Social actors such as cultural, religious, opinion leaders are highly influential in the communities they serve. They make decisions, settle disputes and help people they lead to have a sense of belonging. By virtue of their roles and responsibilities, cultural leaders have the potential to play a key role in promoting change of attitudes and beliefs among the people they lead. They also have authority to counsel, advice and punish perpetrators of any kind of practice or behavior deemed unacceptable. So if they are deliberately targeted and involved in interventions aimed at addressing gender inequalities and promoting and protecting women’s rights, they will lead to a systematic change within the decision making structures/organs that can promote gender equality within both formal and informal institutions.
A total of 120 Male Gender Equality Champions in both Oyam and Amolator districts were identified and oriented by ACFODE under the project “Strengthening Community Participation in Local Governance and Promotion of Women and Girls’ Rights in Lango Sub-region (Amolatar & Oyam Districts) with financial support from DIAKONIA.
The gender orientation training aimed at creating awareness amongst males on gender and legal frameworks for women and girls rights protection and gender equality, act as agents of change in their communities and generate commitments.
The legal frameworks for women’ rights promotion in Uganda is largely enshrined in the 1995 Uganda constitution, the Domestic violence Act 2010. Various global and regional commitments to gender equality including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Maputo protocol were ratified by the government of Uganda.
In Northern Uganda, the traditional justice system is more dominant; clan leaders and elders determine the shape of the development agenda and this system is highly respected by government. However, the local governance system also prevails and local communities are more loyal and pay allegiance to the traditional system and leaders unlike to government leaders. This limits women’s abilities to access their rights to their own and their family’s land and limits their capacity to claim redress or to seek protection where these rights are violated.However much there is progress in improving women’s status in Uganda, such as the increasing participation of women in political spaces, education and health, land ownership, their development continues to lag behind that of men. Women are perceived as possessions and known to be wives/mothers/caretakers/assistants and Uganda being one of a patriarchal society, male dominance in decision making. During the gender orientation for male gender champions in Oyam district, issues of women being marginalized in accessing land, ownership and control over land, skills development and inheritance rights were evident during the sessions.
Women are not allowed to own land. When a man dies, the clan leaders take over all the possessions and decisions are made by the clan leaders but not the woman. Women are part of the property. A clan leader from Minakulu sub county Oyam District. Even with several laws and policies aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls continue to be violated due to poor implementation and ignorance of the existing laws such as the Domestic violence Act 2010.
In Amolator district, a head teacher highlighted the importance of girl child education. There is need for vigorous sensitization amongst the parents on the retention and completion of girls both at primary and secondary level. More so the inclusion of women and girls rights in all co-curricular activities. The Male Gender Equality Champions comprised of sub county chiefs, LCIII chairpersons, CDOs, religious leaders, cultural leaders, opinion leaders, PDC chairpersons, parish chiefs, head teachers and police officers selected from the 12 sub counties where the project is being implemented in the two districts. Commitments were generated by male gender champions inform of action plans, and pledged to utilize the different forums and spaces to sensitize communities on the importance of girl child education and the existing laws and policies that protect and promote women and girls rights.
ACFODE envisages a changed society where male leaders act as role models in the promotion and protection of women and girls rights, women as decision makers and adherence to the existing laws and policies that aim at protecting women rights.