Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Population, Poverty & SDGs

DEVELOPMENT-UGANDA: Smaller Families, Manlier Men

Kwamboka Oyaro

NAIROBI, Apr 7 2008 (IPS) - For Ugandan men, the equation is often a simple one: an abundance of children equals virility and security. This deeply rooted belief has frightening implications, however. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the population of the East African country – now 31 million – will exceed 36 million by 2015, and is projected to reach 54 million in 2025.

If this trend continues, it will rocket to 117 million by 2050. Projections are based on the current fertility rate of 6.7 children per woman.

At present, the Foundation for Community Development – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in the capital, Kampala – is the only group in Uganda specifically focused on helping men view family size differently. Family planning has traditionally been relegated to women in this country.

“Men react almost the same way when you mention anything related to sex: they want to change the topic quickly because it is a private affair,” said Amon Mulyowa, a programme officer with the organisation.

“When I tell them that a man’s strength is not recognised by the many children he has but by the quality of life he provides them, they start to protest. In the process, I get a chance to tell them about the part they should play in family planning,” he told IPS during a recent workshop on reproductive health that was held in Kampala by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a Washington-based NGO.

Matters are further complicated by the culture placing a higher value on sons than daughters, prompting parents to continue having children until a son – preferably several sons – is born.

Mulyowa, the father of two daughters, finds himself being asked the same question about his lack of sons by men across the board – even those with the benefit of an education who might be expected to have a more enlightened perspective on family planning. They ask “You have no heir. Who will inherit your property?” he said.

“My friends ridicule me…that I am not yet a man. A builder I hired once looked at my daughters and asked me why I was constructing a house when I had no heir!”

Mulyowa has a counter-argument at the ready.

“As we argue about heirs with the men, I (ask) them, ‘How much land did your grandfather leave your father, and how much of that land did your father pass down to you? What are you going to give your children when it is their turn?'”

He also helps men see how population growth can lead to depleted forests and water scarcity, and highlights how parents with many children may be unable to provide them with proper education and health care.

According to the PRB, sterilisation of men in Uganda and elsewhere in East Africa is almost non-existent; vasectomies are associated with loss of manhood and even castration, explained Mulyowa. Condom use remains negligible in the region.

A further obstacle comes in the form of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been internationally recognised for his role in fighting HIV/AIDS, but appears less active on the family planning front. In fact, Museveni has said that population growth provides a big workforce and internal market which are likely to boost the country’s economy.

Added to this is a belief that Uganda needs to make up population losses incurred in the AIDS pandemic, and during a protracted conflict in the north of the country.

Rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have been battling authorities since 1987 in this area, in what LRA leader Joseph Kony says is an attempt to establish a government based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.

The movement has gained notoriety for its use of children as soldiers, sex slaves and porters, and for other human rights abuses. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the violence – many forced to take up residence in camps for internally displaced persons.

A peace deal between government and the LRA is said to be in the offing, although negotiations have been complicated by arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court against Kony and other senior figures in the rebel group, for war crimes.

“This idea of ‘replacing’ the dead is making us lose gains made in family planning efforts. Without good will from the top, it is hard for people to take family planning seriously,” said Rosemary Nyakikongoro, programme director at the Forum for Women in Democracy, an NGO headquartered in Kampala.

Still, Mulyowa presses on, armed with a colourful and readable booklet, ‘Family Planning: What Every Man Should Know’.

“Having a smaller family does not make you less of a man. It makes you more of a man, because you can provide better for your family,” he said.

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