KAMPALA, Uganda – One partner fled the family home, citing abuse and a death threat. Another charged that the spouse hid the title deeds to the family property and secretly transferred ownership.
In both cases those complaining are men.
The majority of Uganda's cases of domestic abuse are of violence perpetrated by men against women. But traditional sexual roles are shifting in this East African country and now some men are alleging they are being victimized.
It sounds familiar to Ronald Kiyimba, a men's rights activist who counsels men in distress from all parts of Uganda. Kiyimba, 32, says he was compelled to form his group — the Call for Men Organization — after his partner of many years subjected him to what he describes as emotional anguish when he had no job and could not afford the groceries.
She repeatedly refused to sleep with him, he recalled recently, until they started to live together as "brother and sister." Then, feeling humiliated, he left their home and started the mission that has made him a prominent activist on behalf of those Ugandan men who say they are the victims of domestic abuse, in a country where the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of abuse are men.
"I know lots of men who no longer eat food at home, who spend their nights in living rooms," he said. "Because they are afraid of their wives. It's like a war zone. This is why many men choose to report home late in the night when everyone is asleep and then leave very early when everyone is still asleep."
Uganda is a deeply patriarchal society where male and female roles have been strictly spelled out. Men are not expected to play a big part in the kitchen, for example. Many men do not expect their wives to own property or even to own a bank account. But times are changing. Women are going to school and they have more legal rights. And there are more opportunities for women entrepreneurs, many of whom are excelling in areas ranging from catering to farming. The growing economic success of women is giving them a new sense of confidence that is altering traditional roles in the home, experts say.
Ugandan newspapers often report cases of men who are allegedly battered by their spouses, including the case of man who committed suicide last year, apparently because his wife was abusive.
Nearly 25 percent of the 7,805 cases of domestic abuse filed with the police in 2013 involved men as victims, according to the latest crime report by local police, released in 2014. That same report said that 183 of the 360 people killed in domestic disputes that year were men, leading Police Chief Kale Kayihura to suggest the country needs a rehab center for men in abusive relationships.
Berna Bakidde, a female Ugandan lawyer with the group Legal Aid Service Providers, acknowledges that some men complain of abuse, but she emphasizes that the vast majority of the country's abuse cases are against women. She said as women become more economically empowered, some men may feel threatened at home, leading to disagreements that some men may characterize as domestic abuse. A woman may be accused of being abusive to her partner if she is too busy to make him dinner or if she withholds sex over a long period of time. She said the man's frustration may lead to violence: "So if you are a man and you feel threatened, how do you take control again? By beating up the woman."
Kiyimba, the activist who counsels men, said he always tries to promote dialogue for couples in distress.
"We try to give them hope, to empower them to be responsible," he said. "We tell them that they can still make it despite the disagreements."