Youthful Ms Gladys Bako from Mundru village, Maracha district visibly spoke with much pain and anger “today you people should thoroughly educate these men, all they want is to produce children, there is no cooperation at home, the men always go out to the roadside to loiter and leave the women to work at home, if a woman refuses to give the man food I agree unless they give money or help at home”, Bako boldly said as the other women ululated in appreciation.
Elderly Mrs Rusula Jurua too had no kind words for the men “Its men who have made this situation that bad, the men have abandoned the homes to the women alone, the men come out to the trading centre in the early morning hours to eat meat and yet you as a woman you may test meat on Christmas”.
Mr Sunday Madira from Ombadri village said: “today’s women are drunkards and are not good, sometimes you give money for food and yet she goes to watch films and buy other things”.
One after the other, the blames and the defensive arguments on domestic and gender-based violence continued as the team from the Directorate of Health of the Church of Uganda teaming with the diocese of Madi and West Nile attentively listened.
They had camped for dialogue at Ovujo trading centre, all the bitterness continued as the evening market buzzed with its usual activity.
Indeed, Mr Christopher Officer, the LC I of Ovujo B village says cases of domestic, gender-based violence, child marriages and sexual violence are common in his village.
“Every week we get at least two cases and most reasons are drunkenness from both women and men, the young are into drugs like Mirungi and the most affected categories are between the ages 20-45years”, Officer says.
He says most times efforts are made to reconcile the parties through advice, if it’s a fight that has bloodshed, relatives both from the woman and the man’s side, (elders) are called but in the worst case scenario, the police is called into action, he says.
Rev Jennifer Asiku of Ovujo parish concurs over the notion of increased violence in the community. “It’s true there has been violence but as the church, we have tried to stop it, we can’t do it all because we only have limited time may be in Church, funerals etc. when we can meet to give advice and counselling to people,” Rev. Asiku says.
To her, the biggest catalysts of violence in the community are disco dances, late markets that are filled with school children.
As a result, Asiku says the community is now faced with the hard reality of broken families, school dropouts, rampant murder cases, child marriages, many polygamous families, and a lot of hatred between different clans.
Even in the Church, she says numbers of Christians have dropped, offertory givings are meagre and the church, as a result, is less developed.
There have been efforts on a smaller scale to train women and men on family life but these Asiku says have not yielded much fruit.
“As the church, we have been having trainings for girls and women to prepare them about home life; sometimes we even call the men but the turn up is usually very poor from them” she says adding “We urge the diocese to partner with the government so that some of the external facilitators come down to speak to our people, maybe because I am a woman, men can easily think I have come to defend the women”.
Under their directorate of health, the Church of Uganda hatched a program on gender and reproductive health in 2010 by developing resource handbooks for religious leaders, with the idea that during their time of preaching, a segment on the topical issue can be mentioned to the congregation.
The five components of emphasis are sexual reproductive health, maternal health, family planning, HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.
“Yes, the church has been primarily known for preaching the gospel but you also note that the social problems affect not only the church but everybody; that’s why we came up with programs that can educate our people and address the social challenges”, Stephen Angala, the program officer based at the provincial headquarters says.
However, despite its good intentions, Angala says after thorough evaluation, it was discovered that the social vices were continuing and soon the church was forced to change strategy by developing special pastoral letters.
“We are here to disseminate the pastoral letters, the province can’t move to the grassroots but we stop at the diocese when we came to Madi and West Nile, thank God the Bishop mobilized all the clergy and they are going to help to continue the sensitization”, Angala said.
Mr Angala whose provincial team accompanied the Madi and West Nile diocese team to the Ovujo market dialogue as a case study says he discovered poor health-seeking behaviour, alcohol abuse, laziness especially from men, teenage pregnancies as some of the commonest societal evils in his short spell in the place.
The latest approach from the church will be evaluated in 2020 and Mr Angala is optimistic it will yield a better impact. He says the Church is a good ground for implementation of the program because there is already a big following.
In the meantime, the onus is on the diocese to develop the best means to create impact.
The West Nile region is crippled with high rates of child marriages, school dropouts, high illiteracy, drug abuse, domestic and sexual-based violence that many have argued is a time bomb if efforts to avert them are not intensified.
Madi and West Nile diocese comprises the districts of Adjumani, Moyo, Yumbe, Koboko, Maracha and Arua.