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'Cultural norms a huge hindrance to girl education'

By Moses Mulondo

Findings by a study conducted by academicians from Makerere University School of Women and Gender Studies have established that cultural norms are the biggest hindrance to the realization of speedy progress in the move to promote girl education and women empowerment in Uganda.

Launching the research findings on Friday at Hotel Africana, the state minister for the elderly and the disabled, Sulaiman Madada, commended the researchers and promised to ensure that government uses their research to address the challenges to the social-economic empowerment of women.

"This study is timely. There are still many negative attitudes that are failing the drive for educating and empowering women. This research will help us to know how best to handle the challenges," said the minister.

The lead researchers – Prof. Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo, Dr. Florence Kyoheirwe and Dr. Carol Watson – are pushing for a paradigm shift to address discriminatory formal and informal laws and to carry out massive sensitization if significant progress is to be realized.

Prof. Bantebya said in this research, which was conducted between October 2012 and March 2013, they have discovered many "shocking" forms of discrimination against a girl child, most of which are entrenched in religious beliefs, cultural norms, attitudes and practices.

"The study has shown that despite an enabling legal and policy framework capable of addressing adolescent girls' vulnerabilities as they prepare for crucial transitions to adult roles, they face a myriad of challenges.

"Discriminatory social norms, attitudes and practices are further compounded by conditions of poverty and lack of quality service provision to constrain overall opportunities and development," Prof. Bantebya explained.

As part of their recommendations, the researchers want government to initiate policies which will empower adolescent girls and enhance their capabilities to overcome these vulnerabilities.

"We realized that household and family structures and processes severely constrain the development and full realization of women's capabilities.

"The unequal gendered division of labour within the household burdens women and girls with most of the care work, thus limiting their capacity to engage in and benefit from significant activities including education, training and productive labour," she elaborated.

The researchers further established that in various Uganda communities, cultural norms and attitudes consider boys more important than girls – which compels many parents to give priority to boys over girls in offering them education and inheritance.

"Despite government interventions to educate girls, progress is still held back by so many constraints. Our girls are given in marriage at an early stage for bride wealth [dowry]. Even some male teachers discriminate against girls, calling them less intelligent.

"Girls are denied the right to inherit their fathers' properties. Most of the UPE dropouts are girls," Prof. Bantebya said while outlining the various challenges they encountered in their field studies.

The research, which was done in Mayuge and Ssembabule districts, recognized an emergency of unprecedented number of young mothers who are not married.

"So many girls are increasingly engaging in sex at an early stage. Some parents and teachers attributed this trend to pornography and blue movies," she stated.

To solidify the concern about deeply rooted culture that undermines women, Prof. Bantebya said: "As women activists, we were taken aback to see Ugandans rejecting the marriage and divorce bill over cultural-related issues especially property rights.

"That is when we realized we had not made significant progress in eliminating those cultural norms."

She said the next phases of their study, which is funded by UK's Department for International Development (DFID), will compare trends between Uganda and Ethiopia, the rest of east African countries and other nations of the world that managed to overcome similar challenges.

The research project, which is being implemented globally, is coordinated by Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which is the UK's leading independent think-tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

Read the original article on NewVision.co.ug.