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Intensifying Dialogue Between Women and Men

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    Uganda has undergone numerous changes since its independence in 1962. Using the lens of modernisation, “the process of social change whereby less developed societies acquire characteristics common to more developed societies” (Lerner 1968 quoted by Irwin, 1975, p. 596) and development, “change that improves the conditions of human well-being so that people can exercise meaningful choices for their own benefit and that of society” (Ryan, quoting Beemans,1995, p. v), this cross-sectional study documented changes in gender roles in courtship and marriage, education, health, agriculture, choices including family planning in rural and peri-urban Uganda. 22 men and women in central eastern Uganda participated in 4 focus groups (young men and women, older men and women) and completed questionnaires. The rapid population growth in Uganda over the past 50 years has led to ever growing health needs. The effects of social and political instability are particularly visible among rural and peri-urban populations who rely on subsistence agriculture as their main source of income. Participants noted that the realities of a large population and greater dependence on the market economy have led to decreased availability of land, food insecurity and unstable incomes. Moreover, unequal power dynamics, as evidenced by accepted social norms surrounding decision-making processes about finances, enable mistrust between family members to thrive. Both men and women do not feel supported in their endeavours.

    Women shared that even though they do the bulk of work such as farming, household chores and caring for children, they are still unable to make decisions about use of surplus funds. Men felt that women and society as a whole expected too much of them. They were supposed to protect and provide for their families even when unemployed and tilling small and increasingly infertile plots of land. As a result, most respondents noted that nearly 80 percent of the marriages (both formal and informal) they knew of were failing. There are, however, evidences of progress. Formerly fixed gender norms are becoming more fluid. Women in some households have a larger role in decision making and are gaining increasing respect for their education and expertise, while men are more involved in subsistence agriculture and increasingly subscribe to the use of family planning methods. The participants observed the need for increased communication and dialogue between family members, particularly during e process of decision-making. Additionally, they expressed a need for a grassroots discourse on modernization, development and equality that would enable men and women to articulate a way forward for a “developing” rather than merely “modernizing” society. Such a discourse would also provide some guidance on how men and women can best support each other in their advancement.

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