a time for action to end violence against women
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women around the world, recognize their necessary contribution to society, and bring to light the oppressive factors threatening their safety, security, health and freedom. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is ‘A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women.’ We, at Sseko, are passionate about bringing justice and equality to women in East Africa and the world. We work to empower and educate women through fashion. But at the heart of it all, we care about the amazing women we work with, and we want to shed light on the stories they hold in their hearts. We asked our youngest Sseko ladies to share their take on the occurrence and effects of violence against women in their country. They surprised us with their honesty, encouraged us with their confidence, and inspired us with their dreams for the future.
There is an evident gap in equality between genders in Uganda, and although things are slowly changing for the better, our women still feel the discrimination. “Oh no, we’re not equal to men,” all the ladies chime in together. ” But it is now just starting to change.” Robinah and Sharon, both long time members of our strap team, admit that gender inequality has a big effect on them. “A while ago, men used to treat women as slaves,” Sharon offers. “Only men could eat meat, and women were only allowed to eat nuts. Women weren’t allowed to work. Even today women are crying in their marriages because they lack a lot. If a woman is being abused, she is told to stay at home. Even today people believe that.” Robinah explains the common belief that “Men are special and women are under men. The women have to serve. I think it’s changing though, and that’s good.”
Physical violence against women is an obvious issue, yet slightly treacherous to wade through. Jackie says, “It’s good that nowadays here in Uganda, if a man beats you, you can report it to the police and they will act. But if you go to the police to report it, and they don’t think it seems serious, like if you’re not obviously bleeding and bruised, then they probably won’t act. If I was physically abused by my husband, I would pack my bags. And I would report him for sure.” Dorine says she would take after her mother’s example, who left her father after finally getting fed up with the physical abuse. “I don’t think I would ever report it if my husband abused me, but I would leave him,” she says.
The women verbalize the simple truth of the matter, violence can take many forms, and while it may not always leave visual bruises of battering, it hurts just the same. Violence can be a husband cheating on his wife, a man not allowing a woman equality of work or pay, men leaving their wives and families, and when a woman is forced to marry. “When men cheat on you. It hurts,” Brenda explains. “It is commonly believed here that all men cheat, and they can get away with it because they’re just being men. So, there are very few guys who are faithful and don’t cheat. They are rare.”
These young girls, with such promising futures and so much love to give, explain that deep down, they are fearful that someday their husband will cheat on them or leave them. Jackie says, “The men are always leaving their families. They want a woman who is financially stable, and who doesn’t bother him about the children, or spend too much time and money getting her hair and nails done. Men get tired because their women are aging and their physical appearances are changing. That’s not fair. But I want to go into marriage with the mindset that marriage is for a lifetime. When I see older couples who are still going in their marriage, that gives me hope.”
Arranged marriages are still common in some parts of Uganda, and are often discussed and agreed on completely without the girls opinion or consent. “They’ll come while you are fetching water in the village and take you and force you to marry. If the man is very bad, you still can’t leave because once you are raped, that’s your own problem. You’re worthless. If you try to return to your parents house, they would advise you to return to him, because they probably would have already used the dowry,” Jackie says.
Violence and gender inequality seem to go hand in hand in regards to the issue of women’s education and career opportunities. “Men want women to be earning money, but they don’t allow her to become more educated or earn more money than them. Men also believe that women shouldn’t earn the same salary, even if she is doing the same job,” Jackie asserts. Women are already facing the challenges of finding sustainable employment, and the funds to receive a higher education, but when coupled with the oppressive demands of their men, it is quite a difficult task to succeed.
While these are sobering truths to acknowledge, they represent a complex issue, that women around the world are still struggling and fighting for their voices to be heard and their desires for equality, safety and freedom to be met. But with one action and one woman at a time, we can work together to change the future for women around the world. And that begins with giving women the opportunity to be independent, gain education and secure sustainable employment.