Traditional marriage preparations in Uganda emphasize that the woman is the one who should work to ensure the survival of the marriage. But some churches and NGOs are beginning to provide men with similar training to strengthen families.
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Newlywed Damalie Nabbosa compliments the marriage training sessions given by her church.
“They emphasized the fact that it takes two to make a marriage and each party equally plays an important role in making the marriage work,” she says.
She says other marriage preparation seminars she attended were different. Traditional courses, Nabbosa says, “seemed to insinuate that a marriage is made by a woman and the man is some sort of a king who should be served regardless by the woman, who is portrayed as a ‘slave’ or house help, which I think is very wrong.”
Traditional cultures in Uganda often prepare women for marriage, but not men. Much of the training, usually accomplished through paternal aunts known as ssengas, focuses on how to be a proper wife without discussing what to expect in return. Little guidance is aimed at preparing men on how they should contribute to a successful marriage. Many, like Nabbosa, agree that preparing only women for marriage can lead to domestic violence and eventually to divorce.
Naome Kansiime, 43, a retail trader in Nansana, a town about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) northwest of Kampala, says her maternal aunts prepared her when she got married 20 years ago. The teachings emphasized cleanliness, preparing good meals and looking after her husband.
“I was told to ensure I am clean all the time in case my man needs me. I was trained on how to make him happy in bed and in cooking for him good food,” she says.
To her disappointment, Kansiime says her husband had not been similarly trained.
“I was doing all work at home alone, cooking, looking after children. The man did not help and he did not want me to get house help,” she says.
When she approached her aunt with her frustrations, Kansiime was advised that men are supposed to be served. Now, Kansiime says women should endeavor to learn what they are taught and submit to their men to ensure survival of the marriage.
“It’s us women that ensure the sustenance of the marriage,” she says.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda
But Bethuel Ssebyala, director of a mentorship program for young men, believes men also need coaching on how to do their part to sustain a successful marriage. Ssebyala’s program, the Boy Child Initiative, which partners with Omega International Ministries, a non-governmental organization based near Kampala, aims to help young men become better husbands and fathers.
“Culturally, men are expected to discover things on their own,” he says. “There is a saying that men are like cassava plants — where they are thrown they can easily thrive. A cassava plant that is well catered for does not produce the same fruits as one that is just thrown there.”
Likewise, Ssebyala says, throwing a man into a marriage without adequate training doesn’t set a marriage up for success. To prevent frustration and in some cases divorce, it’s best when a married couple considers themselves a team, he says.
Rita Ssali, a pastor at Voice of Christ church, has been married for 41 years and helps both men and women prepare for marriage.
“Both should be trained,” she says, but adds that women require more rigorous training.
“Women have to be trained a lot more on cleanliness, looks, looking after family and husband — looking after children, cooking,” Ssali says. “Women have a lot of responsibilities.”
Derrick Musisi, 39, who drives a boda-boda motorcycle taxi, says women should have more responsibilities in marriage.
“We men pay bride price,” a traditional payment to the bride’s family, he says. “If I call her to cut my nails she should. She has to be taught her obligations to her man before marriage.”
Musisi says women should work hard to impress men lest they leave them for other women.
“If women don’t learn to please their men then other women will take them,” he says.
But he doubts the opposite would ever happen.
“Men don’t need to be trained,” he says.
Florence Kyoheirwe Muhanguzi, a senior lecturer in women and gender studies at Makerere University in Kampala, disagrees. “In traditional societies, men provided for their families by hunting, but now a woman can go to a supermarket and buy meat,” she says.
Though women traditionally were expected to please men and not vice versa, this may not work in situations and generations when women are more financially independent, Muhanguzi says.
She recommends a koja, a male version of ssengas, “to talk to men and teach them how real men treat women.”
Marriage teachings also should adapt to today’s challenges, Muhanguzi says.
“Our society today has unique challenges like HIV and managing finances in a home, which should be included in marriage teachings for couples intending to get married,” she says.
Most importantly, Ssebyala says, mentoring men and women should begin in homes so children can watch parents treat each other with respect.
“Our children should see father loving mother — talking and chatting and cautioning them equally,” he says.
GPJ reporter Apophia Agiresaasi translated some interviews from Luganda.