A giant billboard towers above a smaller road sign which indicates the way to Kampala. The billboard bears the image of a Ugandan man, alongside a quote from him which reads ‘Beating my wife destroyed my marriage. Don’t do what I did’. A little further along the road, another billboard entreats passersby to ‘End Gender Based Violence’.
These signs form part of a nationwide campaign to address one of Uganda’s major social problems – domestic violence. The country languishes behind most of the world in its legal and social responses to home violence; a recent survey suggests that two thirds of all Ugandans still condone wife beating, and in the survey a higher percentage of women tolerated such behaviour than did men. A similar percentage of women – 68% – admitted that they had been victims of violence at the hands of their partners at some point.
In addition to nationwide efforts to address this issue – such as the production of roadside billboards – a number of local, community-led efforts have also been initiated. On the slopes of Mount Elgon, in eastern Uganda, members of the Gumutindo coffee co-operative formed a drama group and used this platform to highlight the injustice of violence by performing in nearby villages. The co-operative was already working hard to promote greater gender equality and this was one more way they could play an educational role and try to promote a change in attitudes.
Rose Wandega had already joined the co-operative as a way of receiving higher prices for her coffee, but after joining the co-op she listened to what they had to say about the role of women and she also saw the drama group perform. The combined effect has been transformative for her – and for her family.
‘Through Gumutindo, we are working within the community. Before, there was domestic violence here every day but there isn’t any more. Women here are also involved now in participatory planning and in meetings in a way that we weren’t before. And now I have a voice on the farm, and we decide together what we will do with the money we earn’.
It’s clear that Gumutindo’s approach to gender equality is working. With a policy that requires half of all its board members to be women, and with an approach to business that puts women and men on equal footing, old attitudes are falling away in rural Uganda.