Nakuru, 13 March 2010
It’s Day 6 of the Route already and the first time since its start that I find the time (and internet connection!) to write a piece for the blog – there is little free time and working on the bus is next to impossible because of a rather bumpy ride (and a rather basic bus!).
Since we started on Monday with our opening workshop in Kampala, during which all of us presented the work of our organisations, we have visited two communities and participated in two panel discussions - I shall try to catch up with blogging about all this over the next few days! We have travelled nearly 30 hours by bus along roads that are sometimes just a bit bumpy, sometimes muarram, i.e. with no tarmac and very slippery because of heavy rain. The programme is packed and the travel tiring, but the participants are patient and good-humoured (the fact that Lilia, one of our participants pictured below, gives excellent massages helps!). Having been on the road together for a few days has started to forge friendships – which surely is one of the most important outcomes of such a route!
We arrived in Kagadi town, in Kibaale district, late Monday evening to stay on the campus of the African Rural University, founded and run by URDT (Uganda Rural Development and Training), who are also the ones that worked on the action-oriented research project with the community we then visited on Tuesday.
We were welcomed with song and dance (into which some of us enthusiastically joined in as you can see from the picture!) and spent the day hearing from women involved in the project, who had prepared presentations on a range of topics related to women’s land rights, including customary law, polygamy, and HIV/AIDS – in this case by two HIV-positive women that presented their testimony so confidently in front of the whole community, leaders from local and district administration and our group that it clearly showed they have overcome the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
URDT used a very interesting approach to work with women from the community, the ‘visioning’ approach. This approach is a shift from the responsive or reactive orientation of research (problem-solving), towards fostering creativity – by envisioning positive change, people involved are focusing on what changes are most important to them and what steps they can take – one at a time – to get there. The women involved in the action-oriented research project, focused on what they wanted in relation their current situation, recognised the gaps and made conscious choices on what needed to get done. It was quite amazing what has happened in this community in the space of under 2 years, for instance, the women founded their own savings and credit cooperatives to make loans to group members and help them invest in improving their agriculture of setting up a small business. For me, the most impressive result was the poise and self-confidence which the women had so obviously gained through their participation. The visioning approach in particular caught mine and most of the participants’ attention and many said they were keen to replicate it at home (and even for their own personal use as a technique to overcome obstacles!).
The women also presented a role play about a polygamous marriage and the problems faced by the 4 wives upon the death of their husband (in this area, Christians and Muslims alike practise polygamous marriage) – and how to solve such conflicts by approaching the local authorities to mediate between the parties. We later visited some households to ask more detailed questions and found out that polygamy in this area seems to be a form of cohabitation in which one man has several ‘wives’, none of whom are legally registered, and all of which have a house and small piece of land- rather than having one home, the husband ‘rotates’, turning up at any of the wives’ houses when he feels like it. All of these wives cultivate a piece each of their husbands land, with all the proceeds going to him – in return, he provides the women with necessities such as salt and candles and takes care of sick children. Not a very good deal for the women, it seems!
We spent a fascinating day sitting in the shade of the trees, with a large group of other community members – and what looked like probably all the children of the village! – as an audience. The welcome by the community was exceptional and all of us learnt a lot to take home with us.
Day 3 we left very early in the morning to return to Kampala for a lunch panel organised by Uganda Land Alliance to share the experiences from the CALI (Collaborative Action on land Issues) project – this was quite a contrast after a day spent in the village, with the Minister of State for Land honouring us with his presence (albeit only for roughly 20 minutes, which is probably normal?), with technical experts sharing lessons from a project that involved civil society, the private sector and government in a national policy dialogue.
The CALI project consisted of studies to feed into policy formulation, as well as regional consultations and a national policy forum to get feedback on drafts of the policy from those affected by it in the rural areas. One of the participants in the grassroots consultations in NorthernUganda, Vincent Oling, stressed that to develop a good land policy, asking for communities to get involved is crucial. He said that there were challenges regarding the representation of the rural population in such consultations – and especially of women. He recommended that consultations should involve a representative sample from the community, rather than just a few people selected by community leaders, which will likely leave out women.
He questioned whether women’s land rights could ever be equal in a context of polygamous customary marriage.
Vincent also brought up the need to look beyond the land policy and start addressing land issues in government policies on minerals, oil, etc. – all of which affect the land rights of communities severely! He also stressed that it is never too late to meaningfully involve communities and that the current draft of the Ugandan land policy should again be shared with communities for another round of recommendations.
So, 3 days gone, another 6 days to go! More tomorrow, internet connection permitting...