Uganda: Widow recovers from violent marriage

| November 24, 2014

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Tears of anguish roll down Sidonia Akello’s cheeks as she remembers the agonies she suffered during her marriage. But her life is different now that her husband is dead.

In hushed tones, Mrs. Akello sings a Luo funeral song to her one-year-old daughter, who she has rapped securely in a shawl on her back.

The 32-year-old mother of three endured a life of sorrow in her home village, Te-Oburu, about 400 kilometres north of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.

In June 2013, villagers were stunned by the sight of Mrs. Akello standing before the village court bleeding from a gash on the side of her head. Her husband, Denis Oyar, had demanded she have sex with him. When she refused, he flew into a rage and cut off her ear. She had given birth only two weeks earlier and was still recovering from labour.

Mr. Oyar was often drunk and regularly beat his wife senseless. On the night in question, after beating her, he picked up his machete and cut off her right ear. The two older children ran out into the dark, screaming for someone to come to their mother’s aid.

David Okao is the village chief. He says, “Oyar committed an offence. We punished him and made him provide medical care to his wife.”

Mr. Oyar died six months later. But Mrs. Akello’s misery didn’t end. Her brother-in-law accused her of denying him his inheritance. She was sentenced to 60 lashes, and forced to sell a goat in order to pay a fine of $18 U.S.

But when all seemed lost, fortune smiled on Mrs. Akello. Her neighbour Ismael Omara had noticed the widow’s plight. The 79-year-old stood up in front of the village chief and publicly gave Mrs. Akello half a hectare of land as a permanent gift.

With this small gesture, Mrs. Akello’s life changed for the better. She now grows cassava on the plot of land she received from her neighbour. The widow feeds her children with her harvest, and sells whatever is left over. She explains, “I grow cassava because [of the] high demand in this region. Besides, I don’t need to buy insecticide and weeding expenses are minimal.”

She earned $230 U.S. by selling her last cassava harvest at the market. Mrs. Akello says, “I used the money I got to pay fees for my two [older] children [to go to] primary school. I bought food with the surplus money, and now we are happy.”