Ms. Nankunda is not married. The 42-year-old single woman says, “I haven’t met the right man.” Instead, she pursued her education and her career. She explains, “If I were married, I may never have got my doctorate.” Ms. Nankunda is proud of her work as a columnist for one of Uganda’s national daily newspapers.
Her relatives, however, regard her as a failure because she is not married. They feel that she has wasted her life. But Ms. Nankunda says that she is enjoying the benefits of being single. She can come and go as she pleases, and not compromise her tastes and preferences for the sake of a relationship.
She agrees that marriage has its benefits, but doesn’t believe in marriage for its own sake. Ms. Nankunda would like to have children one day, when the time is right. She says, “I know there are many unmarried people who have children, but I don’t believe in having children outside marriage.”
Ugandans traditionally regard being single as a bad omen. Communities often work together to marry off single youths. Godfrey Waiswa is a 62-year-old local councillor in Massaja, in the Tank Hill area of Kampala. He says, “Girls are all expected to be married by the time they are 30 years of age. Otherwise, they will not be respected in society.”
But this is changing among young, educated and urban Ugandans. Many are now delaying marriage to accomplish personal goals and to find the right match.
Jovia Achieng is a 35-year-old junior lecturer at Kampala International University. She says, “Many men have proposed to me. I think I am not ready yet.” Ms. Achieng thinks it is important for women to build their careers before marrying and having children.
She says the high cost of living also influenced her decision to delay marriage. She explains, “These are hard economic times, and it is important to gain financial stability before getting married.”
Ms. Achieng believes that people don’t have to get married to find fulfilment. In her opinion marriage is not inevitable for every man or woman [everyone?].
Hilda Twongyeirwe is a women’s rights activist and the coordinator of FEMRITE Uganda Women Writers’ Association. She says that marriage is still considered important, but it is not a priority.
She explains, “Men are looking for women who can play the women’s role – cook, raise children, look after the home – and these women are getting fewer.”
She believes that the shift in marital choices may be due to increased foreign influence. From the late 1990s, there was a lot of interaction between Ugandans and other nationals in schools, workplaces, churches and markets. Different perspectives on marriage are likely to have had an influence in Uganda.
Ms. Twongyeirwe says that unmarried women suffer more stigma than men. Whereas unmarried men are simply encouraged to find wives, she believes unmarried women are regarded as impossible to deal with, or rebellious and too proud.
Primah Kankiriho is a 37-year-old freelance researcher. She is single and has a child from a previous relationship. She says, “Being single is not exactly a bad thing. It is better to be single than to be in a bad marriage.” She believes that she is better off unmarried than with a husband who doesn’t respect her.
Ms. Kankiriho is a committed Christian, and would like to find a man with similar religious beliefs. But, like many other single women in Uganda, Ms. Kankiriho suffers stigma and discrimination. She says, “My father would introduce all his children to guests and pretend he has forgotten me. This happened more than once, largely because I am supposed to be married and I am not.” She says her family even excludes her from gatherings because she is not married.
Despite this kind of treatment, women like Ms. Kankiriho say they won’t succumb to social pressure by rushing into a marriage with a man who doesn’t meet their expectations.
“I will not get married to impress society,” she says.