Domestic Violence

04:57 Dec 27 2011 Nyakadere village, Paya sub-county in Tororo district, Uganda

Partners may suffer many forms of ill-treatment from their spouses, but for Margret Ajwang, 49, Nyakadere village, Paya sub-county in Tororo district, hers may seem too much to bear.

When her relationship hit the rocks in April 2010, her husband, Awor Alere, married another wife.

By all standards the couple is not well-off. Living in a modest semi-permanent house with a chair in one corner of the almost empty sitting room, they also have a 3 by 6 inch worn-out mattress that Alere bought when Ajwang was young and attractive, 31 years ago.

Until recently, Ajwang was forced to share the small mattress with her co-wife, Jennifer Akello and their husband. The mattress is laid on the floor on a mat of dry banana fibre.

“At night the three of us slept in the same bed. We would put our heads and torsos on the mattress and the legs on the mat,” narrates Ajwang, eyes shimmering with bitterness. Ajwang and her co-wife slept on opposite ends of the bed with their husband in the middle.

However, nothing prepared Ajwang for the demeaning and humiliating experience of the intimate episodes between her husband and Jennifer Akello, her co-wife.

“When darkness came I would pray to sleep quickly so that I would not hear my husband making love. But this came to naught. As soon as the candle was out, the pair broke into giggles punctuated with murmurs, caressing and finally making love,” remembers Ajwang with resentment.

A tormented Ajwang would try to concentrate on sounds outdoors only to find herself listening to the pair next to her. Her body reacted violently to the hymns of love, the mother of four recalls.

She bore the torment until six months later when she could not stand it anymore. “That torment only ended when I sought intervention of MIFUMI, a women and child rights advocacy local non-governmental organisation,” she says.

Mifumi officer in charge of domestic violence Grace Lwanga says when Ajwang mentioned her ordeal in one of the organisations fellowships for victims of domestic violence, they together with the Police swung into action.

When Mifumi and the Police confronted Alere, they gave him two options. “We advised him to construct a house for his new bride or rent one for her,” recalls activist Lwanga.

Alere rented an apartment for his new bride in Paya trading centre.

Nyakadere LC.1 chairperson, David Oboth, says he did not of the abuse but there were signs. “The two fought regularly and reported to my office. I learnt of it when Ajwang revealed,” he says.

As a leader, he had told Alere on many occasions to get separate houses for his wives to no avail.

Tororo central police station officer in charge of family child protection, Sophie Nambala, says the Police had to witness Alere separating the two women. “We also issued a stern warning to Alere never to engage in such abusive conduct or face the full wrath of the law,” recalls Nambala.

Why did Ajwang endure abuse?

Her explanation hinged so much on the values of the Jopadhola ethnic community.
Joseph Oketcho, 76, says a girl is taken as property. “A girl among the Jopadhola is no different from livestock because her pride is the wealth in form of bride price that the family gets when she gets married,” he said.

Oketcho says when a girl gets married, she does not have the option of returning home even if her marriage is failing.

When Ajwang got married to Alere in 1979, her family got two bulls and goats as bride price.

Oketcho argues that Ajwang, thereafter became the property of her husband.

Ajwang was also worried that if she walked out of her marriage, her siblings, parents and relatives that gave her away in marriage would not allow that.

Alere has no regrets …

Alere, who runs a Malwa (local brew) bar at Paya trading centre attributes the collapse of their marriage to issues that arose recently.

“I loved my wife until five years ago when she started taking alcohol (waragi),” claims Alere. He adds that she stopped doing her domestic chores.

“Days, weeks and months would pass without finding a meal at home or my clothes washed,” he adds.

He also alleged that Ajwang was also involved in extra marital affairs. “I lost count of instances of men sleeping with her at the pub, bush and shacks,” he said.
Initially he used to beat her up, but when she failed to change, he got another wife.
When the New Vision visited the couple’s home, Ajwang was not at home.

The Mifumi field Officer and New Vision tracked her at a pub a few metres way.
With a pungent smell of liquor on her breath, she told many tales. She says her house is in a dilapidated state, as the walls on the one end of the house had started collapsing.

The couple had four girls, three of whom are married. The children like their parents have not been successful in life. Ajwang is taking care of two malnourished grandchildren.

- By Frederick Womakuyu and Moses Nampala
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