Mary Akello, 38, sits peeling potatoes for her family of seven. She says her husband is polygamous.
“My co lives over there,” she says of her co-wife, pointing to the next village. “She has four children.”
Her husband drives a boda-boda, or motorcycle, taxi. At first, he took care of her and their children – until a new woman joined the relationship, Akello says.
“My husband started spending less time at my home,” she says. “And with time, the emotional and financial support ended. Between 2009 to 2012, I learned to live without his support, and he also got used to not supporting me.”
Her friends advised her to seek help from the clan leaders, who called Akello and her husband for a meeting. Akello says they punished her husband with 12 strokes of the cane.
After this incident, she says her husband abandoned her. He later threatened that he would sell the land where she lived and farmed with their children.
Once again, she reported the issue to the clan leaders. This time, they referred her to Bosco Ocaa, chairman of the village council.
Ocaa had been trained as a community agent of change by Action for Development, a local nongovernmental organization. With his training, he counseled the couple for two months. He explained how their children were suffering because their father was absent.
Now, Akello says she and her husband are reunited as a family. He now provides for both wives and their children.
Action for Development trained 60 local residents to be “community agents of change” in 2012 in northern Uganda. Together, they handle conflicts and offer counseling. The agents cited gender-based violence as the primary issue affecting local families. They found that in-home violence was often fueled by extramarital affairs, alcoholism and early marriage. Program leaders and local government officials say changing the culture of violence here remains a challenge. But they say that the one-year program was successful and encourage the local agents to continue to promote peace in the home.
There were 221 cases of defilement reported in the Apac district of northern Uganda between January and August 2011, according to records from the Apac Central Police Station provided by Chiriga Taban, district criminal investigative division officer. In 2012, there were just 68 reported cases during those months.
The number of domestic violence cases reported also decreased from 145 to 86, Taban says. Reports of rape and attempted murder declined slightly too.
The decline in violence here could be due to Action for Development’s one-year project on gender-based violence prevention in Oyam and Apac districts, says Harriet Aseko, the program officer of the organization’s economic and gender department.
Action for Development aims to promote women's empowerment, gender equality and equity through advocacy, networking, and capacity building of both women and men, Aseko says. Its most recent project promoted violence-free families and communities.
“The aim of the project is to educate and empower women and girls as well as men and boys to adopt peaceful and nonviolent means for resolving conflicts in their lives,” Aseko says.
The organization implemented the project in four subcounties in two districts – Ibuje and Akokoro in Apac district and Loro and Kamdini in Oyam district – from January to December 2012. The organization selected these areas based on the high rates of domestic violence in each, Aseko says.
Action for Development trained 60 community members, dubbed community agents of change, on human rights, women’s rights, gender-based violence and conflict resolution. The unpaid, volunteer agents include clan leaders, women’s group leaders, religious leaders and local councilmen.