“It’s hard to find a good man. It’s just luck when you do. They are rare.” I think Aggie speaks for the plight of women worldwide, but she is speaking specifically about Uganda.
The times are definitely changing in Uganda, and child marriages are slowly reducing in popularity. Women in the city are becoming educated and expecting more from their men and their relationships. Their standards are high, and ordinary men are failing to reach them. It’s an interesting cycle that has started, with women desiring ambitious and successful men, while men are still struggling to reach out of poverty and acquire education and employment. In Uganda, it’s common for men to assume 40 is the age they should have their life together and will be ready to settle down. For women however, 25 is the coming of age time when women are supposed to have their studies and careers settled so they can get married and start a family. This is a wide gap and doesn’t appear to leave much room for interpretation.
With the gender inequality still prevalent in Ugandan culture, men are still considered superior to women, and thus are allowed to make excuses for cheating, physical abuse, neglect and poor treatment. And the women are taught to turn a blind eye and allow ‘men to be men.’ While the older and matured ladies are happy to continue in cultural traditions and follow expectations of the women’s and men’s responsibilities in a home, the younger generation of women coming up are putting their foot down. They don’t want to be constrained to cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. They are ambitious and goal-oriented, women who know what they want and are willing to work hard to get it. Aggie humorously mentions that she wants a man who will stay home and cook while she is at work. Esther agrees, she tells us, “My boyfriend is very smart and is a very good cook, which is good because I don’t like to cook!” Sylvia however, says “I don’t want a man that is too ambitious. Too much ambition can ruin you. But if my husband does not allow me to work, I will surely not stay with him. I won’t put up with that.”
Once a couple has decided to marry, they plan an ‘introduction,’ which is the equivalent to an engagement party in America. An introduction involves a lot of ceremony and celebration, and is the official time to get engaged, and for the families to discuss and agree on a bride price. Pledge cards are handed out to encourage friends and family members to help pay for the bride price or wedding. Harriet, one of our young single Sseko ladies says that Ugandan weddings are a lot of fun. “We go to the church and the reception where we eat together. And then we go to the party and after party. We get dressed up in party dresses. The bride and groom dance all the time and there is always a lot of dancing.”
Aunt Florence reminisces about her own wedding. “I was married on August 1st, 1982. I still remember. It’s been 30 years. My husband was in my brother’s class at school and when I went to visit, we met and he started asking after me. I said yes and we decided to get married. We had no money for a wedding so we had a prayer and dedication. They prayed for us and we got the blessing of our parents. I love my husband, he makes me laugh. I love him by doing his laundry, cooking for him and taking care of our children. He loves me also, in his way.”
Robinah and Teopista are young brides and mothers, still near the beginning of their married lives and learning about motherhood. “I have been married two years. My husband’s name is Robert and he is a teacher. We met at a conference and dated for 9 months before we got married. For the wedding we gathered people together and rented a hall and everybody was dressed up. We have one girl who is one year old. I want to have four children. In Uganda it is encouraged to have a lot of children but it depends on what you agree on with your husband. And sometimes you mess up and have a few more.”
Aunt Florence talks about how you must learn to be a real woman before you should marry. She says a real woman needs to learn to cook and clean and be sure of what she wants. She also needs to learn how to walk confidently, and not continually be seeking attention. “Instead of being concerned with what clothes you are wearing, and how to do your hair, young ladies should be spending their energy learning to be women,” she explains. Aunt Jennifer says that her eldest daughter came to her, saying “Mom, there is a man who is asking to marry me but if I go, who will help you?” Aunt Jennifer wisely told her “It is your choice and I cannot make it for you. I say that you have to see properly if this man will take care of you and then it will be okay.
The generational gap between women clearly shows their different perspectives, views, and hopes for relationships and marriage. In all, Ugandan women are beginning to break free from their oppressive cultural rules and stigma, and are learning to ‘be real women’, confidently living by their personal standards and demanding the respect they so deserve.