Picture this. A 14 year old girl going about her household chores is “kidnapped” by a group of men. One of the men takes her to his home, rapes her and therefore confirms her as his wife. The girl’s parents follow up with a request for 10 head of cattle and one or two million shillings. This marks the end of the girl’s childhood, innocence and education. She is officially betrothed to a man she only has to learn to love.
This is not a movie script but the culture among the pastoral community in Kiboga District located about 80Km west of Kampala city, Uganda.
Such archaic cultural practices account for the escalating HIV/AIDS rates in the community, low levels of education among the girl children, high levels of early marriages and its associated problems including malnuritution among the children and high levels of domestic violence.
But in this rather sad situation lies a ray of hope in the Pastoral Women Alliance to Break Cultural Chains (PWABC). PWABC was started by ten community members to strongly decampaign archaic cultural practices like wife sharing, young girls abduction into forced premature marriages, denial of women’s rights to property ownership, domestic violence and forced widow inheritance.
“When my husband died, I was sent away from my marital home. My two daughters were taken away from me. Girls are seen as a source of wealth through bride price. When they were married off, I didn’t have any share of the bride price,” explains Hariet Mukandinda a 65 year old member of the PWABC.
PWABC organizes church and school visits to change the mindsets of both the young and old leaders and help the children learn their roles, rights and responsibilities at a young age.They also target the elders and disabled through home visits.“Drama shows have however been the most popular way of spreading the message against the archaic cultural practices,” explains the Executive Director of PWABC, Olivia Mugabi.Through the community policing program, the local police is taken to the community to teach the rural folks about their rights and how they can make use of the police.
So far PWABC has registered tremendous successes.The organization has been able to convince more elders, husbands, parents and brothers, mobilize and train pastoral traditional conservative elders, sensitize them on the effects of HIV/AIDS and such harmful practices like wife sharing, young girls abduction.The organisation translated from English to local Languages the 1995 Uganda Constitution, UN Conventions that outline all Women and Girl Child Rights and generally Human Rights of Pastoralists as a Minority Group. They also highlighted the issues about the Domestic Relations Bill.
“Through our programs we have been able to influence services mostly at the District headquarters, Police and Courts of Law around us where realization, recognition and respect of women/girl children is now a reality,” Mugabi explains.
The organization’s biggest challenge remains funding. PWABC however hopes to start some income generating activities to raise funds. For this organization, the sky is the foundation.
A team from the Icon Women and Young People’s Leadership Academy visited PWABC.