What you need to know:
Reports indicate that many women are ignorant about domestic violence and the different forms in which it presents. Even men who physically or mentally abuse their women do not consider this to be abuse. They are influenced by factors such as culture, religion and upbringing among others.
Peter Jjuuko, who calls himself Mulangira, grew up in an excessively proud family, where men could not stand rejection or being denied anything by women. It is this attitude he carried to the marriage and he unconsciously mistreated his wife only to lose her, years later.
He used to return home in the wee hours of the night after his drinking sprees. “She did everything for me including waiting for me to serve me hot food whenever I returned from the bar. Sometimes I hurled verbal insults at her and would throw tantrums, but she remained tolerant and was determined to make it work,” Juuko says.
It did not occur to Juuko that he was emotionally abusing his wife. On a random day, his wife disappeared from home and left behind their three children. It took two weeks of her absence for Jjuuko to realise how a good wife had slipped out of his hands. While he hoped she would return home, Jjuuko did not make any effort to woo his wife back. Three months later, he learnt she had secured a job in the United Arab Emirates.
Jjuuko managed to reach out to her through social media platforms and she was very resolute. She wanted nothing to do with this marriage anymore.
“Ever since we got married, I have been on tenterhooks. It is time I gained my freedom. Never will I put up with an abusive marriage,” Jjuuko quoted his ex-wife’s message.
Jjuuko regrets that his ego and ignorance cost him a marriage and urges women to express dissatisfaction as opposed to putting up with abuse.
Ignorance vs. violence
“If a man mistreats you, do not play strong when you are hurting. Be defiant. Let his wrongs be known to him. Do not bottle up anger and hold onto unnecessary grudges. If he loves you, he will change. Had my wife been tough on me, I would have changed,” Jjuuko says.
Not only women are ignorant about domestic violence and the different forms within which it presents itself. Even men who physically or mentally abuse their wives may be influenced by factors such as culture, religion and upbringing.
Religion and marriage
Frank Kyazike, a counsellor, says during traditional marriages, families only counsel women, which explains why some men are unaware of their roles and what is expected of them as husbands.
“Traditionally, both men and women were oriented on their roles before marriage. Religious leaders have a big role to play towards restoring sanity in the institution of marriage,” Kyazike adds.
Although there is a misconception that domestic violence is common among cohabiting couples, Charles Mukasa, an evangelist at Harvest Christian Ministries in Mengo, says this vice is indiscriminate.
He says some women in church are also physically and mentally abused by their husbands, but for fear of stigma and breaching their vows and counsel from religious leaders, they tend to accommodate it.
“I don’t think a man and a woman who are wholly in love and understand what their religion says about marriage can hurt each other,” he says.
He alludes to 1 Peter 3:7 which states that: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
This scripture, Kyazike says, reminds men to love and respect their wives in order to win favour from the Lord. Kyazike adds that aside from church, other religious denominations such as Islam have their principles that guide couples.
The tale of a church girl
Sarah Mukisa grew up in a staunch Christian family, studied in Christian schools and served as a minister in the church as a youth. Though they were not related by blood, her guardians, who were elders in church loved her like their own.
After completing her degree in Procurement and Logistics at Uganda Christian University, a man in her church approached her guardians for her hand in marriage. He was humble and honest and everyone in church liked him. It is his personality that convinced Mukisa fall in love with him.
Two years into marriage, her husband asked her to quit her job and become a stay-at-home wife. While Mukisa vehemently refused to buy his suggestion, her husband took the matter to her guardians and pastor who supported his decision.
“The only place he would allow me to go was church. He stopped providing for the family as a way of venting his anger whenever we had a disagreement,” she says.
Mukisa adds: “He had mastered the art of keeping up appearances, especially in public spaces such as church. He acted as if everything was okay in front of everyone at church. He would even force me to wear matching clothes with him.”
She says her husband started going out with church girls and when she probed, he went physical. He battered her and she was admitted to hospital.
“Although he was pretentious, our neighbours knew he was abusive. When I was in hospital, I was embarrassed to learn that I was the talk of the entire neighbourhood,” she recalls.
According to Mukisa, the couple slept in separate rooms and at some point, her husband stopped buying basic needs, leaving her and their two children to starve.
Although she reported the matter to her pastor, who counselled them, her husband became even more abusive. After 10 years, Mukisa could not stand the humiliation and she decided to call it quits.
“I was so scared. I had never taken care of anyone, not even myself. However, through my friends, testimonies from other women, I gained strength to move on,” she says.
“The first months were hell because I had been unemployed for many years, but through guidance from a counsellor and support from a few friends, the transition process was smoothened,” she says.
As she tried to pick up the pieces, Mukisa became a black sheep at church. And for this reason, she decided to change church. Five years later, she met another man who is respectful and loving.
“Any man can be a ‘jerk ‘regardless of his religion. And that is why women need to be more careful when choosing a marriage partner. You should not be a puppet to your husband. You ought to be treated with respect,” she adds.
Juliet Nambalirwa (not real name) owns property in Entebbe and co-owns a tours and travels company with a colleague. At the age of 17, she was impregnated while at school. But when the marriage became abusive, she chose to live an independent life.
“He was a caring and loving father with whom I expected to walk to the ends of the world. I was never exposed to infidelity all the years of my marriage,” she recollects.
But hell broke loose when her husband succumbed to peer pressure. He gradually turned into an alcoholic and a drug addict. “He had a well-paying job and started spending most of his money on drugs. Any advice from me and friends fell on deaf ears. He was later sacked from his job due to negligence,” she says.
He later sold most of the property and also mortgaged their house only to be redeemed by her father-in-law. “All his relatives blamed me for not taking care of their son and allowing him to take drugs,” she narrates.
Nambalirwa says what kept her going in the marriage was the need for a father figure for her two sons as well as the bond they had at the start of this marriage.
“On many occasions people advised me to quit but I kept hoping that one day, he would change. I did not want my two sons to grow up without a father,” she says.
But she also feared her kids would also adopt their father’s behaviour and later decided to move out. She would later learn that not even rehabilitation could change him.
She moved on, rented a single room before setting up a restaurant. She secured part time jobs, expanded her business, invested in real estate and took care of her children. Her first born is yet to sit for Senior Six examinations while the second born is in Senior Two.
But the fact that she had failed to support her husband depressed her. A few years after separation, her husband was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of theft. Meanwhile, Nambalirwa hired a lawyer and her husband was acquitted of his crime.
Annet Nakajugo, a marriage counsellor at St Stevens Church, Buwama calls upon women to embrace work. She emphasises that a financially independent woman cannot be a burden to her husband. Women can support their husbands to cater for family needs and relieve their husbands of financial burdens.
“A poor man is always grumpy, and it becomes worse when he has to solely shoulder all the family’s financial burdens, thus he will not hesitate to mistreat the wife, especially for men who are not God-fearing,” she says.
“A man will respect his wife when she makes a contribution to the development and well-being of the home. Should a calamity strike, he will have an assurance that she carry on even without him,” she adds.
While many women withstand domestic violence, others choose to seek freedom. Few opt out and fight against it. What is clear though, is the fact that many victims never know they are being abused. Even those that are abused choose to put up with the status quo because women have been wired to make relationships work amidst all circumstances.
Unfortunately, many women have sustained permanent injuries while others have lost lives. Aside from lowering a woman’s self - esteem, domestic violence also affects children and the entire family.
Ali Male, a counselling psychologist at A-Z Professional Counselling and Sport Centre, advises women to do a self-reflection before they totally quit marriage, adding that when one loses a relationship, it takes time to build another.
“Patience and endurance are great virtues. Look at your strengths and weaknesses then find ways of working upon them.Uplifting one’s emotional intelligence skills is a great way to mend fences,” he adds.
Male adds that when everything fails, a third party who may be a therapist, religious leader, counsellor or psychologist should be consulted to arbitrate but insists both partners have to be present.
Grace Kisakye, a social worker at We Arise Uganda, a womens’ organisation that supports women to start income generating projects in Kyengera, says women ought to seek help from women’s groups or organisations that advocate for human rights other than braving domestic violence alone at home.
Kisakye adds that should when one decides to pursue divorce, they are guided accordingly.
Studies show that there was a surge in domestic violence in 2020 and 2021. According to a 2020 report by the International Justice Mission (IJM) on Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), there was a decrease in reports of domestic violence. But the criminal investigations directorate report showed that murder from domestic violence increased by more than 20 percent between January and April, 2020.