Sexual harassment -how rural girls and women cope

Ruth Fund Uganda heard about sexual harassment from the rural girls and also from University students during the International Women’s Day celebrations 2016.
Rural based girls talked of a number of challenges ranging from misunderstandings with parents and guardians who wanted to take all decisions on their behalf. The girls were also confused at the treatment males in the community treated them.”Men should stop demeaning and abusing us”, was the cry of eight girls 15-24 that shared their experiences.
How do we protect girls that are sexually harassed and abused?

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WHAT ELSE CAN ONE CALL IT ? MISOGYNY

Definition- Misogyny is a noun to mean a cultural attitude of hatred or dislike for females, because they are female.(SIHA Second Journal on Women in Islam,2015)
The year 2015 ended on a confusing note with a defiler or rapist on the loose in Nabazizza, Kyengera, a Kampala suburb, about twelve kilometers outside the capital city Kampala.
Scared mothers whispered about a young girl who was defiled on her way back from school where she had gone to pick her end of year report. Stories were told of the incidents of girls below the age of nine who were defiled by unknown person(s). The trend seemed to have a pattern. More than four girls in a month were defiled but no one described the defiler(s) comprehensively enough to be recognized. Were the victims too young to recall who defiled them? Was the defiler(s) one or they were many?
On 17th January 2016 the rumours were made official information in a village meeting convened by the Local Council One Chairperson, attended by the village and sub-county leaders, security personnel and members of the community.
The Chairman introduced the agenda for the afternoon meeting as –Ekyikwaata baana-literary translated as That which catches children, to mean defilement. The topic was introduced and residents were asked to give evidence, and those affected to come out and speak up. Amidst a big crowd of over one hundred people, there was great silence as no one stood up to testify. Advice was given that it was traumatizing for anyone to stand in public and disclose defilement of a loved one. Not with opinions that blamed mothers for letting children walk about unattended, and for sending young girls on errands.
It was in the end that a grandmother testified how her granddaughter was asked by a stranger to escort him with a promise of getting paid one thousand Uganda shillings( less than a dollar). She narrated that after they had walked a short distance, the man started pulling her into a bushy area, taking off his trousers. The girl screamed and pulled away from the captor. She survived to tell the story.

Individuals then got courage to share. One narrated how one child was outside her home brushing teeth in the morning, only to run into the house where her parents were, crying and bleeding from her private parts. Someone else was sent to a shop within her guardian’s view and came back in shock, crying that someone had defiled her.
In conclusion, some residents blamed the defilement on witch craft, where people believed that when one defiled a child one would be rich. Some said it was evil spirits- mayembe /majini brought into the village by people who were in search of riches, that had run wild and were the ones attacking the girls. Others blamed new comers into the area, and the leadership that failed to register them and provide adequate protection for residents.
The Officer-in Charge of Kyengera Police Post confirmed that they had received some complaints at station. He was concerned that four children-the eldest 7years of age , in the same place, in one week could be defiled in a month, and that it was common for 12 to 17 year olds to be defiled . He decried the increased incidents in the village, and many that were not reported.
Ruth Fund Uganda could not close the chapter on the developments after the meeting,Joy for Children an organisation that deals with children was consulted.
Looking at the wider view of gender based violence, how significant are the defilement cases?
Could it be part of organized action against women and girls? Could it be practicing the salafi ideology,or salafism, or salafi doctrine, where underage girls, as young as (9)nine years old are abducted into forced marriages throughout the Islamic world. It mentions that the Iraqi Parliament attempts to legalise underage marriage, to reduce marriage age from 17 to 9 years old.( SIHA Second Journal-Women in Islam, 2015,pages 58-60)
Rural Women and Youth Fund Uganda  need views on a way forward before these criminal acts against women and girls gets out of hand.

Forces of Nature-Save rural women!

When Ruth Fund Uganda got the first draft design for a brochure, it had a photograph of a young lady dressed in a business suit. We agreed that such a woman would already have information and probably opportunities to enable her lead a dignified life. Most probably she knew her rights and would claim and defend them. She could make decisions that affected her life, and those in her community. We agreed that she had opportunities from different corners, she would choose to take or refuse and Ruth Fund Uganda would seek out support of such ladies to reach out to rural women and youth.
When we opened the office in the rural area mukyalo the elite retired middle aged women welcomed us with caution that there is nothing they have not been taught –they felt they knew enough.
‘Have you opened the office to provide shelter for battered women? Even those you may not get, people now days have ways of dealing with violence.’ One kind lady volunteered information.
We explained that we need to reach out to the rural women and youth within the community. We even pointed out examples among those walking along the paths of Nabazizza with babies on their backs, others walking along beside them. We explained we wanted to reach out to women who are mothers of the young girls and boys who walked about in tattered clothes, bare footed while other children their age were at school. We labored to explain that we wanted the women who were teenagers but at the same time mothers. [The national teenage pregnancy rate is 24.8% among girls aged 15-19 years; 45% of the uneducated girls become pregnant compared to 16% of girls with secondary education. .. 58% of teenage girls aged 19-years, 37% of girls aged 18-years, 21% of girls aged 17-years, 9% of girls aged 16-years, and 2% of girls aged 15-years had already begun child bearing. (UDHS, 2011)]. Women who by law are youth aged 18 to 35 but are already married or cohabiting abafumba-or were once married and are already divorced but have children they rarely feed. Children who suffer hunger and contribute to the statistics of child mortality in the village for no other reason apart from the fact that the mothers have not identified opportunity to improve their condition as individual women and conditions for their offspring who are fast walking in the footsteps of the helpless, hopeless mothers.
Such kind of women are many but how do you reach/get them?
The answer from the rural elite was-Abo twabakowa –twabavako- bamenya….. –literary translated we  got tired of those, so, we ignore them, otherwise, they just frustrate you because their numbers increase daily and a lot of effort is needed to change their conditions of poverty, many children, ill health, illiteracy and many other conditions.

It is a situation that reminds one of scientific terms of kinetic energy and gravity forces.

Imagine the women Ruth Fund Uganda wants to work with comfortable in their situations, resigned that that is life for them and there is no remedy. They are not bothered , have no energy to take action to change for better because they do not believe better /dignified life is for them. They rarely move from their places of residence because they do not have homes, to look for opportunities in a society that has given up on them. There is no kinetic energy to make them vibrant!
Where there is movement, it is vertical or /and horizontal . It is where the forces of gravity apply.

Imagine, the people Ruth Fund Uganda intends to work with are only mobile in the community. They leave their rooms to go to market to get food and back to carry out the routine work of feeding and serving the bread earner, if there is one. They hardly ever attend meetings. Some attend worship places where they are taught submissiveness, caring for ones neighbor and other positive values that prepare one for heaven because there is little hope for good life in the earthly world.

No wonder they are not visible and because they lack kinetic energy-gravity keeps them down and in their own space. There is horizontal movement which lacks dynamism to pull one up from one condition to another. Ruth Fund Uganda is in place to provide the vertical catalyst for movement; is working on pulling/ pushing/walking with them uphill-call it whatever suits you-this is a costly process. Ruth Fund Uganda needs skilled human and financial resources and TIME to keep them up. Getting rural women and youth up , moving, and vibrant demands that they change attitude to life, practically change the way they lead lives, communicate more and with changed mindset, demand for their rights.

What is sad is that even among the elite rural, there are different factors that pull them down to the horizontal based group. The environmental, socio-political and economic factors tend to pull them down to be part of the invisible women and youth. No wonder, the bottom group, the base of the pyramid is wide. The poor marginalized, are increasing. They do not seem to be part of government plans and programs.

Ruth Fund Uganda chose to go the un-trodden path so that there is a trail to find the rural women and youth. Would you do the same? Would you advise and support Ruth Fund Uganda to take this adventure/initiative innovatively? Please send us a comment on e-mail if you want, that is< ruthfund.org@gmail.com>.
Ruth Fund Uganda will continue to update you on progress because we do not intend to give up!

NEW YEAR, NEW WORK

New Year -New Work to get Out of Marginalisation and Invisibility
When Rural Women and Youth (Ruth ) Fund Uganda opened an office in Nabazizza –Kyengera 12 kilometres from Kampala district, we-staff and Board- took on a challenge to test whether the area fitted in the description of a rural area we initially planned to work in. The Feasibility Study done in 2014 stated-
there is limited knowledge and practice of human/women rights in rural areas of Uganda, partly because of the isolated nature, limited information on development programs, illiteracy and high levels of poverty.(page4).
This was a description of the people we want to live and work with but not the area?
What is a rural area? The terms isolated, hard to reach, lacking water and electricity were used. Observation shows Uganda is changing . Agricultural land is decreasing as most parts are used for residential purposes. This is what Nabazizza is like. Many families are moving into the once rural hard to reach area. Roads are being constructed, in places where a shelter is not on the land, water is still a problem-and residents cannot differentiate between clean and safe water-there is no piped water. There is electricity that is accessed by those who can afford it. The residents of Nabazizza therefore lead different lifestyles determined by economic status.
Should it then be the poor are the rural people? Is it the low income who are rural? At the Validation meeting of the Feasibility study, participants advised that definitions can be misleading. There are areas that are neither rural or urban and are populated by rich and poor. Nabazizza is a peri-urban area. The question is –where is a rural area? Participants acknowledged they all came from the rural areas or villages where every Ugandan has roots.
So, in a changing Uganda, are there areas where there are people who have more knowledge of their rights than people in some areas? This is a task that Ruth Fund Uganda is embarking on, to determine levels of rights knowledge and practice. Ruth Fund Uganda also believes that there is a relationship between knowledge and practice of human rights and getting out of marginalization and invisibility.
Happy New Year-join us in the new work of learning and unlearning.

Rural Women and Youth Fund Uganda-welcomes you!We look forward to sharing with you human rights issues of women and youth in Uganda.

When children (2 -9 years of age) in a community are defiled with impunity, what would you do?

Ruth Fund Uganda is faced with a challenge in Nabazizza where more than 20 children have been defiled in last four months and no one knows who does the acts.

Help by sharing your views.