Taxing Marriages

Bishop Okello is a diminutive 75-year-old man whose innovative tax policy is halting family break-ups in the Apac district of north Uganda. Okello's shs 20,000 (US $1=????) tax on men who change women with careless abandon has proved to be a speed-breaker. The tax is restoring social order and widening the tax base of a district with little to tax.

"A decade ago, I used to preside over 20 cases [of abandonment] per month, (which has] now has dropped to two," says Okello.

This pragmatic approach to what has long been a debilitating social norm is a boon for women who were left helpless when kinship ties - which have customarily regulated sexuality - were reduced to tatters by a civil war that scattered them all over neighboring districts and concentration camps.

Molly Akao supports the Okello tax - despite allegations that it intrudes into essentially private affairs - because it has stopped men from sanctioned promiscuity and breaking hearts.

"The tax," says Molly, "has indeed reduced break-ups and should be weighed against the social benefits derived because it has not only improved [the] wages of local leaders, but has also allowed men to be more responsible. A man would get another woman and then file for divorce or separation without any cost. But now, he would think twice because money is scarce these days."

Since the early 1990s, local councils, with a composition of 44 per cent women as councilors, have become increasingly powerful in regulating social affairs. That is when the government of President Yoweri Museveni began pursuing a policy of decentralization of power to the local level in a bid to be more accountable to people. But Uganda's manifestation of Constitutional and structural reforms has left women as vulnerable as they were before.

Human Rights Watch wrote in 2004, "There is state reluctance to intervene in domestic issues or undermine male authority in domestic affairs."

While the Okello tax is crucial to safeguard women, it is also true that Ugandan men are becoming more monogamous. But this newfound "loyalty" could be part of the problem that the Okello tax hopes to arrest.

In northern Uganda, poverty has forced many men to eat most of their cattle. In the relatively prosperous south, however, it is modernity. Upwardly-mobile men in Iganga, a town in the east, brandish mobile phones in which romantic text messages settings replace the traditional poetic love letter. Other factors include exposure to Western culture through the mass media, and a passionate evangelical drive that emphasizes monogamy and the AIDS epidemic, which some call a "modern disease".

A 2003 study, The Role of Abstinence, Monogamy and Condom-use in HIV Decline, conducted by researchers from the Allan Guttemacher Institute led by Susheela Singh, stated that men had become more monogamous than they were in 1989.

But "one in 10 married men had one casual partner in [a] one-year period", noted this study - which was financed by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation - which also announced "the end of the extended family". "Marriages are increasingly becoming nuclear as [the] bond between a husband and a wife begins to eclipse that of [the] extended family," it said.

Men continue to cheat on their wives - something that most women have come to accept as normal. According to this study, 90 per cent of men cheat on their wives.

Now, women weigh the options left open to them. Realizing that there aren't many men to go around, those whose prospects of getting a husband are dim would rather get a child rather than die childless, which could be one of the reasons for a man cheating.

This is also partly responsible for the increased numbers of female-headed households, which is 20 per cent of the population, according to a 2005 study, "Uganda: Gender and Growth Study-2005" by the Africa Development Bank

Dr Seggane Musisi, a psychiatrist consultant at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, the country's largest, ponders on various health implications. "Men in polygamous ties tend to stay more loyal and less likely to spread HIV than in monogamous relations where men hide unofficial wives," he says. He believes that society's perception that there is a scarcity of men is a powerful incentive for cheating men.

"Men are culturally, economically and educationally better," he says. "They know their numbers are fewer; therefore, women have to accept that being many has made men becoming 'priceless'." 


More by :  Crespo Sebunya

Top | Women

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