I fell in love with a man whose culture was far different from mine. My husband was the late Michael Olwormundu. He was from the Alur tribe (from West Nile - Northern Uganda) and was a soldier. I met him while pursuing a nursing course in Kampala when I was only seventeen years old. Because I was smitten, I ran away with him to his home area in Nebbi. I did this in the name of love. Back then, falling in love with a soldier was like dating a celebrity.
My parents were very angry with me for eloping with a man they had not previously approved of, a tradition that is dictated by our Ankole culture in Western Uganda. Even though I later did introduce him to them, they still remained unhappy with the union because they accused my husband of taking me out of school when I was a too young a girl. They have since rejected me.
But this did not deter my plans .We got married in 1972 and had a blissful marriage. God blessed us with a family of six children, three boys and three girls. We loved each other dearly until death robbed him from me in 1987. This marked the beginning of my sorrows.
At the time when I was trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and move on, my late husband’s family was putting enormous pressure on me. They were pushing me to remarry my brother in-law, a boy I had helped raise.
In the Alur custom ‘bride inheritance’ – when the clan designates a male relative to replace your deceased husband - was common practice. This probably comes from the tradition of bride price. Since a husband must ‘pay’ a price (often in the form of cattle) to marry a woman, culturally women are often considered as property by the clan, their families and husbands. This is why my late husband’s family felt it was their right to grab my property and push me to remarry my brother in-law.
Failure to agree to the remarriage arrangements means that you are rejecting the culture or in the eyes of the elders it can even confirm that you are an outcast or a witch.
The worst is when a widow succumbs to her brother in-law’s sexual advances, because in the eyes of the cultural elders and in-laws the ‘act’ symbolizes that she has consented to widow inheritance, even though she was ‘taken’ by force. In such a situation, widows are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not only are they subjected to a forced remarriage against their will but their lives are also further put at risk as women are exposed to diseases such as HIV/AIDS among others.
This is what scared me to death and this is why I never considered loving another man. I sometimes harbored thoughts of remorse and regret but I stood my ground. I was not shaken. I never went against my will in the name of culture. I totally resisted widow inheritance.
I knew that my in-laws were not the only ones to blame for this situation. Ignorance and social pressures were also at fault. However, life became unbearable. I often cried and was terribly afraid of how to take care of my children alone. I also spent many sleepless nights because I was worried my husband’s family would grab all the property from me as it’s often been done to the widows who challenge ‘widow inheritance’. Matters were made worse as I was from another part of the country and there are still many misconceptions about intermarriages. In fact, when my husband died I was partly blamed for his death.
When I heard about ActionAid Uganda’s women's rights initiative dubbed Women Won’t Wait (WWW) Centre in Nebbi, I went to tell them about my dilemma and was comforted by the team there.
I was assured of my lawful rights as a widow and that my property was guaranteed to my children and me. The Women’s Centre arranged for a meeting with my in-laws and the matter was resolved. Though happy for solving my own problems, I noticed that the culture of widow inheritance wasn’t going to end anytime soon despite NGOs’ advocacy and statutory enforcements. It’s rather a daunting situation for many women who are illiterate in the Nebbi region.
Because I saw how helpful ActionAid was to me, I was pushed to act and support women going through the same problems I had suffered. Consequently, I took up the challenge and joined ActionAid’s Women Won’t Wait Project in Nebbi district.
I’m now a coalition member, helping women to rise above cultural slavery, widow inheritance, early marriages, domestic violence, rape and all other forms of abuse. I think it has helped. I believe a significant number of women in Nebbi no longer suffer in silence.