Removing Uganda’s girl child from the marriage market

Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls under the Spotlight Initiative

By Joachim Buwembo
female genital mutilation, FGM, Uganda, Kenya, cross border collaboration, adolescent girls, child protection
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Bongyereirwe
14 December 2020

“Touching the woman in Amudat means touching everyone because the women not only bear and raise the children, but they also carry out all the production.”

That statement by the Amudat District Chief Administrative Officer Hajji Wasswa Swalikh defined the right spirit for the training of officials who were preparing to implement the UNICEF Spotlight Initiative component funded by the European Union and United Nations to combat Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWGs).

But from the outset, the participants found it necessary to note that among the Pokot – Amudat’s conservative community - it is the ‘wrong’ woman – the adolescent girl - that enters into marriage prematurely, thus being forced to perform all those roles of a woman when she is still a child. 

For bearing children and fending for a family comprising a man and many children does not automatically convert the girl child into an adult/woman. That is why early marriage needs to be treated as one of the worst forms of violence against children. That is the mission of the teams that are trying to change the mindset of cultural leaders and even the victims who have taken this as the norm for ages.

The district team of diverse officials from Education, Health, Production and Community development departments thus embarked on their crash course in Communication for Development –C4D which is to play a pivotal role in combating VAWGs.

In order to integrate C4D in the struggle against VAWGs, the team had to be taken through the basics in the training conducted by NTU/SAP, which emphasized systematic, evidence-based planning. The team then underwent the training for Trainers of Trainers, planning C4D interventions, monitoring and evaluation as well as communication strategies like identifying stakeholders and recruiting allies and audience segmentation.

Coming during the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, a spacious venue with suitable facilities was in Mbale City where the weeklong programme was conducted. 
So importantly is the government taking the programme that the top political and administrative leadership of the district were in full attendance. These included the President’s resident representative – the Amudat Resident District Commissioner –RDC, the Amudat Chief Administrative Officer -CAO and elected Vice Chairperson of the district. 

Participating fully in the training, the Resident District Commissioner, Adiama Ekaju drew the attention of the officials to the intricacies of the Pokot community that put the lives of women and girls completely under the control of men giving rise to the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ even renders some secondary data like available statistics on the victims of violence against women and girls (VAWGs) unreliable. 

For example, the reported decline in cases of VAWGs reported by the police must be taken with a pinch of salt because if a woman reports the husband’s violence, he can react by selling off her most valuable cow, thus endangering the livelihood and health of the entire family. The woman therefore avoids reporting any case involving the husband’s abuses, and she becomes protective of him even when direct enquiries are made by the authorities.

Under the designing of communication strategies, the participants were taken deeper into planning media interventions. Again, the intricacies of Amudat District came into focus. For there is no radio station in Uganda whose signal is picked in Amudat. The strongest signal and the only one reliably received in Amudat is from a radio station located about one hundred kilometres inside Kenya. Hosting guests like experts or leaders for a studio-based programme therefore entails foreign travel…

That is just one of the many manifestations of the complexity of the Karamoja sub-region, itself so internally diverse that rarely does any single interventional strategy apply to all the different communities – about a dozen of them.