I Have a Message for the Government

I Have a Message for the Government

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Florence Okello, 58, lives in Pader district, northern Uganda. She is a member of a CARE savings and loans group in her community, and an activist against gender-based violence.

Florence shared her story on the third day of the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence” in Uganda in November 2009. She was with a CARE group called Voices Against Violence who were traveling across the country to raise awareness and deliver their message to Parliament.

My husband died at the beginning of the war [the war lasted from 1981-1986]. He was HIV positive. I was left with 10 children. My sister also died, and I now care for her 10 children, too.  In my culture there is a practice of wife inheritance. It means that when a man dies, his brother “inherits” his wife and children. After my husband died, I found out I was also HIV positive. His family therefore rejected me and became violent. They attacked me, and tried to force me to leave my home and land. They took away all my property and goods. They claimed all the land and just left me in the house with nothing.

I reported this to the authorities, who thankfully intervened and I managed to get the land back although all my possessions had already been sold. Because I stood firm though, until this day, I am in my home with my children.  I joined a women’s group run by CARE to save some money and use small loans to support my family. I was able to borrow money and pay it back slowly, at low interest. I’ve been able to put five children through school with the help of CARE. I’ve also bought a bicycle and a cow.  The savings and loans project has empowered me. I am able to raise income and look after my children. When I look at myself now and before I am so different. People don’t want to help widows. We are forgotten. Now I look on the savings and loans project as my husband. It can provide for me when I work hard.

Being part of the group helps in many ways. It was the women in the group who persuaded me to take an HIV test, and who encouraged me to take anti-retrovirals. They have helped me to accept my HIV status. I am stronger now. I have been able to turn my personal experience of violence into something positive. I have helped 10 homesteads in my community by intervening when there has been violence. I talk to families about non-violence. It’s a gradual process. Men don’t always listen initially.

I'm overjoyed to have the chance to take part in the Voices Against Violence campaign. It's given me chance to leave home for a few days, and to share experiences with others. I’m learning a lot. I’m going to Kampala [Uganda’s capital city] with Voices Against Violence. I have a message for the government! I appeal to them to support women who have suffered in northern Uganda because of the war, and who have survived violence. Before women have not spoken of the violence we experience. Now we are empowered and are speaking out, so the government needs to listen and to protect women.

Florence Okello