I and two colleagues spent 11 days (15th -26th May 2016) in Amudat District, the land of the Pokot on a capacity building training assignment by ZOA. While on our way to Amudat, aside from the female genital mutilation – a cultural practice common amongst the Pokot that was since outlawed with the passing of the Anti -FGM Act 2010, we never anticipated more shocking revelations of the realities that girls and women go through, throughout their lives that make them lesser human beings.
Largely rural, Amudat District is located in the karamoja sub region and borders Moroto in the South-East and Kenya in the East. The district grapples with diverse challenges particularly poor road network especially during the rainy seasons, the general infrastructure and related services are very basic. Residents depend on nearby districts such as Mbale, Moroto including crossing over to Kenya to access daily consumables.
Inhabited by the Pokot tribe, majority of the people are cattle keepers and over time the Pokots are venturing into agriculture and trade majorly in cattle. While Amudat is generally referred to as one of the districts in the Karamoja Sub Region, during our stay in the District we learnt that the Pokots speak a totally different language from the Nga’karimojong and are actually arch rivals. Such categorisation amidst the sour relationship between the Karimojong’s and Pokot’s over the years is said to partly contribute to the slow growth processes in the district as the latter are sidelined in majority of the development programmes.
Our interaction with different categories and groups of people namely; Mentors, Faith Based Actors and women leaders particularly their revelations about the deep seated cultural norms and practices of the Pokot left us in speechless.
Once a child is born and their sex determined, from the onset a boy child is treated with superiority and advantage while the girl child with disadvantage characterised by discrimination at all fonts. Education for the girl child is never considered a priority at all because her destiny in life is marriage as early as 14 years. In fact in the discussions, it was mentioned that once a girl had been circumcised, it was and still is the immediate transition to womanhood. Majority of the marriages are arranged or rather forced with families of the prospective husband visiting the family of the future in laws, discussions held with the father of the girl and other family members excluding the mother and agreements made without the participation of and consent of the girl. Once the cows have been paid, the girl is expected to oblige and move in with her husband to their new homestead- the “Mayata” as they are commonly known. Any objection results in severe and heavy punishment from both families. One of the participants Maria attested to this fact.
“I was forced by my father to marry a very old man at my young age. I ran away to Turkana in Kenya but I was followed and brought back home. My relatives and mans’ relatives beat me seriously and left me for dead. Upon recovering I was still forced to marry the old man as his third wife and I bore him 10 children.” Maria.
On average, a Pokot man has 6 wives and the fertility rate for an average Pokot woman is 10 children. The children are not necessarily out of choice but rather coercion. A woman is expected to have as many children as possible as long as one is still within their reproductive age. Interrupting with this process through use of family planning methods equally has its own consequences such as being summoned to a family meeting to give explanations to that effect and if found guilty, punishments such as beating may be instituted. With their dignity trampled upon, women are seen and treated as slaves.
“Girls and women here are casually referred to as donkeys. When a man has identified a potential wife, he will tell a colleague that ‘I have identified my little donkey to marry in family ”. Revealed Reverend Canon Jane.
The only property a woman is allowed to own is chicken. Cows and goats are a reserve for men. On inquiring about the possibilities of a woman selling her chicken and buying a goat or cow, we were informed that this would still be pointless because in the end the cow or goat will belong to the man.
During their menstruation, a woman is not allowed to serve her husband food let alone be seen around the homestead, its isolation time until the 3-4 days menstruation days elapse. She only comes back home in the evening to sleep. When a husband notices the wife hasn’t gone in isolation in a particular month he can rudely ask “Did you mix your blood with mine”. The response sought here had better be that you are most likely pregnant as the only valid answer, otherwise a punishment would be instituted. A woman bears the brunt of heavy work burden and this includes; building the house in which she lives with her children and solely fending for them, polygamy, forced early marriage including widow inheritance, female genital mutilation and its negative implications on ones health such as painful sexual intercourse, birth complications and at times death.
While treated with total disregard, a girl child in the eyes of the father symbolises wealth particularly the cows. Even with the passing of the female genital mutilation Act 2010 that criminalises all acts of female cutting, incidents of the practice still exist. While there, a report had been submitted of five girls who had been circumcised.
These grave rights violations against women and girls have resulted into dire situations for them. These include; high illiteracy levels of the women and girls. During all the trainings, a translator had to translate every word and sentence made in English to Pokot for the women who included women councillors to understand the topics discussed. There are high incidences of early marriage, women are left out of decision making platforms right from household and very few participate in leadership in the public domain, those that do as a result of affirmative action, hardly speak let alone influence any actions in the spaces they occupy. It is not supervising that some girls run away from their homes to avoid being married off while others commit suicide as a result of frustration with life.
The gross violations of women and girls rights such as torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression, right to education, right to social, cultural and economic participation among others need to be addressed amongst the Pokot women and girls.
According to the Programme Manager ZOA Amudat, Mr Etolu Martin who has been in the district for over 6 years says “The situation is gradually changing but more still needs to be done”.
I therefore urge all human rights defenders, gender activists and concerned citizens to act towards improving the human rights situation of women and girls in Amudat District.
Yossa Immaculate Daisy
Human Rights and Governance Department