The Observer (Kampala)

24 January 2013

Uganda: Men On Strike

Falling in love to a man is a myriad feelings like achievement, self-worth and being macho. However, the true test of a man is what happens when the pheromones have been simmered down by life's challenges such as bills, rent and, importantly, children.

For Sheila Nankanja*, who has been married for six years to an engineer, the test came too soon. A mother of two, Nankanja cuts a figure of a happily married woman but she is the breadwinner despite her husband's decent job.

"It was all good in our first three years of marriage but everything came tumbling down when I had a second baby girl; he got so furious because I was only bearing girls and that is when he stopped taking care of us," she reveals.

"He doesn't even lend a hand when the children are sick and efforts to get him on board by friends and family have failed," she adds.

Why the neglect?

"Such cases are on the increase today and last year, we got up to 875 cases of family neglect," says acting Commissioner Maureen Atuhaire of the Child and Family protection unit, Uganda Police.

Atuhaire attributes such behaviour to loveless marriages, especially forced marriages, family pressures and impunity of the law.

"Some women drive their husbands to such irresponsible behaviour either consciously or unconsciously," she notes.

And Felix Nkuranga agrees: He maintains that men neglect their responsibility because they feel that women tend to take them for granted.

"If someone does not appreciate my efforts and takes me for granted, then I would simply give up," says Nkurunga.

He also explains that men are overwhelmed with the expectation of being a loving husband and a caring father. Sometimes they cannot juggle these tasks successfully.

"It's just something some people think they can handle until they are faced with the reality of married life." When such men succumb to such pressures, the easy way out is ditching their responsibilities and then finally leaving the family.

Taking action

Some men will not take it to the extreme like Nankanja's husband. They will duly provide for the family but distance themselves from their family and kids and start a different life altogether. This culminates into irresponsibility since often, they fail to strike a balance between their extramarital relationships and the family.

Edward knows all too well how hard it was for him to be a husband and father. He met and fell in love with Susan back in school at Christ the King Masaka. She was in S.2 and he in S.4. Years later, she moved in with him and had a child. Then it all came tumbling down. He says she changed.

"But the only thing I worry about now is the future of my children because I don't think we are ever going get married. I want to move on but I feel like I'm in prison," he says.

"I'm seeing someone on the side who has brightened my life but she is a bit jealous, so I can't think of moving in with her and my children, so I'm stuck."

Well, David Ssembatya, a social worker turned businessman, believes that love is the answer and it doesn't matter who helps the other. Its absence is the root of problems like neglect.

"My wife took good care of our daughter and I for the two years I was unemployed but that did not make me resent her."

Ssembatya, nevertheless, cautions women who earn more than their husbands to reassure their husbands that they are strong enough to overcome whatever predicament they are facing.

"A man will be okay with that as long as his wife respects him and does not pile too much pressure on him. We have an ego, you know."

He thus advises men to be tolerant with their wives' emotional changes during and after birth.

"It's very insensitive of us to expect our wives to behave the way they behaved back in time before the responsibilities. Everyone changes and men are not any different."

Ssembatya also emphasizes mutual understanding and effective communication for a conflict-proof family.

"It's due to lack of incentives society offers them to be responsible fathers, husbands and providers," notes psychologist Helen Smith in her book, Men on strike.

Case study: Tom's experience

I met Rita at campus. We were in the same class. To be honest, she was from a much wealthier family than mine, so when I made my pass and she accepted me, I was kind of shocked. Although I was broke, I had brains and she valued that and expected me to graduate from Makerere [University].

So, ours was a "slow but sure" kind of relationship. Then after we graduated, she introduced me as her one and only. Her sister helped me get a high-paying job in an NGO in town.

The job gave me access to a 4x4 double cabin pickup and given the hefty allowances, I was able to save and quickly acquire land and build a house. Rita's family was always there for me - to the extent that they called me often to make sure I was safe.

While things were going well on the work front and relations were good with her family, the love had truly died. I no longer felt the magic. So when she raised the issue of settling down, I did not refuse, although I did not necessarily accept. Since my family didn't object either, we got married and everyone was happy. I was the one feeling miserable.

Rita gave birth to twins and that should have been my reason to be happy, but I was not. Looking back I guess I do not feel like a man--everything was made too easy for me; I had wanted to struggle a little like others. Instead, everything was there. Even my job, which I now resent, was picked for me by my sister-in-law.

I wanted something of my own; so, I started an affair with another woman, Joan, who I had met at a bar in Soroti. Compared to Rita, this woman was average in looks, had stopped schooling after her A-levels, but she was very eloquent and had a zeal for life.

I tried to keep Joan from Rita but she suspected that I was having an affair. These suspicions brought out the tiger in her and the more she nagged, the more stubborn I got. It made me feel good that I could do things my own way, like part of being a man.

It has been two years now and Joan and I have a son. I built them a home and spend a lot on their welfare--more than I spend at home. However, it is becoming problematic; Joan wants me to marry her. She does not know that she has a co-wife. I guess the realization will shutter her life.

*These are not her real names.

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