then demanded that she pay back the cows he gave for her bride price and claimed custody of their four children – including the youngest, who was only two years old. Caroline was determined to return the bride price and did so.
Her was, however, forced to put a hold to her plans to get her children back when the Police informed her that it would not be easy. She instead resolved to make a living to equip herself financially and secure her children’s future.
This determination in the face of hardship earned Caroline a place as the matron at the GBV Shelter at Moroto Referral Hospital.
Since its inception over a month ago, the centre has received battered women, including a mother and her four children who fled from a violent father, received justice and were relocated. She regularly witnesses women who struggle with physical and emotional abuse, and knows that many find themselves locked up in unhappy marriages.
Under the United Nations Joint Programme on Gender-Based Violence – with partners from
UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOHCHR UNWOMEN, WFP andWHO, women and girls are being supported to stand up for their rights. Consequently, they are saying “No!” to (bride price and wife inheritance – a common cultural practice in Karamoja. MIFUMI , who run shelters in Masaka, Mbarara and Moroto, have successfully handled over one hundred GBV cases in Moroto in the past one year alone. GBV survivors are learning that their lives are precious and that they can attain a peaceful existence.
“UNICEF is working in partnership with other UN agencies under the ‘Delivering as One’ approach to ensure that gender-based violence is addressed in Karamoja,” says Rebecca Kwagala, Programme Specialist, UNICEF Moroto Zonal Office. “Girls and women are the future of this nation and it is imperative to have functional centres where survivors can receive psychosocial support when they face violence,” she adds.
Kwagala notes that the community approach employed by the UN Joint Progamme’s implementing partner, MIFUMI involves continuously sensitising communities on the importance of preserving children’s rights, especially those girls and women – so that gender-based violence is critically addressed.
According to MIFUMI’s Lokeris, awareness in the community is raised mainly through face-to-face group discussions. They also have also shared the message with clan leaders, LC One and chairpersons throughout Moroto district, lobbying them regularly for support to eradicate violence from their communities.
MIFUMI works alongside ASB and International Rescue Committee (IRC) to support community sensitization on the importance of eradicating violence against women and girls, while FIDA and the Centre for Justice Studies and Innovations provide legal support. With hand-held support, GBV survivors are assisted from the Police or GBV Centre to get restitution.
Communities are mobilised through the music, dance and drama (MDD) performances of Children’s Peer Mentors, an active girl group mentored by prominent Moroto-based artiste, John Robert Adupa. He trains the girls and boys in his dance troupe in effective communication that appeals to members of the communities and as a result, members become aware of the rights of women and girls.
For now, Caroline is assured that one day she will be reunited with her children. In the meantime, she uses the experiences of her violent past to advocate peaceful solutions to other women who seek a safe haven at the shelter.
* Not her real name